SDM 2014 Dealer of the Year
If you search for ADS Security online, the ensuing description reads: There Are Many Security Monitoring Companies, But None Like ADS Security. It’s true. Headquartered in Nashville, Tenn., ADS Security is ranked the 25th largest electronic security firm in the nation according to the annual SDM 100. While the company is a very good example of a “traditional” security dealer (it has ranked on the SDM 100 for more than 20 consecutive years), it is also taking measured but critical steps toward the future. The company feels fresh and well abreast of all the changes in the industry. Rather than avoiding those changes for as long as possible, the company has proactively added offerings such as managed access control, automation, remote video monitoring and cloud-based services, and even tied new technologies into its sales and installation operations. Rather than squirm, the company dares to look comfortable expanding its offerings. These strategic additions, coupled with ongoing operational excellence and quality customer service are helping the company “future-proof” its position. ADS Security has found a way to remain relevant in a fast-changing market, earning it the 2014 SDM Dealer of the Year award.
At a Glance
ADS Security L.P., DBA ADS, Nashville, Tenn.
Ownership:ADS Security was founded in 1990 by Mel Mahler.
Today it is 100 percent owned by Elmhurst Group in Pittsburgh.
Employees:Full-time: 278, Part-time: 8
Revenue:$38.5 million in 2014 (estimated)
Customers:40,176 residential, 34,224 commercial (estimated)
Since it was established in 1990, ADS Security has constantly evolved around a central theme — the non-stop development of its service and offerings.
“One of the reasons that ADS Security has been so successful is that it continually plans for the future through investment in the best available technology and through employing the most knowledgeable people in the industry,” said Mel Mahler, the company’s chairman and chief executive officer in 2008 when ADS Security was named the SDM Dealer of the Year Honoree.
Since then the company hasn’t stopped future-proofing its offerings and services, which it does very strategically. The spirit of the company is to fearlessly “fire bullets, not cannonballs,” explains Craig Leyers, the company’s senior vice president of sales and marketing. “We are very willing to try new products, technologies, or services to see if they will stick. But when we do, we implement thoughtful vetting processes and do our homework so that it is a calculated, appropriately sized risk,” he says.
ADS Security is always open to what it can change and improve to make everything easier and more efficient for its customers and itself. “Technology plays a role in what we sell, how we sell, and how we operate, so we fully embrace it,” shares ADS Security’s President and Chief Executive Officer, John Cerasuolo.
Change seems to happen at light speed lately, but that doesn’t make ADS Security unnecessarily rush, which is why it can maintain its stability.
“We are very careful in our vetting process asking key questions, such as ‘What will be synergistic with our existing customer base and maintain or develop our relationships with vendors?’” explains Tom Szell, senior vice president, East region. “If we think our customers would want a technology or service, we take a hard look at it, but we don’t pick all of them. We look for technologies and services with the greatest benefit that are in line with the fact we are in the life safety business,” he says.
REVISING THE MISSION STATEMENT
ADS Security’s drive to be a uniquecompany with outstanding service led to an overhaul of its mission statement in 2013, and the results paid off this year with award-winning service (literally — in November it received the Best Customer Service Excellence award in the BestHomeSecurityCompanys.com (BHSC) 2014 “Besty Awards”) and solid growth in both residential and commercial markets. The company will net an estimated $38.5 million in revenue, a 7.67 percent increase from 2013.
It started with an introspective look early last year when the company reviewed its original mission statement.
‘The best service technician I have ever seen — extremely helpful. Even after he left I had called him several times to ask questions.’
— Robin B., Jackson, Tenn.
“When we reevaluated ADS Security’s mission statement it was very generic and felt like it could apply to almost any company,” Cerasuolo recalls. “We wanted a new mission statement that genuinely represented our company and was an ADS mission statement through and through, so much so that it could not be used by any other company.”
Cerasuolo says the new mission statement, which reads, “Through our legendary service we will create raving fans who tell seven friends about ADS,” speaks to the very core of the company and what makes it special. “The new mission statement ties everything together — but it is short so people, whether customers or employees, instinctively know it,” he adds.
The idea of raving fans comes from the use of a Net Promoter Score, or NPS®, which ADS Security uses, but calls a “Raving FAN Index.” See “What Is the Net Promoter Score?” (next page) for more.
NPS, developed by Satmetrix, Bain & Company and Fred Reichheld, is a worldwide standard for organizations to measure, understand, and improve their customer experience, but the company emphasizes on its website that Net Promoter programs are not “traditional customer satisfaction programs,” and measuring NPS alone will not lead to success.
“Companies must follow an associated discipline to actually drive improvements in customer loyalty and enable profitable growth,” the company describes.
That is what sets ADS Security apart. The company actively uses the system, watching its satisfaction results very closely and giving all associates in the company visibility to what its customers think.
ADS Security’s NPS is a 73 year-to-date, “which puts us in the range of the very best U.S. companies in any industry,” says Kristin Milner, ADS Security’s director of marketing.
“Customer service is a priority for me, and that’s what I was given.”
DM Custom Paint & Motorsport Inc., Melbourne, Fla.
That success is because ADS Security has automated the process in every way possible to spread customer feedback throughout the company immediately. When a customer responds to the NPS survey, a copy is sent directly (and immediately) to the technician(s), to the sales consultant(s) and to other members of its support and management staff.
“We have had instances where a customer concern may surface in the response to a survey, but we are equipped to rapidly respond to resolve a situation,” Milner says. An example would be a survey in which a customer responded to inform ADS Security that they did not place a yard sign at a residential installation. When the survey is sent to the technician, who retrieves it on his smartphone, he can immediately return to the customer’s location to place the sign — to the delight of an astounded customer.
ADS Security is also in the process of launching a customer loyalty program that will enable customers to accumulate “rewards” that can be used for system upgrades.
“We are supremely confident that this program will not only positively impact our attrition, but will be a differentiating factor that will help to drive higher customer satisfaction (and even new sales),” Cerasuolo describes.
The company is very strategic on how it creates “raving fans” in a highly competitive market. For example, it emphasizes its personalized service by having technicians send hand-written thank-you notes to customers. In 2014, ADS technicians wrote more than 5,000 thank-you notes. Each note thanks the customer for their business and is personalized in some way. “Some customers still have the first thank-you note they received on their refrigerator. It is a part of ADS Security’s active message that we are a growing regional company that still delivers that local, very customized service,” Szell describes.
Following an installation, new customers receive a hand-delivered welcome card from the technician that instructs them on how to sign up for a My ADS account, as well as a reminder about how to test their system, instructions on how to properly correct a false alarm, and directives to request an insurance certificate. New customers then receive a welcome email very similar to the welcome card with a link to sign up for their online My ADS account. (The welcome card and email are part of a complete marketing overhaul ADS Security will complete at the end of 2014, which also includes a redesign and launch of a new website and refreshed branding.)
From the first sales call, through the installation, and in every interaction that follows, all of the company’s employees are empowered to make the right decisions to support each customer, Milner emphasizes. “We focus on customer satisfaction through every step of the processstarting with our company philosophy around accountability,” she adds.
“We have lived in six different houses in the past 13 years. We have always had alarm systems put in by ADS. We have been very pleased with their service.”
— Anita G. of Birmingham, Ala.
ADS Security has numerous programs in place to enable recognition, and in a recent employee survey 92 percent of employees reported they felt recognized when they did a good job.
“The relentless pursuit of excellence is the driving force of ADS. It is our mission to provide a superior level of service that will turn every customer into a raving fan. ADS Security is passionate about protecting the communities we serve and we are committed to outstanding customer service and support,” Cerasuolo says.
Today ADS Security has made raving fans out of more than 75,000 businesses, industrial facilities and residences, and that number only continues to grow through organic growth and acquisitions. The company was founded on an acquisition back in 1990 and it continues to make strategic acquisitions in order to enter new markets. The latest this fall of Seaboard Security Systems, located in Washington, N.C., was the fifth acquisition for ADS in 2014, continuing the company’s pursuit of growth across the Southeast.
“Finding new avenues for growth is a continuing challenge that we have faced by aggressively growing our services, including automation services, and through closing five acquisitions in 2014,” Cerasuolo shares.
The acquisition of Seaboard Security Systems added 2,000 new customers and the company’s first North Carolina office.
“Adding the state of North Carolina to our service area aligns perfectly with our mission of steady, smart growth across the Southeast,” Cerasuolo adds.
CREATING RAVING FANS
With each acquisition, ADS Security takes on the challenge of converting the new customers into raving fans. It works to set the bar high immediately with a strong service offering that will often expand what the new customers previously could access.
