The security week that was: 06/24/11 (Alarm call center tips)

We've all been there. You know the calls, the ones where you put in a call to a customer service number and you have to press 2 for English and where you are fairly certain you are talking to someone working at a call center in Somalia or wherever the company could get their labor cheapest that morning.

You give your account number for the fourth time, one time for every time you've been transferred, and twice to the same person because they were in a different window on their customer service system and your account didn't show up in that other window. Patience is your best virtue, that's what your father and your church preacher always told you, so all of these transfers don't even faze you.

You've given them the last four of your social security number, your mother's maiden name, your secret PIN code, the service address, the billing address, the address of your aunt who you haven't talked to in 20 years and then they say, ah, Mr. Kohl, what can we do for you today? And so you tell them about the problem you're having and are asking for some help, so that maybe the problem can be fixed and maybe you get a credit for those 10 days you had the problem.

And it would be reasonable for them to come back and say, certainly, we value your business and thank you for being a six-year customer of ours, providing us untold amounts of recurring monthly revenue so that our CEO can pay for his annual family vacation to St. Croix where they keep their summer yacht. And to prove that we value your business, we're going to take care of this right away and make sure you stay a customer with us for another six years so that the CEO can take the boat out to catch marlin in the deep blue waters off the coast from his beach house.

You'd be fine with that, except that instead of being reasonable, the customer service representative tells you that they can't take care of that for you without charging you and it would be next month at the earliest. And, oh, would you instead like to upgrade for an extra $30 a month to a service that will cost more and provide little or no extra value – and which won't even solve this problem? And you say no, I won't my problem fixed, and then before you know it, the call has taken a turn for the worse. You're upset, but the representative is already counting their bonus if they can upsell you. But your problem still isn't fixed and it won't be fixed until we put another person on the moon. Before you know it, you're considering cancelling your service altogether and the representative is thinking that his bonus for the upsell might be out the window. Things don't get better, and you feel like you are banging your head against the wall. You're asking, nay begging, for a manager to help with your problem, and you're told the managers are only at the call centers between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. on the third Thursdays of the month, and that's only if there isn't a full moon, in which case they aren't there. And then your blood is boiling and you can't believe they're doing this to such a good customer who only wants a little fix, but no, and then...

OK, let me stop. It's a silly scenario but one that is reality for many of us as customers of RMR services (alarm monitoring, Internet, telephone, TV, etc.). And for many of you who are SIW readers, you are in the business of providing RMR services. So, I want to ask you this. Did you notice when things went wrong?

"You can usually figure out by listening to a recorded customer service call to know exactly when the call got off the tracks and when the situation became intense and cantankerous." That was the message from the central station metrics and performance panel at the 2011 ESX tradeshow.

Our industry -- at least in the alarm monitoring business -- is all about trust and customer relationship. If you want someone to pay you $30 a month for a service where (if it's a good month or good year) you don't have to do anything for their account once you set up the technology, then you have to be excellent with customer service. And to that point, I want to throw out a couple quick tips from that ESX panel, which included representatives from Engineered Protection Systems, Monitronics and Vector Security.

Point one: Randomly listen to your calls. As an owner, operator, manager, you need to do this, but you also need to have your customer service people listening to calls as well. Have them listen to both good and bad calls, as it will help them realize what they sound like.

Point two: Don't just capture audio of calls, but you should also be doing screen captures. It helps if you can associate the audio with what the operator was doing. That is both for a central station operator as well as a customer service specialist.

Point three: Incentivize your operators. It might just be to be named the employee of the week, or it might be time off. Vector, as an example, provides "casual days" for teams that are recognized for outstanding efficiency and service.

Point four: Don't just measure your central station operations by time-on-the-phone. Yes, you want to be efficient, but you don't want to set up a mindset where your operators are just trying to get your customers off the phone as soon as possible. This is your touch-point with your customer; make sure it's a quality experience.

OK, start with those tips, and make a point to attend the ESX show in 2012 if you want more great tips from the CSAA-presented track on central station monitoring. And as an added benefit, ESX is posting videos of select seminars on the ESX YouTube channel here, and you can directly watch the "Central Station Complacency" seminar below: