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Booming Elderly Population Means It’s Time to Pursue PERS

PERS and mPERS are not for every dealer, but technological advancements and resourceful central station relationships build a healthy case for embracing this life safety service.

Booming Elderly Population Means It’s Time to Pursue PERS

It’s important for security providers to talk about the differences between PERS and mPERS, the latter of which affords greater flexibility to be monitored outside of the house. (Photo: ADT)

“An Aging World,” a report commissioned by the National Institute on Aging and produced by the U.S. Census Bureau, notes that America’s 65-and-over population is projected to nearly double over the next three decades, swelling from 48 million to 88 million by 2050.

Longer life expectancy is, of course, welcome news for all. For security dealers seeking new revenue streams, it also translates into 40 million more potential PERS customers.

Personal emergency response systems, known simply as PERS, represents a fast-growing market that primarily serves the needs of an elderly population. And now, with the advent of mobile PERS (mPERS) based on devices such as smartphones, the field of opportunity has become even wider.

But security providers looking to add new revenue streams beware — PERS/mPERS is a markedly different business than traditional alarm dealers are used to. It demands a different mindset, busiiness model and go-to-market strategy.

A deep understanding of the various devices available and what they do is also needed. Let’s take pulse of how security dealers can add PERS/mPERS to their portfolios, further examining the category’s major potential as well as its unique challenges to overcome.

Marked Market Differences

Because PERS serves a mainly older clientele, there’s a higher rate of attrition and shorter contract terms, if there’s even a contract at all. There’s also an initial investment to inventory equipment that should be considered.

As Spencer Moore, vice president of sales & marketing, Rapid Response Monitoring Services (RRMS), explains, “Dealers need to understand the need for a separate set of policies, procedures and processes to be successful in PERS. Another particular challenge could be having to source a new central station that monitors PERS and mPERS devices, as not all central stations have that capability.”

On the flipside, there are some very attractive reasons for pursuing PERS. Perhaps the chief one being it’s rife with opportunities right now and will only continue to rise.

“We’ve seen explosive growth in mPERS in the past seven years,” Moore reports. “Our mPERS base has grown from zero to over half of our PERS subscriber base. We think this change is a result of mPERS devices being able to be used both in home and while on the go. Additionally, landlines are increasingly disappearing from homes, and this trend is seen in the senior population as well. mPERS solutions fit this growing trend more than an in-home solution does.”

He adds that, although early mPERS solutions experienced issues with overall GPS accuracy and pinpointing devices in multistory buildings, subterranean parking structures and areas with multiple buildings, the market and GPS technology have both matured. The time is spot on to go all-in on mPERS.

The category gives dealers a chance to re-engage with current customers by expanding their coverage as well as court new ones who may just be seeking this particular life-safety service. PERS/mPERS will give dealers the opportunity to earn increased revenue from their existing customers by extending protection outside of their homes and businesses, notes Jim McMullen, president and COO, COPS Monitoring.

“mPERS also gives dealers access to customers that want protection for themselves or their loved ones without having to purchase a traditional system,” he notes.

Most security professionals who’ve worked in PERS would agree that the category involves a different approach to selling and networking.

According to Moore, “Yes, the model is significantly different. For one, the average customer is only a customer for 18-36 months, as compared to security where you are looking at seven-10 years. Attrition is high, and equipment is often leased, returned, refurbished and reused, thus requiring a robust inventory management plan. The successful model is one of marketing and not sales, service and installation. PERS isn’t a new security line; it’s a business model on its own that requires that focus to be successful.”

Because PERS serves a mainly older clientele, there’s a higher rate of attrition and shorter contract terms.

Parsing PERS vs. mPERS

There are many comparisons — and contrasts — when it comes to traditional PERS and mPERS that security providers should understand.

Bob Tucker, spokesperson for ADT, points out, “PERS users are mostly confined to the home with devices that can help protect within several hundred feet of the perimeter. The ‘buttons’ they wear are waterproof, since many falls occur in the bathroom. By contrast, mPERS devices connected wirelessly can follow you around the world.”

Among other important differentiators is that, for more active seniors, mPERS affords greater flexibility and out-of-the-house activities than traditional PERS. In addition, because no landlines are needed, mPERS solutions are easier to activate and set up than traditional PERS devices.

And, if an mPERS user signals an alarm and needs to be found, WiFi location technologies can be used to determine whereabouts and the monitoring center operator can transfer the alarm to 911 for location and dispatch.

