This year’s Excellence Awards have a slightly different name as the newly branded TMA Monitoring Center Excellence Awards (formerly the CSAA Central Station Excellence Awards), but the awards — now in their 12th year — still retain the same purpose of promoting the inherent value of professional monitoring services and honoring those who have made significant contributions to the industry.
The 2017 Excellence Awards, hosted by The Monitoring Association (TMA) and co-sponsored by SDM, recognize exceptional personnel and central stations in the industry (both TMA members and non-members) that are certified by any approved Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL), such as UL, FM Global and Intertek/ETL.
One characteristic that stands out among all of the award recipients as well as the finalists is their extensive industry experience. Their dedication shines through loud and clear.
“We congratulate our finalists for being recognized as the best of the best,” says Elizabeth Lasko, vice president of communications and marketing, TMA. “Our judges related how very difficult it was to choose the finalists, let alone the winners, from all the nominations. The applications that were submitted all told powerful stories of service, innovation, corporate culture, and the desire to constantly improve.”
Excellence Award recipients were announced at the opening ceremony of the Electronic Security Expo (ESX) in June in Nashville. The 2017 award recipients are: Vivint Smart Home, Monitoring Center of the Year; Keith Godsey, Dynamark, Manager of the Year; Craig Pierce, Safe Systems, Operator of the Year; and Laura Jacobson, CRC, Support Person of the Year.
“The atmosphere at the awards ceremony was very exciting. I hope other companies will be inspired by our 2017 winners and finalists and consider entering the Excellence Awards in the future,” Lasko says.
For more information on this year’s award recipients, read on. To learn more about the TMA Excellence Awards program and past recipients, visit www.tma.us.
Monitoring Center of the Year
Vivint’s values of taking care of its employees, taking care of its customers and taking care of its community are palpable in everything the company does.
Monitoring Center of the Year
Vivint Smart Home, Provo, Utah
This Five Diamond certified company, which has two UL-certified monitoring centers that act as one, holds itself to exceptional standards in its constant pursuit of perfection.
Number of subscribers: 1.17 million (as of publication, commercial subscribers: 25,795; residential subscribers: 1,141,188)
Vivint Smart Home has won a variety of awards. In 2016, Business Intelligence Group named Vivint as the winner of its Best Places to Work award. In 2015, Vivint was named on Forbes’ “America’s Best Employers” list. In 2017, Fast Company ranked Vivint #22 on its list of the World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies.
This year Vivint was awarded TMA’s 2017 Monitoring Center of the Year award — an awards program that has been in existence longer than the company itself. So, how did Todd Pedersen, founder and CEO, take a company that was started in 1999 as APX Alarm and rebranded as Vivint in 2010 and grow it into one of the most exceptional companies in the industry with more than 1 million subscriber customers, 250 operators (both full-time and part-time) and two Five Diamond-certified central station locations?
“We have six values that really drive all aspects of the business and those are a huge piece of our daily operations, even down to the individual performance level, and that really makes a difference,” says Amy Becht, director of central stations at Vivint Smart Home.
The six values are: Honesty and Integrity Come First; Customer Obsession is Our Advantage; Innovation is Essential; We Win Together; Exceptional is Expected; and We Give Back.
One of the ways this 2017 Excellence Award winner stays true to its values is its focus on employees. Once an employee makes it through a multi-tiered interview process to become one of the eight percent of applicants hired as monitoring specialists, Vivint Smart Home management want individuals to feel appreciated. Its focus on “winning together” lends itself to numerous, exceptional perks within the company for existing employees. Along with scheduling flexibility, competitive base compensation and bonuses, Vivint employees enjoy features focused on making them happy and comfortable in the workplace, such as floor-to-ceiling windows, cafe with free meals, fitness center, putting green and gaming area, pool tables, basketball court and sand volleyball court. The company’s Utah central station even has an on-site health clinic with a full-time doctor on staff.
“As a company, the employee experience is something we really value and invest in. We have amazing perks not found in most companies, but more than that, it’s just an exciting company to be a part of at all levels of the organization,” Becht says.
Vivint also focuses on employee acknowledgment and the ability for staff to excel in current roles or move to other roles within the company through special committees, leadership training, career development programs and mentorships. The key, here, is opportunity.
It is not uncommon, according to Becht, for an employee to move throughout different departments in the company during his or her career at Vivint. The company wants its employees to succeed and places an emphasis on mentoring. Mentors encourage their mentees, aid them in achieving their goals, and advocate for them throughout their tenure.
Also rooted in the company’s core values are the many internal technological improvements and implementations Vivint has made to its monitoring business over the last several years. For instance, the company began leveraging its intelligent IVR (or interactive voice response) system to make notification calls to its customers on low-priority signals such as low battery, which has reduced low-priority alarms handled by monitoring specialists by 90 percent, while positively impacting customer satisfaction. With a change in the company’s cancel signal policy, Vivint reduced false alarm volume by 26 percent. Additionally, enabling two-way connection on fire alarms with an active connection for two-and-a-half minutes drove a 62 percent reduction in dispatch rate for fire alarms.
Another intelligent tool that Vivint implemented about two years ago to help it keep up with its more than 4.5 million signals each week, is a staffing software through IEX, which adjusts projections in real-time throughout the day based on actual volumes, helping to optimize scheduling.
The results have been game changing, according to Becht. “We moved from a more manual process when it comes to staffing and schedules, and that has given us high visibility of agent availability status and high visibility of over- and under-staffing. It makes us more agile,” she explains.
On the customer-facing front, innovation and adoption of new technologies, as well as customer focus, are values that help Vivint stand out. Every customer who has an alarm activation receives a two-question email survey asking if he or she would recommend Vivint. A dedicated team member reads and categorizes all survey responses, along with a team that personally calls every customer that gives a rating of six or lower (out of 10) to make sure all concerns are addressed. A real-time dashboard displays survey results and users can drill down to the team and individual level to see specific results.
Vivint is always thinking about innovations to add or execute to make a more seamless customer experience. For example, recent integrations with Amazon Echo and Nest Learning Thermostat into the company’s platform add on to the customer’s smart home experience. In addition, all systems are paperless and accessible through a single sign-on, ensuring employees can deliver the best customer experience possible with all the information they need in one place.
In the end, while Vivint’s values, perks and business processes all matter, numbers also matter and Vivint excels in this area as well. To go over a few metrics: Vivint currently verifies 87 percent of all alarms as false without dispatching employees; 93 percent of survey respondents rate the company’s monitoring representatives at a seven or higher out of 10; and in 2016, Vivint’s average speed of answer on a signal was 8.4 seconds.
“We have consistent innovation in all that we do,” Becht says. “Beyond the products, to the employee experience and every facet of our processes, we are always looking at ‘Is there a better way?’”
Learn About the Finalists
Both ADT and Cooperative Response Center (CRC) were honored as finalists in the Monitoring Center of the Year category.
ADT is supported by six fully redundant central stations. The company regularly revamps operations and procedures, as well as regularly offers new technologies and products to its more than 7 million subscribers. Aside from rigorous training and a robust incentive and recognition program for monitoring center staff, ADT recently installed Inspiration Stations in its central stations. The touch-screen kiosks allow employees to watch ADT LifeSaver videos for inspiration about their work. In addition to many other philanthropic programs, ADT provides $5,000 grants twice per month to first responder organizations that assist with customer saves through the company’s LifeSaver Award program.
Cooperative Response Center (CRC), a Five Diamond certified company, had an employee turnover rate of seven percent last year. The company has received the “Best Places to Work” in Southwest Minnesota designation for the past five consecutive years. CRC not only invests in its people, it invests in its operations and redundancy. For example, by recently investing in an additional ISP provider, the company now offers multiple IP paths to its members, better ensuring that one of the networks at one of its sites will be operable at all times. The company also deployed a secondary cold-site — in a different state, on a different electrical grid, using redundant telephone and ISP networks — in the event that the primary site automation or network suffers from disruption.
Manager of the Year
Keith Godsey fosters a culture of positivity and opportunity.
Manager of the Year
Winner: Keith Godsey
Company: Dynamark Monitoring Inc., Hagerstown, Md.
Title: Senior Vice President of Operations
Tenure at the company: 6+ years
Keith Godsey, senior vice president of central station operations, has been a part of the monitoring industry for more than 40 years. Six years ago, when Trey Alter, president and CEO of Dynamark Monitoring Inc. wanted to build a central station, Godsey became the person for the job.
“In this industry, you almost never get to build a central station from scratch. We rented the space, remodeled it, got UL and FM approved, hired and trained operators and put our first account in there. We also got Five Diamond certified and now we have close to 400 dealers and tens of thousands of accounts,” recalls Godsey, who is responsible for all operations at Dynamark’s Maryland central station along with its two dozen operators.
Two traits that have aided in Godsey’s successes are his love of the work and humble leadership style, according to Alter. “The most important aspect of Keith’s job is to be a good leader and lead by example. He never asks someone to do something he wouldn’t do,” Alter continues. “That’s a tremendous asset and can’t be overstated.”
