Aging with Dignity
- Basic and advanced PERS technologies are projected to bring in nearly $2 billion in revenues by 2013. See related article, “The Future of PERS”
- The key market for PERS â€” Americans age 65 and older â€” is large and growing. An estimated 11 million people in this age group live alone and want to continue to live independently for as long as they can.
“It’s important to keep seniors calm when they use the system, so the voice transmission must be clear and easy to understand whether the customer is one foot or 300 feet away from the base unit,” says Anndee Soderberg, marketing manager, Home Health, ADT.
Custom Alarm, Rochester, Minn., has offered PERS for eight years, but only began to focus on it about three-and-a-half years ago. The company recently reviewed available PERS products and selected a Visonic system. John McMahon, who is business development coordinator and the company’s PERS specialist, said product selection criteria included build quality, aesthetic appeal and extensive feature set.
According to Jim Baker, president, Ultraguard Protective Systems, Woburn, Mass., PERS users “…want a basic, high-quality, reliable system. We chose Mytrex because the company has a long track record in the industry. Even though we don’t offer all the product bells and whistles possible, we can add them later as needed.” Ultraguard has offered PERS for two years.
American Two-Way, North Hollywood, Calif., has been providing PERS services for more than 30 years. The company started by designing, patenting and manufacturing some of the first PERS units ever made, says CEO Christopher Baskin, adding that today, American Two-Way is the nation’s largest wholesaler of PERS products and monitoring services to independent dealers. “With an understanding of the market that spans decades, we have created a one-stop shopping source for dealers wishing to enter this booming field,” Baskin explains.
“Dealers can purchase PERS products and monitoring services and install the unit themselves or utilize our direct fulfillment program in which we private label, program and install the unit anywhere in the country for the dealer under the dealer’s own name. We also offer the nation’s only funded PERS dealer program that gives them the option to sell their contracts, similar to alarm dealer programs,” Baskin says.
Marketing & Sales
Wayne Wahrsager, president of NationWide Digital Monitoring, Freeport, N.Y., says that PERS users can be the most reluctant to admit that they need a system. “Their children want it for them,” he notes, “so we market to them and to home healthcare agencies.” NationWide solicits PERS business from its existing alarm customer base and operates an affiliate, SeniorCARE911, which provides PERS equipment, monitoring and billing to dealers and shares a portion of RMR with them.
EMERgency24, Chicago, a wholesale monitoring company, has been monitoring PERS accounts for dealers for many years and helping them with marketing systems. Alarm dealers can mail a new marketing piece each time they do a billing with EMERgency24’s customizable fliers. The free fliers, designed to introduce PERS to potential customers, can be imprinted with a dealer’s logo or contact information.
ADT primarily does one-on-one selling with seniors, physically challenged individuals, and healthy, older singles. “Our salespeople are trained in senior health and sensitivity issues,” Soderberg describes. “For example, when talking with seniors, it’s important to speak in lower tones in order to be understood. There are vision issues as well, so we train our salespeople to both show and describe things to customers.”
“In most cases, PERS is a referral sale,” says Custom Alarm’s McMahon. “We let people in durable equipment companies, home healthcare agencies, hospital discharge departments, and other healthcare and eldercare providers know that we offer personal emergency response systems. Although they won’t specifically recommend Custom Alarm, they will recommend PERS and give customers our brochure as one source for service.”
“Selling PERS involves a lot of relationship building,” adds Ultraguard’s Baker. “We have a senior citizen specialist who works with key groups that manage eldercare services. Seniors rely on these groups to tell them what they need and PERS has almost become automatic for people going home after a hospital stay. The key to PERS marketing is establishing relationships with a senior’s points of care.”
One of the many advantages of the PERS market is the ability to go national with relative ease, says Baskin at American Two-Way. “A dealer can market PERS services through a Web site, run small national print ads or do direct mail. Once a sale is made anywhere in the country they can mail pre-programmed units to the customer or have us do it for them through our direct fulfillment program. The ability to market your services nationally opens up an enormous market to the dealer,” he relates.
While not labor-intensive in installation, some dealers spend a lot of time familiarizing customers with the units and how they work. “Older people just home from the hospital generally are not thrilled to have a new piece of technology to learn,” comments Custom Alarm’s McMahon. “They worry that hitting the call button will send fire trucks or ambulances racing to their door, even if they’ve hit the button by mistake. We show them what happens when they press the button, have them speak with an operator, and assure them that no one will be dispatched unless they need it.”
“The operator who monitors a medical alert/PERS customer needs to be personable, have patience and be thoroughly trained in senior care. They need to be aware of issues and possible disabilities that the user may face such as limited mobility, loss of sight and hearing, cognitive limitations, along with their social and spiritual needs,” Baskin explains. “The operator must talk to the customer to determine if the ‘emergency’ is physical or social, and they need to respect the fact that either emergency could be life-threatening. A patient who feels lonely, isolated and depressed can be in just as much danger as a patient who is feeling chest pains.”