Because most mPERS devices can track a user with built-in GPS and mobile network location-based tracking, central monitoring stations know where the subscriber is when they press their emergency button or activate their fall detector.

Fall detection has evolved to be a valuable selling tool, McMullen adds, and security providers and their customers can also expect the technology to become even more efficient in the years to come.

“This technology still has a long way to go to be completely accurate, but it is being seen in more and more devices. Additionally, location accuracy is consistently improving in standalone PERS devices,” he says. “With the addition of WiFi location, we can now much more accurately pinpoint the location of an mPERS subscriber in distress.”

The differences between PERS and mPERS may mean security dealers leverage their relationship with central stations a bit more, and place some different expectations, because the services go beyond traditional everyday alarm monitoring.

As McMullen notes, the dispatch process is more dynamic and, therefore, more intense as dispatching to the closest nearest address assigned to a latitude and longitude of a potentially moving device is much different from dispatching to a known address.

“We believe that the differences are so great that COPS will operate completely separate mPERS operations and have specialized mPERS training,” McMullen says. “mPERS dispatchers will also receive training in CPR, HIPAA compliance and potentially EMD certification.”

He adds that, while the elderly represent the largest user segment of PERS, mPERS can also offer personal protection for people of all ages. It can be put in place for certain occupations such as delivery people, realtors, custodial staff and other “lone worker” scenarios.

New Components to Sales Approach

An aspect to selling PERS that some traditional dealers may not be prepared for is the psychological one. Dealers need to develop a different kind of relationship with these customers, because they’re involved with the care of their elder family members.

As RRMS’ Moore points out, empathy needs to be a part of the sales and care process when selling PERS and mPERS solutions and the ongoing service.

“Customer service is typically required more often, so you need to be prepared to [engage] your customer more often and in different ways.”

Because PERS/mPERS is tailored to life safety rather than asset protection, the sales pitch must be adjusted accordingly. A personal connection with the subscriber is key to making an impact. That includes understanding the needs and benefits for both the family care provider and the person using the devices.

“We cater our marketing and messaging to the individual needs of the customer. In nearly all situations with a senior, their goal is to age in place at their home and remain there as long as possible. Oftentimes, the senior’s children are the ones encouraging their parents to consider a PERS device and even making the purchase. So, the messaging and marketing to them is different than to the senior,” says ADT’s Tucker.

The good news for security providers is that more than ever seniors and their caregivers are on the whole more adept with using and relying on technology such as smartphones as an integral part of their lives.

“The PERS business … has evolved from the traditional ‘I’ve fallen and I can’t get up’ buttons of the 1980s to very sophisticated devices, which reflects the growing need of an aging population that is increasingly comfortable with technology,” Tucker adds.

In addition to alert monitoring, dealers may look to associated services to educate themselves and potentially pitch their PERS clients on. The industry has seen an increased demand for additional elderly population monitoring, such as telehealth options through Bluetooth technology that can check blood pressure or glucose levels and alert the subscriber’s doctor of any noteworthy changes.

However, such technologies also come with cautions. When asked what’s involved in setting up these kinds of security alerts, Tucker notes that, “The potential is there, but insurance carriers are still working on things like reimbursement for in-house care. Once those needs are addressed, we will likely see a much greater demand for these types of services.”

Are You Prepared to Offer PERS?

Moore admits that this is a fast-evolving marketplace and the demands are changing daily. “It requires a robust automation platform and a capable software development team on the central station side to bring the device and monitoring capabilities together to form a comprehensive marketable solution,” he says.

RRMS has seen a particularly big increase in PERS during the past five years, Moore says, though the company has been providing the service since 1992 and supporting mPERS since 2011. He attributes the surge to the aging population as well as the technology that makes it more affordable and easier to use.

“We’re seeing dealers have great success in deploying options involving mobile functionality and apps,” he says.

So is offering PERS/mPERS sensible for your company? Moore sums it up well when he says, “It’s truly a business decision. If a dealer wants to capture a piece of this growing market, they need to make a conscious decision, build a business plan, make the investment and then execute the plan. PERS, mPERS and mobile apps aren’t something you can dabble in and find success with.”


Erin Harrington has 20+ years of editorial, marketing and PR experience within the security industry. Contact her at erinharrington1115@gmail.com.

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