Identifying standout performers in the great big pool of talent that is found in the security monitoring industry is no easy task. The unique nature and requirements of a successful central station almost dictate that every operator, support person and manager must go above and beyond the call of duty to ensure the safety of people who suffer alarms, while remaining very conscious of the need to conserve both central station and law enforcement resources during non-actual alarms.
Even so, finding these standout employees and entire central stations is a task undertaken every year by the judges of the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) Central Station Excellence Awards. They took on a number of applications, all compelling in their own right, and selected winners in order to recognize that amazing pool of talent and inspire by highlighting the stories and skills of a few individuals at a time.
This year, one winner and one honoree were named in four categories recognizing central stations, managers, support staff and operators. They were honored at a breakfast ceremony held at the Nashville Convention Center Ballroom during the Electronic Security Expo on June 27.
With SDM as a sponsor and its editor, Laura Stepanek, as the event’s emcee, individual and company achievements were celebrated and past winners newly recognized for their continued excellence.
Central Station of the Year
First-time applicant, Vivint, leverages talent at all levels of the company to create efficiencies and improve the customer experience.
As a first-year applicant, Vivint had a lot to prove to the CSAA Central Station Excellence Awards judges. Vivint has operated its two central stations, located in St. Paul, Minn. and at the Vivint headquarters in Provo, Utah, only since late 2009 and early 2010, respectively. However, in the short time since, the company has recruited an impressive staff — two of whom were also recognized with CSAA Excellence awards this year. It’s a focus on these employees and their professional development that Vivint says makes a big difference for its young central stations.
Steve Dixon, vice president of operations, comments, “While we’re very proud of the central stations we’ve created, we were very pleasantly surprised to receive the award. We consider it an honor, particularly as a first-time applicant.”
In the end, a combination of comprehensive programs focused on employee performance and training, meticulous data analysis, a steadily decreasing rate of false alarms and innovation driven by a highly motivated team earned Vivint the title of CSAA Central Station of the Year.
Vivint’s focus on employee growth is reflected in its extensive training programs. Every new hire goes through 80 hours of classroom training and one week of coached floor training. Trainees are exposed to a collaborative learning model through which they can master topics by working in small groups. Teamwork, hands-on training and continuing independent study are all key elements of the initial training program. Vivint uses a variety of learning techniques such as
• interactive engagement through workbooks rather than manuals;
• “think-pair-share,” a collaborative learning method that has trainees discuss their thoughts on a problem in pairs;
• “jigsaw,” having breakout groups study a topic and then mixing the groups so that each student can share what he or she learned with others;
• alarm simulations using the company’s automation software, and more.
Progress is tracked through quizzes, chapter reviews and trainer observation. And passing the classroom portion of the training requires a 90 percent or higher score on two tests. Trainees who fail two opportunities to take the tests are terminated.
On the floor, trainees are taught to master one signal type each day by a coach. Coaches also check the trainee’s work daily and offer feedback. This coach supervision over calls continues for one month after the new employee successfully completes training.
New hires also must complete CSAA online training, and Oregon and Virginia licensing classroom training.
Continuing education is offered during monthly training classes on topics determined by leadership staff, generally as a response to observed situations.
When it comes to the customer experience, Vivint understands it is only as strong as its weakest link. In order to maintain and improve the quality of its monitoring staff’s performance, Vivint’s employees are continually motivated through a program called Monint (monitoring intelligently) Quality Service Measurement and Incentive Program. The program uses measured expectations and rewards to keep employees engaged.
Amy Becht, monitoring manager explains, “We identified some key metrics that we measure for each individual. Part of the program is quality standards. So we drew some lines in the sand defining what it means to have quality performance. And then we also have incentives for our top performers within those metrics.”
Becht stresses the importance of both defining the minimum a staff member should be accomplishing as well as rewarding those who go beyond in order to continually improve the level of service provided to customers. “We provide a motivator that directly defines a quality performance,” she added.