In addition to empowering employees by advocating opportunities and promotions from within, as well as giving them the training and tools they need to excel at their job and handle issues and conflicts, Godsey does everything he can to ensure that employees are able to do their jobs and provide the level of service that account subscribers and dealer customers deserve.
Two years ago, during a blizzard that dumped 48 inches of snow, Godsey enlisted four-wheel drive vehicles and even snowmobiles to take operators to and from their homes so that proper staffing and safety could be maintained during the state of emergency. Food also was brought in to make sure operators were taken care of and could perform their duties.
Beyond training team members to answer the phone, Godsey has created a positive environment for the monitoring center’s employees, as well as a great all-around experience for the company’s dealers and their subscribers, according to Alter.
“This industry is unique and you have to train people that way, too,” Godsey tells SDM. “There are very few businesses where at the end of the day, you can say ‘I saved somebody’s life today’ or ‘I helped a customer’ or ‘I saved a home.’ We do that every day.”
Adds Alter, “Keith has built a culture and a philosophy from his real passion for delivering to the customer. He wants every alarm system to be monitored like it is his and he holds everybody to that standard. I am sure there are many great central station managers, but Keith is more than that. I recommend him because I honestly do not believe there is anyone more deserving.”
Learn About the Finalists
Josh Sanders and Shari Wilson were honored as finalists in the Manager of the Year category.
Josh Sanders, monitoring center operations manager at EPS, started as a technician in 2012 after 10 years in electronics and training in the U.S. Army, Boeing, and as a civilian for the U.S. Navy. His track-record, leadership style and technical competency made Sanders a perfect fit for department manager, even though he had no previous call center experience. Sanders’ accomplishments include reducing turnover and overtime, and increasing employee morale through an efficient rotation schedule. He also authored a career growth program for operations and spends individual time with staff to raise technical proficiency.
Shari Wilson, senior director of customer care at ADT, started as an operator at the company 33 years ago and now oversees all central station activities as well as account creation, testing and billing. Her primary focus is ensuring customers are taken care of and Superstorm Sandy in 2012 was no exception. Wilson monitored the National Hurricane Center’s weather outlook and forecast. She tracked the path of the storm closely and secured required staff for when there would be increased alarm and call activity. With Wilson’s help, ADT never missed a beat over the several days of the storm, while ensuring employee morale remained high, according to the company.
Operator of the Year
Craig Pierce’s ability to anticipate customer needs is one of his biggest assets.
Central Station Operator of the Year
Name: Craig Pierce
Company: Alarm Detection Systems (dba Safe Systems), Louisville, Colo.
Title: Central Station Lead/UL 2050 Lead
Tenure at the company: 4+ years
Caig Pierce, central station lead and UL 2050 lead, exemplifies the best of what a central station operator should be, according to Safe Systems’ central station manager Shelley Chasteen. “There are a lot of people that fall into this industry by accident or stay because it is comfortable. This is not true for Craig. For him, this is a profession that he has chosen and trained others in for more than 20 years and he has done it with a positive attitude. It matters to him,” she tells SDM.
Pierce came to Safe Systems during an acquisition in November 2012, starting as a new operator only to learn the company’s monitoring software and procedures. From day one he was providing assistance to employees that had been at the company for years, and within six months he was acting as a new hire trainer and lead.
One attribute that serves Pierce well in this industry is his desire to continue learning and improving. During the first several months after being acquired by Alarm Detection Systems, Pierce received his secret clearance and quickly became an expert on UL 2050 high-security monitoring accounts (SCIF, Closed area and DSS) and, subsequently, became the UL 2050 lead.
Even though he’s an operator, Pierce’s vision is a larger one: doing whatever needs to get done for the company and its customers. He has gone to customers’ homes to replace batteries when a technician could not be scheduled. He has done data entry, remote programming and troubleshooting when necessary.
When asked what he likes most about his job and this industry, Pierce said it is the number of different people he gets to talk to in a day. “And usually when I am talking to those people, I am helping them in some way. That is very satisfying for me,” he adds.
A few years ago, Colorado was hit with a declared natural disaster that included major flooding and rains that resulted in deaths and thousands of destroyed properties and displaced residents. One signal that Pierce received during that time before the weather was declared a natural disaster, was a low-priority alarm on a sump pump. Typically, the alarm would have been pended for day notification, but with the heavy rain in the area combined with Pierce’s extensive knowledge, he called the customer. The customer — annoyed with the late night call — was going to go back to sleep, but instead went down to check his sump pump. They had not been on the evacuation list and thought they were safe, but the basement was flooding rapidly. Pierce’s call couldn’t save the home, but it did allow the customer to take out family heirlooms and other irreplaceable items that left the family very grateful for Craig’s persistence.