“We’re often talking with an older person who may have a medical condition and is in need of assistance,” says Tony Wilson, president, Criticom Monitoring Services (CMS), Longwood, Fla., a wholesale monitoring company with dedicated PERS operators. “The way we talk and the time we spend with these customers on the phone is very different from security alarm customers.”
Specialized training for operators is key. ADT uses materials from sources such as geriatric organizations in annual training for operators in its four fully redundant monitoring centers that operate 24/7 to handle the emergency needs of customers.
NationWide’s monitoring center handles almost 16,000 PERS accounts. “PERS is very labor-intensive,” says NationWide’s Wahrsager. “Calls can average about 20 minutes. Dedicated PERS operators go through the CSAA Five Diamond Certification Program and our own customer service training to help them relate to seniors and, where required, to keep them talking so they don’t slip into a coma before help arrives.”
Custom Alarm and Ultraguard use wholesale monitoring centers for their PERS accounts only. Custom Alarm uses CMS. Ultraguard uses VRI. “We have our own monitoring center, but we recognize that these calls need to be handled differently and require more time per call and different training,” describes Custom Alarm’s McMahon. “Plus, we don’t want to put our staff in the stressful position of making judgment calls about medical situations. For example, does a caller’s slurred speech mean they’re having a stroke, or is it a pre-existing speech impediment?”
Ultraguard’s Baker says he decided that PERS accounts required an experienced monitoring service with specialized knowledge of eldercare issues and medical emergency response. He advises dealers interested in an outside monitoring service to investigate several. “We tried three before choosing VRI,” he states.
In order to get the best from an outside monitoring service, CMS’ Wilson suggests:
- Communicating with them about procedures before bringing in PERS business.
- Providing customers’ personal data to the center before setting up their system, including medical conditions, medication allergies and contact list. “Having complete information beforehand enables us to help dealers do a successful, complete test at the customer’s home.”
- Testing the PERS unit with your center and your customer. “Verify that the two-way voice communication is working. Do a walk-test through the house so operators can let you know if they can hear you from all rooms.”
Affordability is important in this price-sensitive market. ADT offers discounts for existing ADT customers and for AARP and USAA members. Ultraguard’s Baker said it’s hard to win business in his market above an average $20 to $30 monthly charge, which Ultraguard’s brochures describe as providing safety and security “for about a dollar a day.” He compares PERS with a rental car business. “PERS units are temporary installations,” he describes, “so, at any given time, some units will not generate RMR. There’s a constantly rotating customer base and stock.” According to Custom Alarm’s McMahon, PERS units are installed only 1.5 years per customer on average industry wide. “Fortunately, our average is higher,” he adds.
NationWide’s Wahrsager thinks PERS profit margins are better than those of standard security alarms and explains why:
- PERS equipment valuation is equal to or less than that of security systems.
- PERS installation labor is far less. “PERS, at the outside, may take 30 minutes compared to a half day for alarms.”
- RMR valuation is the same.
- PERS service call occurrence is half that of alarms.
- “PERS has tremendous potential for rapid growth, high profit margins and lower creation costs,” Wahrsager concludes.
Tips for Success
The quality of the monitoring service is a clear differentiator among PERS providers, Baskin believes. “Leaders such as American Two-Way are setting the standards for medical alert/PERS monitoring and services. These standards include actually encouraging the user to push the button anytime for any reason, and never feel like they are bothering someone or that the reason for the call is not important. It’s better to handle a call that is not important than not get one that could be lifesaving because the person ‘didn’t want to be a bother.’”
Do due diligence on PERS systems and what they can do. “If you don’t have a good product,” states Custom Alarm’s McMahon, “you won’t have a good PERS service. Look for reliability and future-proof features that can be added later, such as low-temperature sensors, smoke detectors, medication reminders, and tele-health applications such as registering and transmitting blood glucose, heart rate, blood pressure and respiration levels.”
Make a long-term commitment to the business. “Do your homework, research the markets, learn the competition,” advises Ultraguard’s Baker. “You have to build your PERS business from the ground up.”
Wahrsager believes many alarm companies are missing out. “PERS is a piece of business a lot of alarm companies are failing to recognize,” he summarizes. “They need to get customers now or risk losing them to other dealers.”
The Future of PERS
PERS Manufacturers & Monitoring Services
American Two-Way Monitoring
Bay Alarm Monitoring
Criticom Monitoring Services
EMERgency24 Alarm Monitoring
Guardian Medical Monitoring
NationWide Digital Monitoring
Rapid Response Monitoring