The Problem Customers in the Security Business

Allow me to set the scene. It's a beautiful Friday afternoon. Things have gone so smoothly and uneventful all week, that all you can think about is the wonderful weekend ahead which will begin in just about an hour. At that moment the phone rings.

"Good afternoon ABC Alarm Systems, how may I help you?", you ask.

The deep voice on the other end of the phone immediately begins into a tirade.

"Let me tell you something!," comes the voice. "We just replaced all of our doors and windows and I need someone to come out and re-wire them for alarm contacts TODAY! If you can't do it, I will find someone else who can!"

Stunned, you reply, "Well sir, may I have....," but you're cut off by the person who demands that you acknowledge the fact that she's a "not a sir, I a ma'am!"

"I'm so sorry ma'am; may I have your account number please?"

She then replies: "Do you have any idea who my husband is? We happen to know the owner of your company and don't even think about telling me there will be a charge for the re-wiring!"

At that very moment, line two starts to beep, and you tell her, "Ma'am, I'm going to place you on hold for just a moment."

She says, "Don't even think about it or....."

You press the hold button and answer the other call. This time it's a man with a very heavy accent who starts yelling at you saying, "For what I pay you, for what? Every month I pay you and now you want to charge me for service call? Are you crazy?"

So much for that nice uneventful week! Of course, late in the day on Friday is always when this occurs.

How well does your front line team to deal with these kinds of issues? I know you have experienced this exact situation. So, how well does your team effectively resolve it, and more importantly, what emphasis do you place on helping them to better respond to these kinds of challenges?

First of all, every single front line employee at every single alarm company deals with issues like these. Many of them are very good at what they do, but without some fresh ideas and tangible training, frustration levels elevate, some degree of anger and helplessness ensues, and good employees as well as good customers leave.

According to The Whetstone Edge, in its white paper Elevate the Dialogue: The Pathway to Sustainable Profits, Growth and Customer Equity, most business leaders (80 percent) believe they are doing a terrific job in building customer relationships, while only around 8 percent of customers actually agree! If you cannot service accounts in a reasonably timely manner, or if your service, sales, or installation department fails to follow through on a consistent basis, no matter what your front line employees say to your customers nothing will create a resolution.

As an aside, one of the biggest and most common problems today is the fact that people do not return phone calls. I suggest that you take a hard look at this from the top down in your company. Once you can get a handle on reliable company-wide follow through, you can help your front line teams and management with training on ways to resolve even the toughest customer challenges.

Don't pass the buck - Respond quickly!

Many front line employees try to pass these calls call up the ladder to someone else. In some cases this might be legitimate, but in far too many cases the problem can be resolved by the person taking the call. Consider for a moment empowering your team with the ability to offer options and alternatives as opposed to simply saying, "No, it can't be done." The most effective way to accomplish this is to have an outside professional come in to do a workshop with your front line team or even your entire company, to hear how they respond to the situations. Short of that, here are a few things you can try for yourself which will be of significant benefit to you!

Solicit your entire workforce and ask them to list their top three most challenging and repetitive customer situations. In doing so, you will not only have a plan of attack, but you may well learn exactly what you can change at your company to add value to the service you provide. Once you have everyone's list, look for similarities and then compile your company-wide top 10. Next, document your top 10 and redistribute this list to every employee. Then ask them to offer at least one suggestion for each entry on how you can offer an option or alternative as opposed to simply saying "No."

Let's look at the examples of these two phone calls your front line employee received on Friday at 4 p.m. I know you'll think I'm out of my mind, but believe it or not, sometimes customers are obnoxious, rude and unreasonable. Of course, this would never be the case with your customers, right? Your customers are always polite, eager to pay quickly and fully understanding of how you have to run your business...well, if so, then you can skip this article and go read about the latest and greatest DVR and PTZ.

You're still here. Well, I guess you have customers like the rest of us. So let's think about the kinds of things we can say and do to help satisfy even our most difficult customers. Here are examples of ways to empower your team to resolve these calls more successfully.

The Problem Customer:
"Let me tell you something...and I need you out here TODAY"

The first call was from a husky-voiced woman who began the conversation by saying, "Let me tell you something!" All of the door and windows in her home were replaced and she is demanding that you send someone over TODAY to re-wire all of them so the alarm system will work this weekend. As opposed to telling her that this is impossible but that you will have someone from the installation department call her next week to schedule the work, you might consider offering her the following:

The Solution:
"Since rewiring all of your doors and windows might require an installation crew, what I can do is have someone from our service department come over today and survey the work that needs to be done. He may also be able to give you some temporary protection until we can get our installers out to complete everything. I will make sure our installation manager begins working on getting this scheduled immediately. If this is acceptable to you, I will make sure he calls you on Monday to arrange a day and time convenient for you to have us over to complete the job."

While this solution is not exactly what the customer wanted, it is certainly far better than saying "No." As opposed to making a negative statement like the word "No", you have put a positive spin on your response by telling her exactly what you will do and how you will follow through on it.

By asking if this is acceptable, you have given her the perception of some degree of control over the outcome. In doing so, you have subliminally added value in her mind, to your service and reliability. There are dozens of ways you can respond to this customer and asking all of your employees to list their ideas will help you create your own arsenal of solutions to empower them to get better at it.

The Problem Customer:
"For what I pay you? For what?"

This customer pays you every month for monitoring and now that he needs a service call, he is extremely upset that you want to charge him for it. How well do your employees respond this situation now? What this customer is really saying is, "I have no idea what I pay you for every month!" He most likely doesn't understand that you have trained operators on duty 24/7 just in case he has an emergency. He probably thinks that the monthly monitoring fee covers everything and anything that could ever go wrong with his system.

The solution:
You might consider explaining exactly what he pays for each month. If this doesn't resolve his anger, take a look at his service history and how long he has been a customer. If he has never needed a service call and has been a customer for quite a while, you need to consider what good business is and what bad business is. Can you offer him a discount on the service call if he has never needed it before? Perhaps waiving a trip charge? Or maybe his contract is up for renewal? If so, can you exchange a service call for a new contract? Since I never believe in giving away the store, I like to get something for giving something. Perhaps you can offer this customer a service contract and agree to include this service call if he agrees to sign up for one. Will it work with every single customer? No, of course it won't. But it is clearly much more effective than simply saying "No," or even worse getting into an argument over it.

Here again, there are dozens of ways to resolve this kind of problem, and often alarm/monitoring business employees on your front line don't know when or how to resolve these problems. To be really successful and to constantly improve on the way we deal with issues like these we must all become better at effective communication. Providing your team with professional training or offering them a host of tangible tools to try will definitely make them better at turning angry customers into loyal ones and at the same time decrease their level of frustration by empowering them to handle almost anything.

Frankly, most companies are focused on product training and standing behind those products. Most alarm dealers compete on product, price and the sale. But if you solely focus on product, price and sale, then you're forgetting that your customers aren't just buying PIRs, alarm keypads and remote key fobs.

In your customer's mind, what they're buying is service and relationships, and if you can provide those two things, they will reward you with their loyalty (and RMR). Customers want trusting and close relationships that deal really well with the issues they find challenging, and deliver experiences they find delightful. You've heard me say it before, but it bears repeating: It is the relationships - not the product or price - that can become your major source of competitive differentiation.

As someone who looks at these problems for companies on a daily basis, I would suggest you consider hiring a pro to come in and work with your team. But also consider the benefit of putting together your own workshop. Create some of your most common problems and let your group role play with each other to try and resolve them. Let's see how well you can raise the bar to empower your employees to become heroes in the eyes of your customers!

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 Learn more about The Attrition Busters at