Talk to a Protection 1 employee and there is a palpable energy that radiates outward about their job, the company and the customer. Chicago-based Protection 1, has always contained a deep-rooted love for the customer. But while employees embraced the concept, the execution was missing, as Protection 1 experienced declining growth for seven consecutive years.
Enter a fresh approach fashioned by chief executive officer (CEO) Timothy Whall and his leadership team that has been flawlessly executed by the entire company. Whall was named CEO in June 2010 when GTCR, in partnership with Whall, purchased financial interest in Protection 1. He stepped into the job with a new vision, a technical plan and the leadership style needed to take Protection 1 from a company with a great concept to a company capable of perfect execution of that concept on a daily basis. Protection 1’s growth and transformation received recognition in 2011 as SDM’s Dealer of the Year Honoree, but in 2012 the company resoundingly raised the bar again, with a year that demonstrated unmistakable success, innovation, the use of industry best practices, and notable growth and accomplishments in every area of the company — the hallmarks of an SDM Dealer of the Year.
The Defining Start
The day after Whall and GTCR closed on the P1 acquisition, he held his first staff meeting at 6 a.m. with a new management team that was an intentional combination of key leaders who had Protection 1 experience and new leaders who had significant industry experience in key areas such as finance, IT, sales, marketing and operations. From there Whall and his team worked to blend a new vision with Protection 1’s existing strengths. Demonstrating his respect for the opinions and experiences of the employees on the front lines, over the next 60 days Whall worked around the clock to meet with virtually every employee spanning nearly 60 branches across the United States.
“Sitting with everybody as I traveled around the country, it was clear the people here were very passionate about the customer,” Whall recalls. He set out to complement that passion with the culture, infrastructure and resources that had been missing.
While focusing on the customer is a common (albeit critical) approach in many companies, Whall and Protection 1 tackled it in a new way.
First, it was no longer just about a single great experience, it was about the consistency of that experience. In chasing consistency, Protection 1 transitioned to managing and measuring the business on a daily basis, a move Whall gives a lot of credit for the company’s transformation.
“You hear people say that all the time, ‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.’ We worked really hard to bring out a philosophy that says, ‘We’re going to look at how we did each and every day, not just weekly or monthly,’” Whall describes.
As Protection 1 set out to measure its performance, it tapped into the IT finesse and vision of Don Young, Protection 1’s chief information officer.
“The initial hard work is finding the ability to measure events and turn them into actionable data. It is something Don Young and the IT department did brilliantly. When you can actually find a way to measure and put them in a daily scorecard so everybody can see how we’re doing, any issues or improvements immediately show up to work on. Your progress shows up as well, giving you momentum and new goals,” Whall says.
Protection 1 uses data-driven metrics in multiple ways. Alarm signals, service calls, communication failures, longest call waiting (LCW), billing questions — you name it, Protection 1 works to measure, analyze, and communicate relevant data, using those metrics to develop goals, objectives and enhanced performance plans that improve its service. Read “Today’s Business Intelligence Environment” in the October issue of SDM for more on Protection 1’s mastery of data and how it offers the resulting data and insights to its customers via dashboards, benchmarking, SiteView, product inventory, customer reports, eVideo, and much more.
Whall, a self-admitted “statistical guy,” has a deep background in almost every area of the security industry from installer to call center operator, general manager, chief operating officer and CEO. When he started asking for better performance and operational changes, employees had to respect the fact he was speaking from experience. Make that 29 years of industry experience.
During his initial visits throughout the company, Whall was working to rally employees behind the simple idea that to begin growing, Protection 1 had to start keeping its customers.
“I told everyone, ‘Let’s take it personally if someone decides to cancel our services,’” Whall shares. And then he set out to demonstrate his philosophy.
In those critical first days, he spent time in Protection 1’s Wichita, Kansas-based call center. A customer called in to cancel service while Whall was spending time with the employees there. He jumped on the phone, engaged the customer in conversation, and by the end of the call had saved the customer from cancelling. The result: instant respect.
“Tim really is a front-line leader,” says Jamie Haenggi, chief marketing officer, Protection 1. “He understands the process that our employees have to go through and the experience of the customer. He also knows how to create excitement and momentum among the employees and leads by example.”
Motivated by Whall’s personal example and clear vision, over the past two years Protection 1 has successfully carved away at its attrition rate, logging net attrition of 7.4 percent in 2012. In specific segments like high RMR customers and national account customers, net attrition is in the 1 to 2 percent range. In 2012 the company has also added new customers, including 39,000 residential customers, 42,000 commercial customers and several major national accounts.
Understanding the experience of the customer led to Whall’s next major overhaul — removing the company’s computer-generated auto attendant.
“I think when I told my team to get rid of the automated system and that they still had to answer every call within 60 seconds that they thought I was a madman,” Whall recalls.
At the time of Whall’s challenge, the longest call could hold up to 11 minutes, making a 60-second longest waiting time seem nearly impossible.
“Our call center team — Joseph Sanchez, senior vice president, Customer Operations; Tammy Donald, director, Commercial Operations; Shari Wilson, director, Customer Operations; and Jon Marvin, director, Customer Experience and Operations — really pushed the culture change and an eagerness to hit that goal,” Haenggi says. “Quite frankly, it just created a wave of momentum with the employees when customers were shocked, and then elated, that a live person had answered the phone,” she adds.
In less than two months, Protection 1 was answering 99 percent of calls within three seconds. Today Protection 1 handles 100,000 calls across its call centers each week and answers each one in just 2 rings — with a live person. To make it work, Protection 1 — behind more genius from Young and the IT department — leverages technology from the phone switch, combined with monitoring systems to route calls in the most efficient way possible and even enables customer call-ins from alarms to be routed directly to the operator handling their alarm dispatch, a move Haenggi says is helping reduce false alarms.
“Often times the first thing that someone does when their alarm goes off by accident is call their monitoring center to cancel the alarm. However, with most companies, it can take more than 45 seconds just to navigate the phone tree to get to a live person. At the same time, the monitoring center is typically calling the customer site. We believe our ‘1 Ring and a Real Person’ approach is a benefit not only to the ‘Wow’ customer experience, but to reducing false alarms,” Haenggi says.
Proving the Transformation
Plenty of numbers demonstrate the effectiveness of the “Wow” customer experience Protection 1 is working to create. Before starting its transformation, customers could wait 11 days for service. Today, 90 percent of the time across all locations Protection 1 provides same-day service for customers led by the efforts our Paul Straten, SVP of Field Operations and Stephen Hopkins, SVP of Operations and National Account Delivery.
The company consistently maintains an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, and is currently at a > 95 percent in its customer satisfaction scores that are administered by the thousands each and every month on nearly all touch points of the customer experience.
Better yet, it holds a 4.9 out of 5.0 customer satisfaction rating with its national account customers. Since jumping whole-heartedly into the national accounts arena two years ago, Protection 1 has seen strong growth.
In 2012 alone, its national accounts grew another 150 percent in RMR and 200 percent in revenue, while multi-family accounts (serving apartments, condominiums, senior living, student housing, military housing and mixed-use developments) grew 112 percent.
Protection 1’s hub for its national accounts is the 1-Touch National Account Center in Irving, Texas. Transforming the approach to national accounts, today its services are handled by a 1-Touch Pod — a self-contained group of individuals prepared to handle every aspect of a specific customer’s account from system design, to installation, to monitoring, to billing and everything in between, all from a single location. Michael Keen, vice president, strategic accounts, plays a key role in working directly with clients and the 1-Touch center to bring the concept to reality.
“We have reached the level of ‘contender’ in this space — something we attribute to our ‘being brilliant with the basics,’ and the personal touch our 1-Touch Pods provide to eliminate the pain points national accounts generally experience,” Haenggi says.
Transforming With Acquisitions
Protection 1 is focused on growing its residential and commercial businesses together — designing them to scale up to a customer’s needs.
With that in mind, Protection 1 has extended into integration, making some very strategic acquisitions in 2012 that catapulted it straight into high-level integration with a fully staffed and experienced Integrated Systems Team. Protection 1 can now design, build and support large backbone networks to address clients’ solutions.
The three key acquisitions in this space were:
- Camtronic Security Integration, which added new national account clients (Safeway, Dominick’s, Winn Dixie, SaveMart, Louis Vuitton, Coach and Chanel, among others) and a specialty in large, complex, networked and IP-based systems.
- Newark, Del.-based Integration Logistics, founded in 2005 by John Smolinski and Ken Schafenberg, which brought a single-source security integrator with a requisite knowledge of providing and installing turnkey security solutions. (Schafenberg is now the vice president of Protection 1’s Integrated Systems Team.)
- Fort Worth, Texas-based Suntera Security, an IT-centric systems integrator specializing in Department of Defense (DoD)-related security clients and the energy markets with a client list that includes Bell Helicopter, Lockheed, XTO Energy and ExxonMobil.
“The move into integration was very simple to us,” Whall says. “You don’t want to lose 90 percent of the business opportunity because you can’t do 10 percent of the work. You don’t fake your way into that level of integration. You’ve either got the guys with the accreditation and the skill set to work in that space or you don’t. We could have tried to develop that across our footprint, but we chose to do some strategic acquisitions that immediately bought us that expertise and personnel.
“As far as the rest of the company, we’d like to be full-service,” Whall adds. Today Protection 1’s existing customer base is approximately 58 percent residential, 14 percent commercial and 28 percent national accounts.
