How Do You Train Your Operators?
Companies operating their own central stations know they can count on established industry training, but many go beyond that to offer cross-training, role playing and more intensive experiences on the job.
The hallmark of a high-quality alarm company’s central monitoring station is the ability of its people to quickly, expertly and compassionately handle any call that comes their way, take appropriate action to verify alarms and notify the appropriate authorities. Delivering these essential services can only come through the proper and consistent training of central dispatch center operators.
So what are some of the top alarm companies doing to assure their operators receive the best training possible?
The Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) Level I and Level II operator training courses are commonly referred to as the gold standard in the industry and one of the five points of excellence required for achieving the CSAA Five Diamond Certification. Level I is an operational overview covering the basics of the alarm industry, systems, devices and communications methods, the role of the operator, alarm verification procedures, equipment, emergency procedures and UL standards.
“Only about 100 alarm companies in the country have earned the prestigious Five Diamond status, signifying that all operators taking calls have successfully passed that first level of training,” says CSAA Board Member John Lombardi, who also is president and founder of Commercial Instruments and Alarm Systems (CIA), a small, Five Diamond certified central station in Fishkill, New York.
Companies that attain the distinction make a pledge to allow random inspections to meet quality standards established by Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL). Other nationally recognized testing labs such as Factory Mutual, Global and Inertek/ETL use UL standards as a model.
“Monitoring today has become much more complicated, so education is a never-ending process,” Lombardi observes.
The CSAA online programs are regularly updated, offering companies a cost-effective way to improve operator understanding of new technologies such as IP monitoring, VOIP, DSL, and mesh networks.
Many companies carry the CSAA training further using experts from within their organizations to develop their own training programs, placing an emphasis on customer service.
Large companies such as Protection 1, with headquarters in Romeoville, Ill., have implemented enhanced, blended programs of their own in addition to requiring operators to take the CSAA online training. Mid-sized companies such as ADS Security based in Nashville, Tenn., also have adapted industry training from SIA and CSAA and give incentives such as merit pay increases as operators move through the CSAA training modules. Smaller companies such as Doyle Security Systems, Rochester, N.Y., and Engineered Protection Systems (EPS), Grand Rapids, Mich., use the CSAA courses along with having operators do installation “ride-alongs” with technicians, site visits to customer locations, and even tours of 911 dispatch centers.
“Before the applicant even comes in for training, we schedule them to go on a ride-along with one of our technicians so they actually get to see an installation happening, meet the customer and understand exactly how that system works,” says Donna Speranza, director of operations at Doyle Security.
Doyle has a very large PERS medical monitoring department and Speranza relates that giving new operators the chance to learn from customer stories or examples helps them remember the proper procedure when they encounter certain kinds of alarms.
All of the companies interviewed for this article, also have formal training processes and procedures in place that include an orientation and familiarization period for new hires, classroom training, a “tethered” approach to handling real alarm calls along with coaching by more experienced operators, and shadowing mentor supervisors as they handle live calls.
Dallas-based Monitronics has a group of trainers, a dedicated training supervisor and a “bridge-bay” to get operators started as soon as possible handling low-priority calls.
“New operators sit together as a class in the central station but away from the floor so their trainer can work with them to make sure all of their questions are answered,” describes Mary Jensby, director for central station and data entry at Monitronics. “After their third day of training, they are already able to handle a burglary alarm signal. But we don’t want to put them on the floor until they feel comfortable so we also have our senior emergency dispatch operators (EDOs) assisting. The manager does a daily assessment of each new operator to identify and correct any issues,” Jensby adds.
Protection 1 has a dedicated staff of trainers, teacher supervisors and managers complemented by subject matter experts from the national account operations who have also gone through Protection 1 University and are specialists in troubleshooting and working with customers.
“At Protection 1 our training is all around the customer experience. It really focuses on how we are going to deliver a great customer experience that is the signature of our company,” said Joe Sanchez, senior vice president of customer operations, Protection 1. “If you’re getting to a live agent in less than 50 seconds, you’re probably going to be ready to talk in a happier manner. You might have a concern that needs to be addressed immediately and right away we’re answering your call,” Sanchez emphasizes.
Protection 1 strives to achieve a less than 10 percent call transfer rate with the goal of resolving customer concerns with one call to the company. “The biggest key performance indicator is how our customer feels about us and that all starts in the training environment,” he adds.
Engrained in the Protection 1 training process is the concept of teach me, show me, let me, explains Alicia Scheffler, director of organizational development and training for Protection 1. “They’re learning systems, processes and how to handle alarm priorities in the new hire agenda. Customer service is really woven through that entire process because our main goal is to be one stop for a customer, so that no matter where they call or who they reach, they need to have the best customer experience every single time,” Scheffler notes.
Companies use a variety of tools to keep training interesting and fresh.
Monitronics recently implemented an 8-hour class on soft skills and conducts a quality screening program to spot check how operators are doing. “The class includes a video with members of the training staff demonstrating how to be polite over the phone and methods of putting TLC into your tone of voice,” says Jensby of Monitronics.
After the sales and installation process is complete, ADS Security considers customer monitoring center operators the most important voice delivering service to the customer. “New hires are graded every day using a 30-point checklist we developed over the years. The training and performance or TAP report tracks attitude, knowledge and performance, measuring everything from knowing various alarm signals and actions to understanding equipment and the different terms like ‘verifying’ versus ‘notifying,’” says Lela Mullins, senior vice president for monitoring at ADS Security.
After ADS operators get the green light on their TAP report, they must pass their first verbal or oral exam. “It’s one thing to have a test where you write down the answers and another if you have to think on your feet and articulate the answers verbally. It illustrates for us where we need to do more coaching,” Mullins adds.
ADS Central Station Manager, Christine Mudrak, works to create a positive, upbeat environment that keeps everyone on their toes. More tenured ADS operators help write quizzes based on real calls they’ve received. “Our team learns and grows together as they encounter difficult scenarios, bounce things off each other and collaborate on whether there is a better approach to a situation,” she says.
At EPS, the company’s Central Station Operations Manager, Amy Jo Weller (formerly Amy Jo Feliciano and winner of the 2011 CSAA Manager of the Year Award) says it’s important to recognize that people learn in different ways and at different paces. “A person hired fresh out of high school is going to require different training than someone who is in their 30s or older. The younger generation tends to be more technical and they often learn differently than people who are older,” she explains. “We do a full 90-day training, but even at 90 days you’re not expected to know everything.”
Dera DeRoche-Jolet, of Alarm Monitoring Services Inc., Metairie, La., contributed to creation of CSAA training courses, tapping Security Industry Association (SIA) and Association of Public Communication Officials (APCO) to develop the newly formed Central Station University and a train-the-trainer program.
“For companies that do not have a large training staff, Central Station University is a great resource to create training programs tailored to a center’s needs,” DeRoche-Jolet describes. “We teach central station monitoring companies, but we train major organizations that do their own monitoring, as well.”
Training for operators and staff at all levels in central dispatch centers continues to grow in importance as being at the very heart of the services electronic security companies provide, the protection of their customers and ultimately the success of their businesses.