Effectively Operating an Award-Winning Central Station
During ESX 2012, the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) presented the 2012 Central Station Excellence Awards. When I received the announcement about the big winners, I noticed that Provo, Utah-based Vivint (formerly APX) practically dominated all of the program’s four categories. The company took home Central Station of the Year and Central Station Manager of the Year, while also earning an honorable mention for Central Station Support Staff of the Year.
With two central stations — one based in Minnesota, the other in Utah — Vivint is a fairly new entrant to the monitoring market, having acquired its first call center in October 2009. The company employs 177 workers between each of the monitoring centers, which use the Secure Global Solutions (SGS) stagesTM platform to monitor roughly 650,000 accounts.
I reached out to Vivint Vice President of Operations Steve Dixon and Central Station Manager Amy Becht to pick up some best practices on operating an effective central station. Listed below are a few highlights from the conversation.
What are some central station best practices that your company implements?
Amy Becht: One that we use incessantly is enhanced call verification (ECV). We do that standardly on more than 60% of our accounts, whether they are in a required ECV area or not in an effort to reduce false alarm dispatches. We also have quality service standards and an incentive program to measure our key performance metrics for our representatives.
To help our representatives continue to build their knowledge base, we offer ongoing education. Another thing that we do at Vivint is have quarterly standard operating procedure reviews with a committee of representatives to make sure we are keeping our practices the best for our customers and company, as well as strengthening the relationship with authorities.
Our relationship with our customers is important to us, so we E-mail a survey to them to get feedback on how we’re doing and what we can do to improve. We have a team that’s dedicated to the customer experience that evaluates interactions with customers, so every operator has one to two calls a week that are polled, graded and reviewed with them to make sure that our quality standards are being met for each customer interaction.
Steve Dixon: We also have a company-wide online Intranet-based suggestion board that everyone at Vivint participates in, which gives employees, whether they are part of the central station or not, an opportunity to provide corporate-wide suggestions or department-wide suggestions, relative to the things that they observe in the course of doing their job. That gives people a voice direct to senior management.
The other thing that I would suggest is that as large as we are, we also have a very entrepreneurial spirit and we’re very flexible. We had a meeting in St. Paul a number of months ago and there were several suggestions made by individual monitoring reps that constituted a suggestion for best practices. We didn’t need to convene six weeks of committee meetings to simply say, “This makes sense.” If it makes sense organizationally and it makes sense for our customers, we put it in place right away. We don’t do that recklessly, but when the suggestion is good, we don’t feel encumbered by a whole lot of bureaucracy to make things happen.
Amy, what do you do to motivate your employees in the central station?
Becht: We created an internal currency for the company called Monit-Bucks. We have a score that the employees get for their performance on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis. Based on our key performance indicators, the top people will receive Monit-Bucks. They can collect those, save them or spend them. Our employees can customize the kind of prize or award they would like.
What do you think sets Vivint apart from other central stations?
Dixon: We think we have a very innovative spirit. If you combine innovation with customer centricity, then you’re going to end up with a top notch offering. We’re always looking for ways to improve that. Also, I think it’s the culture of this organization. We really do take pride in the culture that we try to create here because we understand day in and day out that we have a job to do as we interact with customers. It’s a tremendously inviting culture and that kind of positive environment permeates everything that we do.
At the end of the day, the culture that we try to have here translates to when the central station representative is communicating with a customer and can connect with him or her in ways that contribute to a good, positive healthy exchange, even when that exchange is someone’s emergency. Those are intangibles.
What advice would you give to other central station operators?
Dixon: Perhaps this is trite, but put the customer first and foremost always. Even if you make a mistake while you’re doing your very best to put the customer first, that’s a mistake that we can learn from.
You should be asking, “How can I do this better? How can I challenge myself to be a little bit more responsive to a customer or how can I look at procedures that I might be familiar with as a central station representative or as a supervisor or as a manager? Is there anything we do routinely just because we’ve always done it this way?” Identify those things because chances are if you’re doing it just because you’ve always done it this way, it may merit an evaluation to see if there is a better way to do it. Always challenge yourself and look for opportunities to innovate.
Ashley Willis | Associate Editor
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