“Our customer support resources are very strong. This ranges from our technical support team, to our dedicated data entry team to our customer care organization. For example, internally, and without rolling a truck, our resources under one roof can help a customer with items such as silencing an alarm, adding a user code, updating an emergency call list, or interpreting a bill,” Milner describes.
The company maintains a low attrition rate overall, despite making multiple acquisitions, reporting an estimated 8.05 percent attrition rate in 2014. See “ADS Security Combats Net Attrition With Customer Satisfaction Efforts” on page 45 for the details.
CREATING RAVING EMPLOYEES
From training through retirement, ADS Security takes great care of its employees as well, to make sure they are successful, motivated, recognized, taken care of — and raving fans of the company themselves.
From the moment a new hire joins the ADS Security family they are welcomed, according to Milner. In addition to in-branch training with their immediate supervisors, every employee from across the company is sent to the corporate headquarters for training. All new sales hires complete ADS University and the new technician and administration hires are brought to corporate headquarters for orientation. The administrative staff is also brought together to improve processes, share ideas and connect across the company.
ADS Security believes that all employees should always be learning and improving their skills. The company will provide financial support for additional seminars, leadership classes, technical skills classes and industry events.
For example, in ADS Security’s monitoring center, each operator completes the highest level of industry training available, subsidized by ADS Security.
This is part of the company’s strategy for operational excellence in its UL Listed, CSAA Five Diamond monitoring center in middle Tennessee, which was upgraded during an office relocation in 2006.
‘We recently had a lightning strike take out one of our fire panels and we had the best service from your office to your techs and then with a follow up call from Robert to a thank you card from your technician. Great service!!!’
— The Merritt at Whitemarsh, Savannah, Ga.
The upgrade to the central station included more than 14 miles of wiring in the new building and required more than 600 man hours to install the network for the computers and telephone system and the fully integrated access control, video surveillance, and burglar and fire systems.
At that time, ADS Security also upgraded its entire internal support system, a multi-year project costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Manitou, a central station management platform, and SedonaOffice, a security industry-specific enterprise management solution that combines accounting with business management, were successfully installed to increase efficiency, provide greater services to customers and allow for the company’s continued growth and industry development. Read more about the central station in “Designing a Central Station for the Future” online at www.sdmmag.com/dealeroftheyear.
ADS Security is highly proactive, not reactive, when dealing with false alarm procedures. It tracks accounts that are sending excessive signals every 24 hours and keeps in close contact with its branches to ensure that both customer and equipment issues are promptly addressed.
In 2003, ADS Security was practicing Enhanced Call Verification (ECV) on select groups of customers before it was an industry standard. In 2005, it implemented ECV for all customers. Its dispatch rate as of July 31, 2013, was 9.68 percent; and as of July 31, 2014, its dispatch percentage was down to 9.08 percent.
The dispatchers communicate with the customers with high false alarm/false dispatch rates. They attempt contact with customers for every alarm, and the branch or installer is notified via a weekly report of two or more dispatches. This is in addition to a report showing high activity from systems, regardless of dispatch. Meetings are arranged, at no charge, for retraining the worst false alarm/false dispatch offenders.
RAVING ABOUT TECHNOLOGY
ADS Security has made a significant investment in new technologies and enhancing its technical knowledge around computer networking and various IP-based systems. A main focus has been getting technicians and some sales associates to complete the ESNT Certification through ETA International (http://www.eta-i.org/Comps/ESNT%20Comps.pdf).
Additionally, it continues to invest in new (emerging) products that are evaluated within its internal technical support department, and it stays active with various vendor training sessions focused on emerging technologies in (most notably) the IP video and access control fields.
“On the residential side of our business ADS Security is seeing a growing application for burglary and automation systems monitored and controlled via an Internet connection. While this is driving a higher knowledge expectation for our sales consultants, our technicians and even for our customers, the transition has gone smoothly,” Cerasuolo reports.
Because the culture is one where the team works hard, but also plays hard, they also find ways to play with technology. “We have allowed our team members to set up systems and just have fun with them,” Milner shares.
For example, when learning about advanced services such as Z-Wave, the technicians and sales associates took it upon themselves to “play with the technology.” They programmed a lamp module into a new alarm panel and then routed an associate’s computer monitor through the module so that the monitor could be turned off, unexpectedly, from a cell phone. They even placed a door sensor on a candy drawer and programmed a new alarm panel to announce “Please exercise” when the drawer was opened.
