12 Steps to Avert a Communication Breakdown

When you boil it down, our industry is all about communication. With roots tracing back thousands of years when scouts warned primitive civilizations of attacks or other dangers, electronic security’s primary purpose is communicating alerts to keep people and their belongings out of harm’s way. And while today’s notifications use modern technology, the human element of interpersonal engagement remains as critical now as it was in ancient times — particularly regarding effective alarm management. Minimizing false alarms and dispatches requires strong communication among security providers, customers and responders alike.

While this may seem obvious as a blaring 120dB siren, in practice there are many reasons it does not always play out. For starters, more than 90% of installing security companies are run by men, most of whom come from technical backgrounds and are more comfortable leading by doing than by spoken or written word. Add in variance in perception, ego, carelessness, indifference, deception, animosity and countless other traits that affect how messages are expressed and received, and it’s a wonder anyone ever moves in the same direction. Fortunately, our industry’s ideal of safety and well-being can overcome such obstacles to unify people.

How central are thorough communications to security systems’ successful deployment, use and response? The judging criteria for the Police Dispatch Quality (PDQ) Award — a program SSI co-founded with the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC) and False Alarm Reduction Association (FARA), and whose 2012 recipient HS Technology Group graces this issue’s cover — evaluates 14 categories. Whether it’s advertising and marketing materials, training the customer, following up on false alarms, or developing a relationship with law enforcement, nearly all of them hinge on clear communications.

Earlier this year I was asked to present some sessions at the FARA Symposium in Albuquerque, N.M., one of which, “What We Got Here Is a Failure to Communicate,” was inspired by one of my favorite movies. I bet the film’s title (“Cool Hand Luke”) and star (Paul Newman) popped into your mind, but what about the great character actor who delivered that famous line? The answer awaits you at the end of this column. For now, here is a summary of key points to consider to communicate and disseminate information (full presentation available at faraonline.org/fi les/2012/05/What-We-Got-Here-Is-Failure-To-Communicate.pdf):

1. Determine purpose of communication

2. Identify target audience

3. Decide messaging’s tone

4. Select presentation technique

5. Choose method(s) of delivery

6. Use engagement devices

(quizzes, checklists, special events, games/contests, special offers/coupons, tools, promo items)

7. Must-haves in most communications:

  • Purpose immediate, clear, succinct
  • Compelling, bold call to action
  • Repetition/reinforcing message
  • Avoid polarizing or controversy
  • Easy sources for more info
  • Contact info of sender and others

8. Composition, style & legibility counts

9. General best practices

  • Full-color or striking color/layout scheme
  • Get supervisor approval, legal go-ahead
  • Exhibit transparency
  • Don’t assume message received/understood
  • Be accessible, problem or not
  • Always favor reason above rigid rules
  • Admit to errors/mistakes
  • Seek mutually beneficial solutions
  • Silence as bad as negative communication

10. Themes to keep prominent

  • Mission of protection, safety outweighs all
  • Build rapport, instill sense of community
  • Appeal to emotions
  • Premium customer service; don’t overpromise
  • Promote good news and awards too

11. Follow-up & track results

12. Sources for more ideas

(other companies, trade groups and media like SSI)

Remember, a failure to communicate in the security profession can be disastrous and leads to a failure in business. Congratulations if you said Strother Martin.

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About the Author


Scott Goldfine is Editor-in-Chief and Associate Publisher of Security Sales & Integration. Well-versed in the technical and business aspects of electronic security (video surveillance, access control, systems integration, intrusion detection, fire/life safety), Goldfine is nationally recognized as an industry expert and speaker. Goldfine is involved in several security events and organizations, including the Electronic Security Association (ESA), Security Industry Association (SIA), Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC), False Alarm Reduction Association (FARA), ASIS Int'l and more. Goldfine also serves on several boards, including the SIA Marketing Committee, CSAA Marketing and Communications Committee, PSA Cybersecurity Advisory Council and Robolliance. He is a certified alarm technician, former cable-TV tech, audio company entrepreneur, and lifelong electronics and computers enthusiast. Goldfine joined Security Sales & Integration in 1998.

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