Systems integrators and alarm installing dealers typically subscribe to a central monitoring station to have their accounts monitored. SD&I magazine asked several leading central station firms about the services they offer dealers and integrators and how they help support this very important group and their endeavors to increase recurring monthly revenue. Support services have changed with the times; there are new software, systems and Web-enable functions for both the installing company and their customers, who are now driven by convenience and bundling of services.
Q. How are you and your central station supporting your customers?
Matt Hoffman, president, AlarmWATCH(tm), Hunt Valley, Md.: We believe in providing transparent monitoring for our dealers. From answering the phone in their company name, to handling all of the dispatching in their name, we provide their clients with a sense that we are merely an extension of the already great service that they receive from their installation company. We ensure all our processes and technologies are at the highest level of industry standards.
Kevin C. McCarthy, national sales manager, EMERgency24, Des Plaines, Ill.: We were the first to offer specialized PET Reports that notify alarm dealers twice a day of any alarm activity from their accounts. This keeps dealers on top of issues with their customers' systems. In turn, the subscriber appreciates that their alarm dealer is thinking about their safety. In fact, EMERgency24 was first in the industry to use the Internet to communicate with its alarm dealers. Our Secure Internet Services is an Internet-based portal utilizing the same secure encryption used for online financial transfers and transactions.This allows dealers the ability to view subscriber account data, including: key holder names and phone numbers; alarm codes and alarm call-back options; alarm activity reports and accounts on reserve. We offer wireless access to Dealer Secure Services for mobile devices too. For alarm system owners, we developed the URSecure site to allow access to history reports that pertain to their alarm system. These reports produce no names, addresses or phone numbers, but do note the date and time of the signal, its description, as well as all parties reached.
Michael J. Joseph, vice president of Operations, SentryNet, Pensacola, Fla.: We are here to help our dealers be successful. Our background and expertise come from two distinct paths through the industry. David Avritt, our founder, began selling systems in the morning and installing them in homes and businesses in the Delta region of Mississippi and I started at the end of a shovel digging ditches for building interconnect wiring. Ikie Lloyd, our vice president has been with the company for 20-plus years and knows the business from the ground up. I worked my way up the corporate ladders at Brinks Home Security, Honeywell and Protection One. Together we provide a wealth of industry knowledge from the combined worlds of the entrepreneur and structured corporate environments.
Q. How do you differentiate yourself from the competition?
Hoffman: Our biggest feature is our Customer Assistance Program. We take all manuals for equipment that our dealers install and set them up on an online intranet. When their clients call in at 2 a.m. to know how to reset a smoke detector or bypass a zone, our operators can walk them through that process. The customer gets their questions answered right away and doesn't have to wait for a technician to call them back. The on-call technicians will not receive a call at 2 a.m. because a customer needs to bypass a zone.
McCarthy: Our alarm dealers can offer almost any service and develop many revenue streams from both residential and commercial customers. If a device has a sensor, our in-house software analysts and developers can create custom applications to satisfy almost any customer need in any setting. Trained for both commercial and residential alarm systems, EMERgency24 understands that end-users look at us as an extension of their alarm dealer. Each alarm scenario is examined thoroughly to ensure the proper actions are taken and that every communication is accomplished in the utmost efficient and courteous manner. We staff a team of multi-disciplined engineers, software developers and analysts. In fact, our in-house talent installed the operations and data center infrastructure, meaning the servers, telephony and data equipment, to operate our new state-of-the-art central station headquarters facility located in Des Plaines, Ill.
Joseph: We like to think that we are the 'the biggest little central station in the industry.' We are big enough to offer the most sophisticated technologies at reasonable costs and yet small enough to always answer the phone with a SentryNet employee. We know our dealers on a personal level and treat them as individuals with unique personalities and needs. We join them in growing and maintaining their businesses and strive with them every day to reach the ultimate level of success.
Q. How has support changed to keep up with the changing technology and times?
Hoffman: The presence of IT professionals is a must now for central stations. With so many different forms of technology including video, Internet communications, cellular and more, you need people who can keep up with these technologies. Our research department, led by my IT manager, stays up on all the current trends and is constantly testing new products and services so that we can offer them to our dealers. We support most forms of Internet and cellular communication including AlarmNet, Bosch, DSC, UTC (GE), DMP and others, as well as Videofied and other video products.
McCarthy: We have to be able to respond to dealers who use a wide variety of hardware. Our technical staff constantly educates themselves on new products and services so we can give our input as to the viability, marketability and profitability of the industry's latest offerings. In effect, we are our dealers' technical experts. They come to us for technical knowledge, and we have to be ready for their questions and have the right answers they can use.