“Craig is passionate about helping others and doing the right thing. He has amazing customer service. That can be trained to some degree, but you have to have that core of wanting to help people and Craig does,” Chasteen shares.
Learn About the Finalists
Darlene Ardrey and Dielle Holmberg were honored as finalists in the Operator of the Year category.
During her 11-year tenure, Darlene Ardrey, central station operator at CPI Security, has earned perfect attendance, as well as the label of Top Operator nearly every month, according to the company. Not only has Ardrey aided in multiple apprehensions during her career, but she also lends her hard work and positive attitude to community projects outside the monitoring center, including wrapping gifts and assisting in delivery for CPI Security’s annual fundraiser for the Charlotte Police Explorers Christmas Project.
Dielle Holmberg, monitoring center lead operator at EPS, has served the company diligently for 18 years. Holmberg is the only operator that serves in an on-call roll, a testament to her high performance and dedication, as the position is typically reserved for supervisors and managers. There are countless examples of Holmberg’s dedication, including working additional hours when one of her coworkers went on maternity leave (in addition to her own hours), and taking on a major project that required account information changes to more than 13,000 accounts.
Support Person of the Year
Laura Jacobson has a passion for making things better and a knack for building strong relationships.
Central Station Support Person of the Year
Company: Cooperative Response Center Inc. (CRC
Title: Central Station Coordinator
Tenure at the company: 18+ years
Laura Jacobson started working for Cooperative Response Center Inc. (CRC) more than 18 years ago as a central station operator. Over time, she advanced to team lead and then to central station coordinator, where she is the front-line, dealer-relation administrator. She’s a reliable and trusted advisor to the central station manager as well as her co-workers and dealer customers. Dealers often ask for Jacobson by name and hold no other CRC employee in higher regard, according to Randy Ambrus, central station manager at the company.
From an operational perspective, Jacobson has worked tirelessly to reduce the amount of alarms that are presented to operators. She has helped reduce the AHO (alarms handled by operators) over the years from 8.8 percent to its 2016 number of 3.3 percent, making CRC more efficient than ever.
“Because Laura is a historian with nearly 20 years of experience at CRC, she knows the ins and outs of legacy systems, dealer protocol and specifics that only a veteran would know. This is crucial in the day-in and day-out operational guidelines and best practices that Laura helps establish,” Ambrus says.
Jacobson possesses several attributes that set her apart, including her desire to learn, her retention of that knowledge, and her outstanding communication and relationship-building skills.
One example of Jacobson using her knowledge and problem-solving skills to assist in operational improvements is through how the company identifies certain accounts in one particular service provider’s website. CRC was having difficulty auditing these invoices by dealer. Jacobson added a prefix to all of the accounts through the company’s interactive website that would allow everyone to see what account belongs to which dealers without having to access the automation system unnecessarily. Her wit dramatically reduced the time it takes to invoice customers.
“There is a new challenge in every aspect of my job and that’s what I like the most. Whether it is problem-solving with dealers or helping subscribers with alarms or interacting with monitoring station staff. There is always a new challenge and that is very satisfying for me,” Jacobson says.
Over the past three years, Jacobson has been documenting her knowledge and using her ability to take complex subjects and turn them into digestible pieces of information for others by helping to create the central station training course “CS University.” Jacobson spends significant time adding and improving the training program, according to Ambrus.
“Every day, it is all about team for Laura. I’ve been in the alarm industry a long time and in all my years, I’ve never seen somebody with such a passion for making the central station a better place to work. Her passion to make things better is key,” Ambrus tells SDM.
Learn About the Finalists
Eric Kantner and Mike Tupy were honored as finalists in the Support Person of the Year category.
Eric Kantner, IT manager at The Protection Bureau, has worked for the company for more than 11 years, first as an intern out of college. Kantner was instrumental in planning and implementing all the central station equipment during a major upgrade in 2010. He also recently updated the telephone system, giving management more call accounting features. His positive attitude and hard-working nature are second to none, according to the company and his dependability has even resulted in the nickname “E-Rock.”
Mike Tupy, director of central station technology at Vivint Smart Home, is extremely dedicated to his central station, but his actions outside of work are a demonstration of his character, too. Tupy, who has been with the company for close to two decades, is an active contributor to Vivint’s Give Back Foundation, participating in projects such as Feed My Starving Children, Sub for Santa, Habitat for Humanity and trips to Africa to build schools and construct wells in areas of extreme poverty. Tupy also is an active industry participant, participating on the NFPA 72 Chapter 26, CSAA Technology and Remote Station committees.