The incentives program is carefully thought-out. Performance is quantified and measured resulting in weekly, monthly and quarterly Monint.Scores. Based on these scores, employees can earn Monint.Bucks to be redeemed for prizes, big and small. The internal currency is also awarded for exceptional calls, at the supervisor’s discretion, through monthly competitions among the leadership teams.
Another step the company takes daily to motivate its employees is taking office decoration to a new, inspirational level. On its Wall of Life, Vivint displays the names of customers who experienced actual alarms for all at its central stations to see. “We have a Wall of Life in Provo and one in St. Paul,” Dixon says. “They really put it out there for all of our monitoring representatives to see that while we’re focused on operating procedure and a number of things during a call, at the end of the day what supercedes everything else is our focus on our customers. These are real people who may be going through one of the scariest moments of their lives. And we become a lifeline for them. When our monitoring representatives see those names on the wall, it’s a reminder to them that we’re here to serve our customers.”
The company’s belief behind the wall is that seeing something as simple as a customer’s name and who helped them during an actual alarm every day does a lot to help monitoring representatives visualize the people and not just an alarm code during every call.
Describing Vivint’s data analysis as methodical is an understatement. The company employs analysts and staffing specialists that measure performance metrics regularly. Again in this aspect, maintaining isn’t sufficient. The information is used to create new efficiencies and see measured improvement.
According to its analysts, Vivint responds to 90 percent of its alarms within 30 seconds and its average answer speed is 10 seconds. These numbers are reported every two hours so that staffing adjustments can be made if necessary.
Monitoring representatives are tracked individually for attendance, productivity, accuracy and customer satisfaction scores. Performance reports, and warnings if necessary, are generated automatically by the tracker.
Finally, Vivint’s efforts to reduce its rate of dispatch have seen steady decreases since April 2011, when the company implemented changes to its standard operating procedure (SOP) for passcode and cancel signals. The company uses enhanced call verification with more than 60 percent of its customers. Monitoring representatives are now also required to make an additional call to a premises even after dispatch. If the subscriber responds, the representative can quickly cancel the dispatch. Since these changes were implemented, Vivint saw a 12 percent decrease in its rate of dispatch, from 26 percent to 16 percent.
Dixon shares that reviews to SOP happen regularly and give employees at all levels of the company a voice. “We’ve implemented an SOP review council, which is comprised of members of a team that sit down on a periodic basis — if necessary monthly, most often quarterly,” Dixon explains.
Central Station Manager of the Year
Amy Becht ensures her two central stations operate as one through a focus on leadership, creativity and motivation.
Amy Becht is faced with the daily challenge of being in two places at once. As the monitoring manager for both the Provo, Utah and St. Paul, Minn. central stations, Becht had to develop strong processes and communication avenues with the supervisors that report to her. She constantly travels back and forth and works to maintain uniform leadership through every shift. “For me the number one key is having very strong leadership in the supervisors as well as constant and open communication,” Becht says.
First an operator, later a supervisor and now a manager, Becht helped shape Vivint’s new central station in Provo. She was responsible for training all of the leadership staff and remains involved with the training program, overseeing the newly hired professional trainer and helping develop course content and curriculum.
Becht stands out as one of the creative and effective minds that helped shape many of Vivint’s performance and customer satisfaction programs.
One of the initiatives she helped develop and implement is the company’s customer satisfaction surveys. Becht routinely monitors surveys that come back from customers. “The main thing we’ve been looking at is our net promoter score. And that’s something we use as a key driver. Generally speaking in the security industry, or for any industry, when it comes to customer service, a net promoter score of over 55 percent is considered top notch. And we’re very proud to have ours in the 75 to 80 percent range.” A promoter score identifies customers who would recommend a service to their friends, colleagues, etc. As it has always been in the security industry and others, word of mouth and customer recommendations are the holy grail for getting new business.