“While other companies in the industry are splitting up their residential and commercial offerings, we want to be the largest company that can be full-service from residential to high-end integration,” Whall says.
In addition to growing through acquisitions (seven total in 2012), Protection 1 added four new branches in 2012, with a national footprint providing service to more than 100 U.S. metropolitan areas.
“With each of our 65-plus offices maintaining local sales, installation, service and administrative teams, we have the physical presence and infrastructure to provide security services to a wide range of customers,” Haenggi says.
Over the last year, Protection1 put time and resources into upgrading its services. On the commercial side, in 2012 the company added four new services to its commercial customer online portal, eSuite, including
- Invoice Customization, where national account customers have the ability to choose the invoice template they would like to use for service, recurring and installation billing;
- Rolling Activity Graphing, which allows a customer to choose a time period and see activity graphs for alarms received, out-of-schedule opens and closes and more;
- SiteView, which takes product inventory concept a step further. In addition to data about installed products, technicians can upload pictures of installed equipment, existing equipment installed by previous providers, works-in-progress, construction progress and even a video walk-through of completed installations; and
- eSuite video, which allows customers of video verification services to see the alarm video associated with an intrusion event within their eSuite account. (In 2012 Protection 1 also launched additional video verification platforms: I-View Now, SureView and Videofied, supporting “priority response” by the police to alarms.)
Technicians also received new smartphones that carry an app the IT department created called Tech Portal, giving them the ability to be more efficient on site by putting systems on test, updating statuses, as well as taking pictures and video to upload to customer records for viewing in eSuite.
Protection 1 also upgraded its residential services, launching P1 Life in August 2012. Customers are now able to access their security system via the eSecure application from anywhere with their smartphone, tablet or PC. New services include thermostat control, door lock control and Smart Events — programmable actions that allow each user to change the environment in their home based on schedules or system events. Read about the launch in “Protection 1 Introduces New Home Security & Automation Offering,” on SDMmag.com.
“While these systems and services are not new to the industry, we felt that there was work to be done before we could be confident in offering systems of this type. We have long sold against self-contained systems in the marketplace because of their ‘smash-and-grab’ vulnerability.
“We collaborated with our supplier, Honeywell Security, who developed the Advanced Protection Logic (APL) feature — one that passed our all-important ‘customer-friendly’ test. We also worked with Honeywell on improving the user experience of our eSecure platform to ensure that our customers would use, and love, the interaction with their security system,” Haenggi details.
Protection 1 isn’t just investing in new services for its customers. The company has invested millions of dollars over the past year and a half in its training on multiple levels.
- In 2012, it expanded its Management Trainee program that invests six to 12 months having trainees work in nearly every position in the company while working closely with the senior leaders of every department.
- The new Sales Management Trainee program is a three-year program where college graduates are recruited into the security industry via an on-campus recruiting program.
- A college recruitment program for call center operations engages local universities in Protection 1’s call center footprint by offering internships, senior leaders as in-class speakers for key business topics, and project assignments for classes.
- A Call Center Mentoring program implemented in 2012 trains mentors who are responsible for checking in on their P1 buddies on a weekly basis. All mentoring interactions are tracked through an online system.
- The Virtual Training Center (VTC), Skill Soft and Learning Management System (LMS) tools continue to be upgraded, allowing employees to be trained and/or certified across a variety of course modules.
In the past year, every single person in management has been brought together in small groups either to the corporate headquarters in Romeoville or to Irving, Texas, for additional training and coaching.
Maintaining the standard of investment and interaction he set within his first 60 days at the company, Whall continues to visit each one of the branches and call centers annually.
“It’s key that employees see you’re going to invest in them. When you visit them, talk with them, not at them, and let them know you are willing to invest in them, it changes the atmosphere. Our employees are smart, and they come up with ideas and solutions. They’re passionate. They work unbelievably hard for a cause. They’re self-starters. I want to make sure I’m leading by personal example to my team, because that carries through to the entire organization,” Whall says.
Behind Whall’s unwavering belief that when you put the customer first, profits will follow, Protection 1 has shown positive results against each and every objective in its mission to grow, including the once-elusive bottom line. In 2012 revenue reached an estimated $385 million (11.6 percent growth) and recurring monthly revenue grew to $25.8 million (a 2.3 percent increase).
This company’s transformation was not simply increasing the efforts of the past. It was a fresh way of thinking, an overhaul of the process, the metrics, the culture and the company focus — and the challenge was met by a passion-filled employee base that embraced the enormous amount of change and delivered outstanding results in customer service and company performance — results deserving of SDM’s Dealer of the Year.
Protection 1’s Falling Attrition Rate
2012 7.4% (estimated)