Employee Loyalty: A Lesson for Alarm Companies (Part 2)

[Editor's note: This is the second part of a two-part article on working with central station employees. Bob Harris looks at how your empowerment and support of your employees creates not only employee loyalty but customer loyalty (retention!). For the first part of this article, click here.]

Alarm companies provide certain tools to our field techs. We set them up with vehicles, laptops, cell phones, ladders and more. Without tools, technicians are obviously not capable of doing the job you hired them to do. Sure, you can turn a screw with a dime or a knife blade, but how much more successful and proficient would you be to use a screwdriver? When I was growing up, my dad always told me that every tool has a specific purpose and should only be used for that purpose. A screwdriver is not a crow bar, and a wrench is not a hammer.

While we make sure our employees have the "physical" tools, I am really surprised at just how many alarm company managers do not provide the "soft skills" tools to employees who speak with their customers on a daily basis. These same managers will run out and buy a new ladder in a heartbeat, but regrettably, they still do not provide any tangible training to employees who must resolve customer complaints, or save customers wanting to cancel their service. Most employees who work in these areas come with the basic set of tools required to do the job they were hired to do. Unfortunately, the tools they need to become better at customer relations and the skills they need to take a higher degree of ownership toward problem solving are just not being provided in many cases.

These employees experience a high degree of frustration and certain feelings of helplessness when it boils down to the hard problems. Many times they feel abandoned and forgotten. Resentment toward management and ownership manifests. Not only are they the lowest on the ladder, they are also left to fend for themselves. Left without the tools they need education on, these employees experience a high degree of pressure both from within the company and from the customers. This is the number one reason why employees leave!

This kind of situation creates both employee and customer attrition. Frustrations turn to anger and people go away. Yes, I'm talking about both employees and customers alike. Loyalty, with very few exceptions, does not just happen by itself. It must be nurtured and mentored. A number of companies I have worked with experience deeply entrenched issues when it comes to problems being passed up the ladder to be resolved by others higher up. A clear lack of ongoing training along these lines creates their inability to empower employees to take any significant ownership of problems when they happen.

One example of this very issue I will share with you happened when one of my client's customers called in to complain about having to pay for a service call. The central station operator took the call.

"What do I pay you for every month? Every month I pay you on time and now you send me this huge bill for a repair! I have never had service and still I pay you every month! HOW DARE YOU?"

She listened to the customer and then transferred the call to the to the service department supervisor. Unable to work it out with the customer, the supervisor then transferred the call to the service manager. The customer then repeated the problem for the third time to the manager. The manager tried to reason with the customer and did what he could to explain why a service charge was applicable in this case, but the customer (already frustrated at having to repeat it 3 times) blew up. The manager really didn't know how to resolve it and was perceived by this customer as being a big fat brick wall.

Similar to a horse with blinders on, the manager saw the issue in black and white and really did not offer any information or options with alternatives to resolve the issue in a way the customer could make sense of. The manager became frustrated at all the yelling, and simply told the customer there was nothing else he could do for him. The customer hung up on him and immediately called back to speak with the president. In the end, the customer was irate; the service manager was frustrated, and the president of the company had to stop what he was doing, take the call and try to resolve the issue himself.

If a good training program had been in place at this company, this problem would have been resolved at the supervisor's level. Having received numerous calls like this, the president of this company finally decided to call me to come in and work with his team.

What did I teach this team? I taught them that this problem was extremely common in the industry. The problem in the mind of the customer was that he pays for monitoring every single month and has never had any repair service. He doesn't understand what he pays for every month, and he became livid at getting a big fat bill for the repair. This is a clear lack of information issue. Let this customer know that you understand his or her feelings, and appreciate his position. Let him know that you're sure this can be resolved and then carefully explain how the monitoring fee works. Convey to this caller that you have a staff of professional dispatchers, on duty, 24 hours a day watching over their system in case they have a situation or emergency. If something occurs, your staff can quickly dispatch the police or fire department. The operators will also call the list of contacts to inform them of the situation. Politely let him know that this is what he pays for. Inform him that he did not contract for equipment maintenance, but if he would like a quote for a maintenance agreement, you will be happy to provide him with one and possibly even include this service call so he won't have to pay for it. On occasion, you may agree to waive the trip charge, or discount a service call as a gesture of good faith if this is their first time calling in for a service repair. If you happen to see that this customer's contract is up for renewal, you might even exchange the service call for a new contract! I believe in getting something for giving something. By fine-tuning your ability to inform your customer with accurate information, and do it in a way that you are perceived as being fair and reasonable, this particular problem would have never gone past the service supervisor.

This is only one example of a wide variety of the challenges that occur every day at every alarm company. Giving your team an arsenal of proven tools not only empowers them to take more ownership of resolving problems, but it will also garner a significantly higher degree of loyalty and teamwork.

Just being part of a team -- no matter whether you're on the top of the heap or the bottom -- helps create loyalty. Thriving teams help create long-term success. In the old days, the rule was to rank your players and go with the A's. Today, the rule should be to hire passionate people. Every employee wants a sense of purpose. The employees who deal most with your customers must be given the tools and the means they need to nurture the relationship. In reality, there are many more B's and C's than there are A's. My own personal feeling is that employees who are passionate about their job, and who are serious about doing the best they can day in and day out are far more valuable an asset than are many A players. Give these people training to continuously improve and get better at the job they do, and you have found the recipe for loyalty.

Your customers will immediately recognize the difference between a brick wall that stands between them and what they want, and an employee who offers them accurate information in way that provides the customer with options and alternatives so they perceive some degree of control over the outcome in a fair and reasonable manner. Train your team and empower them with the ability to respond. In most cases, how you say something is much more important than what you say! No matter how good you are, anyone can and should continue to improve. There are many ways to raise the bar toward garnering more employee and customer loyalty, and it all focuses around experience and training.

Some key ideas to remember are:

1) Teach your team ways to offer options and alternatives rather than a "matter of fact" blunt response to a problem.
2) Mentor them with tools to take more ownership of problems.
3) Recognize them for a job well done.
4) Meet with your team regularly and "role play" using real issues to seek out the best ways to resolve challenging problems.
5) Finally, consider having an outside professional come in to work with your team to hand them proven tools that will help them raise the bar.

All of these efforts will enable you to differentiate yourself from your competitors and at the same time weave the fabric of a closer and more successful team. I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. See you next month.

About the author: Bob Harris is managing director for The Attrition Busters. With over 30 years in the alarm industry, he provides seminars, business consulting, and workshops to help great companies become even better. Bob can be reached at (818) 730-4690 or by email at bobh@attritionbusters.com. Learn more about The Attrition Busters at www.attritionbusters.com.