One thing Vivint stresses about Becht is that she tirelessly works to improve processes and services, not just maintain them. Aside from her own ideas and initiatives, one of her primary hiring criteria is a person’s creativity and problem-solving skills. Her approach to hiring centers on making certain that new employees will significantly contribute to the central station for a long time. She looks for candidates that have the appropriate skills and attitude for the job. But also favors those who are interested and able to grasp the big picture of what a central station does. The key in staffing the central station is finding employees who are natural problem-solvers and will be able to reflect on their every day tasks to come up with innovative ways to be more effective and provide better customer service.
Becht notes, “The thing we love most about our company culture is also probably the most challenging. And that is finding ways to improve and make our customers’ experience better.” Becht added that at the same time getting positive responses from customers that the central station is able to help is also the most rewarding part of her job.
Becht works with an open-door policy for the central station staff. She not only makes herself available for questions and concerns from staff, but actively seeks out feedback from them through one-on-one meetings and a communications board.
She also acknowledges employees who work on holidays or make an extra effort to make an inconvenient schedule work. One of the biggest challenges for central station supervisors is maintaining appropriate staffing levels in response to emergencies. Becht trained the leadership teams in Provo and Utah to respond to such crisis situations and works alongside them.
A notable improvement made by Becht was revamping Vivint’s phone script and communication with customers. This is another instance where she implemented a change to improve customer satisfaction. The new script meets the requirements of effective emergency response but also takes into consideration the customer experience during any type of alarm.
Central Station Support Person of the Year
David Palacios is a champion for UCC’s dealers and some maintain his team makes all the difference.
As the first member and now director of UCC’s Dealer Relations (DR) department, David Palacios leads a team of three DR representatives in constant communication with the company’s dealer customers. Under his leadership, UCC counts with a powerful tool to not only retain customers and gain new ones by ensuring great working relationships, but also relieving some of the stress of repeat problem accounts on the central station itself.
According to Palacios, there is never a dull moment working in the DR department. His and his team’s work centers on their ability to identify situations before they become big problems for the dealer. This involves proactively looking for high-activity accounts and communicating with the dealer to help them manage alarms. “For example, if high activity is identified on an account with scheduled open and close signals, David will review the account’s schedule versus their actual activity and make time adjustments and/or automated notification to potentially reduce thousands of signals early,” UCC stated.
“There is no such thing as a normal call with our monitoring business. We’re providing unique solutions for each dealer.” Palacios adds that on a single day he will help a technician troubleshoot signal transmission issues, talk to office staff about making improvements to databases, answer billing questions and much more.
Palacios works closely with UCC’s IT department to troubleshoot transmission issues and has earned a reputation as an “expert” in handling communication issues to alarm receivers. He notes that he works with technicians with one to 20 years of experience, and that most of the calls he gets from technicians are resolved over differences in panel programming, which he has become proficient at identifying.
Palacios has worked in security for 27 years and has spent all of them with UCC. He has some dedicated fans among UCC’s dealer customers, including David Elizondo of Advanced Security Concepts who says, “I chose UCC because of David. I knew that if he was part of the company that the rest of the company was going to be excellent.”
Pam Woods of Law Security Corporation agrees that Palacios sets UCC apart as the company to do business with, saying “His work ethic and ability to care is the reason our business relationship [with UCC] flourishes.”
During his employ with UCC, Palacios worked as a dispatcher and operations manager, and had experience in sales and billing. His breadth of knowledge when it comes to all things UCC enables him to epitomize the Team UCC principle of teamwork and never saying, “That’s not my job.” Palacios can handle almost any question thrown at him from a dealer and answer it accurately and without having to transfer the call.
Palacios says he is still motivated by the opportunity of daily problem solving. “We’re all striving to take care of the customer,” he says. “It’s very gratifying to solve these problems for customers or technicians who have been out in the field all day.”