Today 10 to 15 percent of ADS Security’s overall commercial business includes network-based products.
“Often, IP video is promoted — or demanded — in situations where we can install fewer cameras to gain the same or better view (that we would have with analog video) or in situations where a high degree of clarity / resolution is required,” Cerasuolo details. “Additionally, as our sales team gets more comfortable with these IP technologies, they promote them (‘lead with them’) more readily,” he describes.
RAVING ABOUT HOME AUTOMATION
Every year, ADS Security looks to add new technologies to its ever-expanding suite of customer solutions. This generates critical new growth opportunities and higher customer interaction with their systems.
Currently, ADS Security is planning to offer video verification services and two-way voice “to expand the role of its award-winning central station,” Leyers confirms. He says the company is planning to supplement its line of video solutions with cloud-based IP video, as well.
“We have worked hard to focus on how we promote our advanced services as part of a life-safety (or lifestyle) solution,” Cerasuolo says. “Our model is to ‘weave’ these solutions into our sales approach as opposed to promoting these solutions as an ‘add-on’ after the sale,” he emphasizes. This celebration of new technologies, including those used for automation, is a key component to the company’s growth.
This year, ADS Security introduced an automated water valve to complement its suite of automation services. It is a Z-Wave-enabled device that can turn on or turn off water (including the main valve) in a home or business via the alarm control panel or keypad; via a smartphone, tablet or computer; or via manual buttons on the unit itself. These valves can be installed in as little as 15 minutes (typically, ADS Security will coordinate this work through local, licensed plumbers) and work seamlessly with other alarm sensors and Z-Wave devices.
“The value provides a unique solution for customers by automatically stopping the flow of water when a leak sensor is triggered or by shutting off the water, via an automation scene, when a customer is away,” Szell explains. “Water damage is one of the most common and costly insurance claims and this revolutionary product is new to a market that already understands the devastation and cost that a leak can cause.”
RAVING ABOUT ADVANCED SERVICES
This is just one of many automated services ADS Security provides for residential and commercial customers. One of the strengths of ADS Security is anchored in the fact that it does offer advanced services including home automation and managed services, which tap into the strength, capability and commitment of its UL listed central station team to provide high-value, advanced services to clients, Leyers says.
An ongoing project that demonstrates ADS Security’s capabilities and staff talents is its SecureDoor solution. SecureDoor is foundationally based upon the installation of an access control system, involving traditional hardware such as readers, door strikes and magnetic locks. Creating an IP link to this system allows SecureDoor to connect with ADS Security’s central station where it integrates customers’ sites with its team of associates that not only can print logoed cards to the customer’s specifications, but also can field calls around the clock to activate new cards, remove users (cards) from the system, unlock doors, change schedules, and more. Additionally, SecureDoor has powerful reporting capabilities that allow a client to review associate activity and even supplement their security by reviewing recent access to “impacted” areas.
ADS Security recently supported a nationwide medical billing and transcription firm with its managed access control system, SecureDoor. To date, installations have taken place at seven locations throughout the United States (including in Florida, Alabama, Missouri, California, North Carolina and Connecticut).The client’s needs involved a seamless solution, allowing its managers access to its various facilities throughout the country. Additionally, the client had a strong interest in outsourcing the management of the system, preferring to have one centralized team that could support all of the card adds, changes and deletions for their associates. SecureDoor addressed both of these needs, and also was complemented by the flexibility for the client, through a simple phone call, to make credential changes 24 hours per day, seven days per week.
For this particular client, the facility requirements ranged from four to 15 doors. Working hand-in-hand with the customer on design requirements, facility needs and special considerations (such as customized magnetic locks for decorative glass doors), ADS Security formulated a team of direct associates and trusted sub-contractors to complete the installations.
“We commonly describe ADS as a ‘right-sized’ company,” Cerasuolo says. “ADS Security is large enough to tackle a national roll-out for a large client such as this one, but small enough to allow this same client, and thousands of others, to experience world-class technical and administrative support.”
It’s that self-awareness and confidence that fuels the company’s successful evolution and continuing relevance. It also ensures ADS Security continues to offer authentic service that its customers can rave about. As the industry continues to change, ADS Security is ready to continue changing right along with it.