Joseph: We take a full service approach to delivering services to our dealers. We have a library of "on demand" end-user marketing pieces that dealers can embed their logo on and order small quantities to test a marketing concept or order large quantities for a full scale blitz from our Web site. Our Web portal was developed as a tool for our dealers providing access to reports about their subscriber's accounts in our database. It has evolved over the years to become a vital business tool for the dealers and soon even end-users will have limited access.
Q. What support services do you offer to customers?
Hoffman: In addition to alarm monitoring, we provide billing services and answering services. Our answering services include a voice mail account for each dealer that transmits their messages to their Web-enabled phone via e-mail. We also provide customer-centered marketing materials about our central station to reassure the customer that they have made a great decision to go with their alarm company. We provide both dealers and end-users online access to their accounts.
McCarthy: To keep alarm dealers apprised on the newest service offering, legislation and other issues that impact the security industry, we publish the Transmitter, which is a quarterly print publication. As another value-added service for our dealers, EM24 commits resources to educate end-users about new capabilities and the immense value of a monitored alarm system. The foremost element of this campaign is our end-user newsletter, Security Seeker, which is folded to fit into a billing statement. EM24 also offers billing inserts to alert subscribers of important news that impacts their security. This helps educate end-users about the importance of a monitored alarm system and the latest capabilities and helps dealers minimize attrition and sell new services.
Joseph: Our support department includes experts in business management, alarm technology, IT communications, Web development, sales and marketing and finance. We have a full suite of "Enhanced Services" including: managed and/or hosted access control; hosted video storage; video verification; subscriber billing; answering services; financial consulting; and more. We look at technology and analyze it from the perspective of the independent dealer. We attempt to package technology for the dealer and hand it to them ready to sell.
Q. Are dealers taking advantage of these support services?
Hoffman: Yes and no. As with any service, some of the dealers will use everything, while others do not take advantage of the services or already have existing processes set up.
McCarthy: A good example of this is one of our dealers who recently took over a large account with multiple locations. The subscriber's hardware was 10 years old and there were difficulties connecting with the central station, as they previously used their local phone service providers. Drawing from our in-house experience-we have other dealers who use the same technology-we shared our experience with this product and reviewed the situation. Ultimately, we determined it was a phone provider issue. The issue was resolved once we supplied the toll-free lines to connect to our central stations.
Joseph: Our dealers' profiles range from small family businesses to corporations with many layers of management. Larger corporations that have the resources to analyze and direct activities are obviously much quicker on the uptake. Smaller companies focus on day-to-day survival. They are always interested and eager to learn new technologies and services but it takes them a little longer to adopt them.
Q. What are some of the critical needs of monitored accounts today?
Hoffman: We live in a "get it now" society and alarms are finally starting to catch up to those needs. Everything has an app, yet very few alarm panels are providing that service. Consumers demand instant access and I think this will only continue to grow in the future. It is important that as an industry we recognize this trend and meet it head on. With the announcement that POTS lines will be going away soon, reliable cellular and Internet communication must be built into every alarm panel. While the instant technology is important, customers still need a live person to talk to when they have a problem. Customer service will continue to be the differentiating factor between the mass market companies and the local alarm dealer and the independent central station.
McCarthy: Our subscribers always have direct access to a live person-you can't replace that type of service with an auto-attendant. As for applications, our goal is to streamline the process to help our dealers become more efficient in their day-to-day operations.
Joseph: We see more end-user participation in their systems. The new technologies are developed for end-users and they want or need remote access to more and more of their systems. Large companies like ADT or Protection One spend marketing dollars advertising to the public. Independent dealers need to be able to compete on a level ground. The central station needs to provide the independent dealer that ability to compete. We believe that SentryNet provides that capability to our dealers. We have those technologies and we offer that support.
HOW TO FIND A CS PARTNER
Just as with any aspect of the business, who you keep company with in the central station monitoring market is key to an integrator's success. Central stations have long been working to help the systems integrator. Here are some things you can look for in your monitoring provider:
A good fit; do they have a philosophy that's in tune to yours and your company?
Look for a range of support services; from marketing and technical expertise to that ever-important phone call answered by a live person and with the name of your company.
Find providers who are up on communications, for example, have the latest radio, cellular and Internet technologies and are always one-up on what's coming next.
Curt Harler specializes in the construction and electronics industries. He can be reached at email@example.com.