Mark Matlock, senior vice president adds that Palacios’ achievements in the DR department reflect a singular commitment to customers that sets UCC apart. “They’re looking at the dealer’s account activity even with the dealer is not. And they’re constantly in contact with the dealers. We visit them frequently and train them. It’s good for everybody. The dealer can address problem accounts they didn’t even know were problems. We’ve done a good job of building relationships with our customers, not just taking their money and dispatching their alarms, but providing value.”
Central Station Operator of the Year
Gale Gordon’s dedication to her central station was tested this year as she voluntarily took on huge responsibilities to ensure it continued to operate smoothly in a crisis.
Gale Gordon has the distinctive quality of being an outstanding central station operator and supervisor that would never seek a lot of recognition for herself.. For 11 years, she has worked at The Protection Bureau, spending the last six as a central station supervisor. Her humility and ultimate focus on what’s best for the central station as whole led her to turn down offers of further promotion, maintaining that her current position is where she can do the most good.
That’s not to say that Gordon is static in her career. She has diligently followed the company’s continuing education schedule and pursued CSAA certifications and completed management courses and well as panel-specific and remote programming training. She is CSAA level 1 and level 2 certified and received Radionics Software, Entre/DMP certifications and Trainer certification from the Mid-Atlantic Employer Association.
Protection 1 describes her as “the definition of essential personnel.” Her attendance is exemplary. She does not take time off unless it is sufficiently planned in advance and makes herself available to cover others’ shifts when needed. That flexibility, coupled with her extensive knowledge and good communication skills, allows her to provide training to new employees on any shift.
Her experience also prepared her to take over overseeing central station operations when the previous central station manager had to retire suddenly due to medical reasons in 2010. During the several months to come while The Protection Bureau undertook the hiring process for a new manager, Gordon took on the new responsibilities and time commitments “without compensation or accolades.” During her time as interim manager, Gordon kept up morale in the central station, and took over hiring of new employees and their training.
As to why she did it, Gordon says, “I stepped up because I wanted to maintain the leadership and status quo. I did not want anyone panicking or saying, ‘We don’t have a manager anymore; now what’s going to happen?’”
And even after that experience, Gordon maintains that her role as supervisor is just where she wants to be. “I like the hands-on with the operators. I like to be there to help them train and understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.”
To this, company president, Matthew Ladd adds that in the military, one of the most important people is the sergeant. “I often joke with Gale that she’s my sargent. She keeps the troops running. They rely on her. Gordon fulfills that sort of role with a helpful disposition and nary a complaint to anyone.
Gordon showed adaptability and a selfless attitude as she performed these duties and even immersed herself in a new philanthropic effort in organizing a HeartWalk for the central station manager who had to leave the company. Gordon exemplifies the culture of charitable giving that The Protection Bureau actively encourages since it was founded, Ladd comments. In order to assist fellow employees facing financial issues, Gordon coordinated a seminar led by Dave Ramsey on weekends at The Protection Bureau facility. She is also heavily involved with other charities in her personal life, including the Coatesville Emergency Food Cupboard and the Lord’s Pantry.
“I love my job,” Gordon adds simply. “I really like what I do and I care about the customers we have at The Protection Bureau. It’s a love that’s grown over the past 11 years. I decided six months after starting here that I’d stay until I retire. It’s a family-owned business and that’s how you’re treated.”
Central Station of the Year Honoree
UNITED CENTRAL CONTROL INC., San Antonio
A 30th anniversary for any security company is cause for celebration. But for a wholesale central station, which faces the challenge of changing communications technologies with limited access to end users, it is arguably even more so.
For the past 30 years, United Central Control has cultivated an account base that is now made up of more than 215,000 accounts. And after 30 years, the company remains at the forefront of new technologies that will enable it to do what most central stations aspire to: reduce false alarms and improve relationships with dispatchers and law enforcement.
UCC was the second central station to get on board with the Automated Secure Alarm Protocol (ASAP) program, an electronic dispatch gateway, and worked with the Central Station Alarm Association and the Association of Police Chief’s Organization (APCO), of which it is also a member, to develop ASAP and roll it out in Houston. ASAP consists of a protocol that enables central stations to automatically send all of the data associated with an alarm to the dispatching authority, eliminating human error in retyping information and significantly shortening the time it takes from the moment an alarm event is received by a central station to the moment a dispatcher is ready to send out a response unit.
UCC currently uses the protocol to communicate with the Houston Emergency Center and advocates for the program through involvement in industry associations, including a representative in CSAA’s ASAP Outreach committee.
Mark Matlock, senior vice president of UCC, comments that the program is all about working together with police departments and dispatch centers. “It’s a team effort,” he says. “What’s good for them is good for us. Houston in particular, is a city where we have a high concentration of accounts. We were a huge part of their overall base of accounts and they’d struggled keeping call centers staffed. They claimed they saved $1 to $2 million in manpower. As we continue to grow — and we will in Houston because of our dealers — we’ll continue to reduce labor costs. We are right on the cusp of being able to send video.”
Adopting new technology that will help its dealers differentiate their companies in the field is a proposition that UCC considers paramount. From remote monitoring with mobile devices to signal transmission through cellular, GSM, IP and AES Intellinet, to identity theft protection and restoration, and alarm.com, the company offers a wide suite of services so that its dealers can “effectively compete with large national chains and increase their RMR.”
UCC also works closely with the False Alarm Reduction Association (FARA) and is represented by one of its employees in the planning of the association’s annual symposium, which is mostly attended by public safety workers and centers on improving communications between industries through educational sessions.
Through its new technology offerings and industry outreach, UCC maintains a rich and dedicated relationship with its dealers through its Dealer Relations department. In 2011, it created a program to better work together with dealers in order to apply enhanced call verification to every burglary alarm signal. Since implementation, UCC has seen a decrease of more than 18 percent in its burglary alarm dispatch rate and 35 percent across the board. Read more about UCC’s DR group on page 62.
Matlock adds an important detail about the company’s work culture is the meaning behind the phrase “Team UCC,” which has become a sort of motto for the company. “You’ll never hear a person at UCC say ‘That’s not my job’” he comments. “We see ourselves as one team working toward one purpose. It filters down from the CEO to the front lines. It’s engrained in the culture of the company to do whatever it takes to get it done.” Matlock continues, saying that everyone in the company is very conscious of not elevating any one person above another.
This culture allows the company to have very impressive tenure numbers — its management team alone averages 15 years at UCC. “When a person feels like they’re part of something, the loyalty goes through the roof,” Matlock notes. “We use postive reinforcement and are careful not to ever call somebody out publicly. If a person makes a mistake, that’s an opportunity for coaching.\
UCC’s management team (left to right): Richard Hain, executive VP; Don Munford, CEO; Mike Lamb, director of training and HR; Dave Palacios, director of dealer relations; Bob Cuyler, vice president and CFO; Mark McCall, director of IT; Mark Matlock, senior VP; Carolyn Escamilla, operations manager; Tracey Ritchie, VP and general manager; and Teresa Gonzalez, president. PHOTO COURTESY OF UCC
Central Station Manager of the Year Honoree
JOHN WILLIAMS, Alarmco, Las Vegas
After 6 years as Alarmco’s central station manager, John Williams has an impressive number of achievements and successful change implementations under his belt. Williams worked his way through the ranks at the company over 21 years of employment, an experience which gives him unique understanding of the day-to-day challenges a central station faces, as well as the knowledge to improve its operations.
Williams created a standardized training procedure that was nonexistent before he accepted his current post. Williams designed the training program and manages it for the company’s new hires. He also developed a new training manual that streamlined the training process as well as added consistency across the board in how alarms are handled.
As manager, Williams also manages scheduling for the central station. To do so more effectively, he created a software tool to show staffing levels hourly and ensure peak activity times are covered. He also jumps in during emergencies to supplement emergency staffing, which is covered by Alarmco’s records department.
In addition, Williams recently folded the service dispatch department back into the central station, providing additional training and ultimately improving quality of service due to cross-training.
To ensure performance and customer satisfaction, Willaims routinely listens in on live and recorded calls, going above and beyond to personally address issues when necessary. Ensuring quality standards is a priority and Williams spends time individually with operators who may need remedial coaching, assessing progress and taking disciplinary action when performance levels don’t improve to adequate standards.
Williams dedicates time to the company’s website and authors its newsletter and blog. He actively worked to improve the capabilities of the software the company uses in order to offer customer reports, email and fax alerts; and customized the time of day when customers receive notifications for signals such as low battery and trouble.
PHOTO COURTESY OF ALARMCO
Central Station Support Person of the Year Honoree
KATE BRICKNER, Vivint, Provo, Utah
Kate Brickner, monitoring trainer at Vivint has been hard at work with the company for four years developing, maintaining, and revising all customized training and training materials. She is responsible for maintaining manuals, tests, quizzes, worksheets, etc., to reflect current practices.
Brickner is responsible for training all new employees. She works with the central station manager in creating new courses and runs them. According to the company, while Vivint went through a transition in its central station operating platform, Brickner was instrumental in preparing staff for this change.
Amy Becht, monitoring manager, fellow CSAA Excellence awardee and Brickner’s supervisor, notes that Brickner’s background in education makes her a key asset to the company’s training and continuing education programs. “Kate has been with the company since 2008. And she has been a trainer the entire time she has been here. She has her Master’s in Education and she has a wonderful strong focus on curriculum development and teaching. She’s done some great things with the program in terms of the different types of activities and a really great combination of hands-on as well as workbooks.”
Vivint’s central station training program entails a variety of teaching techniques, which you can read more about on page 56. By diversifying her methods, Brickner can account for the different ways people learn information and help avoid the mental fatigue associated with time-intensive courses.
Brickner is also certified to conduct Oregon State licensing training and is SIA certified. She is very active in identifying best practices and participates in standard operating procedure reviews. Brickner is also known for taking a seat in the central station and “working alarms” with the rest of the monitoring representatives.
According to Vivint, “Kate maintains relationships beyond the initial training and serves as an ongoing resource. She prepares [operators] to be successful and gives great service to our customers on an ongoing basis. She also participates in discussions to set policy and in special projects to improve procedures and other technical functions within the department.”
Central Station Operator of the Year Honoree
JORGE RODRIGUEZ, Monitronics Int’l, Dallas
Jorge Rodriguez might not have known it when he joined Monitronics Int’l and the security industry four years ago, but he has a talent for helping people that doesn’t stop at the customer end of a telephone line or panel. Since joining the company, Rodriguez quickly gained interest in the monitoring industry and understanding its effects on end users as well as responding agencies.
In his current position as supervisor, Rodriguez is always ready to provide professional assistance in response to alarms. But last year, he was alarmed to notice that another agent in the central station was choking. He rushed to help her by performing the Heimlich maneuver when she signaled that she could not breath. It turned out that operator was choking on her medication and after a few compressions, Rodriguez was able to clear the obstruction in her throat. The operator was later checked over by a paramedic, who said she was out of danger.
The story was covered in a spring CSAA Dispatch magazine article, in which Rodriguez says that all he had time to think about was that someone needed help and quickly.
His willingness to help others reflects in his flexibility to cover shifts, even when it means driving to the central station at 4 a.m. on some of the iciest roads Dallas saw last winter, as ice and rolling blackouts caused heightened alarm traffic. On one particular night, Rodriguez’s car slid and bumped a neighbor’s fence, denting his fender, as he was trying to get to the central station. That did not detain him.
Rodriguez also takes leadership roles within the central station, coordinating breaks and lunches for more than 30 operators, monitoring alarm activity and managing queues. He is currently tasked with managing the company’s False Alarm Control Team (FACT), which makes follow-up calls daily to customers who have a history of false alarms and dispatches. PHOTO COURTESY OF CSAA