Communication — both with end users and emergency personnel — has always been an essential part of any monitoring business. The methods through which monitoring centers communicate, though, have become incredibly varied.
“Over the past few years, we have seen a steady decline in the willingness of our subscribers and their authorized representatives to answer their telephones, for reasons that most of us understand from firsthand experience,” says Steve Walker, vice president of U.S. monitoring operations, STANLEY Security, Fishers, Ind. “The proliferation of unwanted spam calls on our personal phones makes us reluctant to answer any call that is not immediately recognizable — in fact, it makes many of us reluctant to answer any phone calls at all.”
Instead, Walker says many customers rely on voicemail to screen calls without even bothering to look at caller ID, leading to alarm companies getting caught in an endless loop of calling people that don’t answer, leaving voicemails and moving onto the next name on the call list — oftentimes exhausting entire call lists without reaching a live voice.
“The new reality is forcing our industry and our company to develop new channels for communication, and the most promising channels involve the mobile devices that are carried by almost everyone in our society,” Walker continues. “We have developed alarm communication channels using SMS texting, email and online mobile applications. The adoption and use of these tools and channels is growing in favor with our customers every day.”
Sarah Murphy, senior operations manager, central station services, Kimberlite Corporation, Fresno, Calif. (SDM’s 2020 Dealer of the Year), says communication trends also must satiate customers’ needs for all of the information, immediately, and at the touch of their fingers.
“Everybody wants to know everything instantly, which is why we’re moving towards apps, automatic texts and email notifications,” Murphy says. “Before, it was hit or miss on whether they wanted to be signed up for these features, but now every customer wants them, so it’s becoming more a part of the regular onboarding process, and I just see that growing more and more.”
The switch from traditional call lists to more modern communication methods is a long time coming, according to Spencer Moore, vice president of sales and marketing, Rapid Response Monitoring, Syracuse, N.Y.
“We are so far behind the curve of technology in our industry — everything is [communicated via] phone calls, and not even to mobile devices half of the time,” Moore says. “We just started to find people increasingly over time are not picking up those phones, especially as we transition away from people having a home phone. … You have to find a different way to communicate with people.”
Communicating With Customers
Kevin Lehan, national sales and marketing manager at Emergency24, Des Plaines, Ill., says that as the security industry becomes more automated, two-way texting capabilities for customers will become more of the norm.
“It’s a very non-invasive way of sending notifications — even if you’re on a work call, it’s easy to text back,” Lehan explains. “It’s using technology people are readily using and prefer to use in most cases, especially this next generation of folks. Two-way texting is really an advancement that the industry needs to grasp.”
Since Emergency24 unveiled its two-way texting capabilities at ISC West 2019, the company has had several hundred customers sign up for the service.
Kimberlite has also had a large number of customers sign up to receive texting notifications.
“Customers want to be involved, so [apps and two-way texting] are kind of like a middle ground between DIY and having an alarm company,” Murphy says. “Giving them access to a mobile app keeps them in the loop.”
Aaron Miller, senior director of CX strategy and execution at ADT, Boca Raton, Fla., says the company will be rolling out a new verification technology in 2021 called Signal Chat. Deployed as an SMS, Signal Chat will allow customers and their emergency contacts to engage with each other on a single platform to quickly verify or cancel an alarm event.
“ADT’s communications have always centered around the ability to call customers during an alarm event — this has been the cornerstone of our engagement philosophy to make sure customers remain safe and protected during an alarm event,” Miller says. “As customers evolve, so will our communication methods to make sure we are connecting with customers as quickly as possible when we need to.”
According to Moore, customers find mobile alerts via apps or two-way texting to be a massive advantage.
“Alarm.com and other companies with their own ecosystem where you can cancel in-app have meaningful impacts, because the customer is using [the apps] more than they would pick up their phone [if someone were to call],” Moore says. “We’ve seen double digit decreases in calls for dispatches from groups that start to use these tools.”
But as these communication methods remove actual vocal communication more and more, Jason Bradley, vice president of care and monitoring operations, Guardian Protection, Warrendale, Pa., warns of the danger of losing that human connection the industry has emphasized for so long.
“The way that the world communicates constantly evolves, and will continue to do so beyond our lifespans, just as it has throughout humanity’s existence,” Bradley says. “Communication with customers demands interaction to be reflective of these new mediums, and with end users demanding increased web-based, self-serve solutions backed by automated chatbot support, for example, the opportunity for human interaction will be reduced.
“Therefore, while we must flow in lockstep with communication technology and offer interactive mediums on the customers’ terms, we must also intensely focus on the quality of human connectivity and take advantage of every verbal interaction to ensure that brand loyalty is underlined at every opportunity, maybe more so than ever.”
Communicating With First Responders
For contacting emergency personnel, the Automated Secure Alarm Protocol (ASAP) is slowly becoming the gold standard of communication in central stations. With the service, critical information about life safety events is delivered digitally and directly to the Central Alarm Dispatch (CAD) system in seconds through the NLETS nationwide public safety network, virtually eliminating errors inherent in voice communications and ensuring that accurate information is being transmitted to Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs).
“There are approximately 6,000 PSAPs in the United States that serve as 911 response centers,” Walker says. “There are a number of companies that are aggressively pursuing access directly into the PSAP systems to help eliminate phone calls from the monitoring centers.”
The ASAP program was established by The Monitoring Association years ago to accomplish this very objective, and today they provide connections to PSAPs that serve just over 8 percent of the population. Walker says the progress is slow because some companies are working to establish direct communication paths into the PSAPs in ways that will bypass other solutions.
Nick Bearb, operations manager, Acadian Monitoring Services, Lafayette, La., hopes that ASAP will continue to grow in popularity throughout the country.
“We are hopeful the ASAP-to-PSAP program will gain steam and open new doors to more 911 centers in the U.S.,” says Nick Bearb, operations manager, Acadian Monitoring Services, Lafayette, La. “This would be a push button transfer to a 911 center that would transfer account information as well as the alarm event directly to 911 without tying up their dispatchers or ours.”
Bradley says that it is the entire industry’s responsibility to drive the adoption of ASAP-to-PSAP.
“While new communications platforms for customers have seen significant changes, we still for the most part communicate with the vast majority of AHJ’s dispatch centers via telephone, verbally,” Bradley says. “As an industry, this is our biggest opportunity. We must accelerate the penetration of the ASAP service into the first responder’s environment, allowing the swift transfer of emergency data directly into CAD systems — data that is free from human error.
“So while we will have to keep pace with communication technologies developed by big tech that is beyond our control, it will be our responsibility as an industry to drive ASAP.”
RapidSOS, New York City, has an objective similar to ASAP. The emergency data platform serves as a clearinghouse through which real-time emergency data is securely shared from professional monitoring centers, connected devices, platforms and sensors to first responders.
As of press time, the platform had been integrated into more than 4,800 911 agencies, covering more than 90 percent of the U.S. population.
“Customers are accustomed to booking an Uber or ordering food and having their location and necessary information shared instantly,” says John Pirrie, vice president of security products at RapidSOS. “It surprises many that, until recently, 911 infrastructure was so outdated that something as simple as locating the caller could not be done accurately. Similarly, many homeowners are surprised to know that their sophisticated security systems often are able to share limited information with 911.”
By creating a bridge between additional data sources like smartphones, security panels, health monitoring devices and connected car platforms, Pirrie says RapidSOS is transforming emergency response.