Technology developments in alarm monitoring are exciting and can improve the performance of your company. But the success of a central station still depends on the skill of the people staffing it. Simply put, the performance of the operators can make or break your business.
What are the essentials of finding and training central station operators? After a central station provider finds a good candidate, what education is provided to help him or her excel at the job and contribute to the success of the company?
CSAA’s Five Diamond Central Stations are prime sources for tips and resources in this area. The essentials can be boiled down to: finding the right kind of person for the job; getting the right initial training; and providing ongoing education for supervisors as well as operators.
Education and training for central station operators is not optional. What enables central station monitoring to make the difference in thwarting crime and saving lives is people. Challenging them to be the best they can be through continuing education is essential to success for your business.
Finding the Perfect Candidate
COPS Monitoring, the CSAA 2014 Central Station of the Year, is — needless to say — serious about finding the right dispatchers and giving them the training needed to succeed. To find the right fit, applicants are screened with a proprietary personality profile and, once hired, receive 120 hours of off-line training, followed by hours of tandem training with an experienced dispatcher. According to the company, it takes a minimum of 18 months — and six levels of training on the job — to achieve what is called a “level-six expert” status.
“We believe that qualifying candidates with the potential to be a successful dispatcher is determined by more than education, experience and attitude,” says COPS President and COO Jim McMullen. “Our dispatchers must also have the perfect blend of professionalism, personality attributes, ability and a sense of duty.”
Joe Miskulin, manager at State Farm Central Monitoring Services of Bloomington, Ill., another Five Diamond facility, notes that finding the right fit first is always important. “I look for reliability, dependability even more than a technical background,” he says. “In a small area like ours, it is hard to find someone with industry experience, so we look for people with general call center experience. That just makes getting up and running easier.
“Of course, we do background checks to protect ourselves and our customers,” he adds.
A requirement for CSAA Five Diamond status is that all operators in the central station have completed CSAA’s Level 1 Online Operator Training (see sidebar on page xx). “We start our operators with CSAA’s Level 1 Online Operator training within the first two months,” says Miskulin, who is co-chair of CSAA’s Education Committee. “It is so comprehensive and useful that we have them do it just as soon as possible.”
Those that can’t pass Level 1 do not usually move on from their probationary period, he notes. “We then move into intensive training from our in-house trainer and from our own manual,” he says.
Miskulin suggests managers review the CSAA State Licensing Wiki to determine the requirements for operators by state (available at www.csaaintl.org). These requirements can help drive your training program, he says.
Chris Newhook of American Alarm & Communications Inc., Arlington, Mass. — who was recently named 2014 Central Station Manager of the Year by CSAA — says that at his company, “We vet from the top, from aptitude testing to phone interviews” to find the right person. For Newhook, the key attribute of a well-trained operator is a sound understanding of the industry.
“We start with the basics, including the components of an alarm system, as well as how the system functions as a whole: communication platforms, code format — the entire signal flow through to automation,” he explains. “It is not enough for central station operators to merely pass a test; they have to be able to actually understand this functionality and explain it to a customer in precise, consistent language. This foundational training will stand operators in good stead as they progress.”
After laying the foundation, an operator receives one-on-one training in dealing with all kinds of customers. “We do a lot of repetition, drawing comparisons, role-playing to ensure we offer the best support and most consistent customer experience,” Newhook says.
As training continues, the company’s philosophy is to base performance reviews on data as much as possible. “We set expectations and have half-year and yearly evaluations,” Newhook says. “We check-in constantly on our operators’ status and progress.”
Ongoing training for supervisors is another essential. Newhook notes that, as extensive as American Alarm’s training is, “none of this would work without the tools for ongoing audits and systematic quality review through our empowered team of supervisors. We currently offer extended training for operators and supervisors through Lynda.com to enhance their skills within the MS environment as well as training for leadership, and supervisor training through AIM workshops (Supervisory Skills Management).
“Last year, we partnered with the state of Massachusetts through a training grant program to offer a wide array of business courses across the organization,” Newhook continues. “We are considering NFPA courses on fire systems, off-premise signaling code requirements and field ride-alongs — a half or whole day in the field with a service tech.”
Newhook stresses that his company is dedicated to providing a consistently excellent experience for customers. “Training and feedback is how we get there,” he adds.
Elizabeth Lasko is Vice President Marketing and Communications for the Central Station Alarm Association (www.csaaintl.org).
SIDEBAR: Inside American Alarm & Communications’ Training
An overview of the central station’s full process
American Alarm & Communications Inc.’s training program is extensive, disciplined, and ongoing. Here are the specifics from central station manager Chris Newhook:
Step 1: Orientation
- Train for the industry, then to the organization; make people qualified to work anywhere.
- Fully document progress through a branded, 50-page, five-module training document.
“Understanding communications formats, (CID), signal flow, etc. at an early stage can unlock many of the mysteries of communication, automation, etc. and where things can go wrong,” Newhook says.
The training is scalable for small to larger classes based on the new hire’s experience. They use repetition and example to build a complete and genuine understanding of the basics builds the foundation for ongoing development.
Orientation concludes with a closed-book test designed to check progress made during orientation and first week in station.
Step 2: Probationary Period
- Initially “ghosting” with a senior operator or supervisor, steadily transitioned to making calls through to taking calls
- Trainer reports weekly on progress of the new hire.
This 90-day period concludes with an extended, proctored and closed-book examination that covers the full spectrum of first three months of orientation, training and exposure to the monitoring environment.
Ongoing & CSAA Testing
- Regular online testing (online platform);
- Monthly one-on-one meetings with supervisor
CSAA Level I test should be completed within first year; and Level II Advanced Operator testing should be completed within following year or at the end of first.
Newhook also uses MS SharePoint to create a central station-centric intranet. “We don’t expect our operators to have all of the answers, but we do expect them to know where to find them,” Newhook says. “A knowledge base where operators can easily access a revision-controlled document library is a key to supporting our customers, both internal and external.”
SIDEBAR: CSAA Education
Three courses for operator training from the Central Station Alarm Association
What do CSAA Five Diamond Companies Have in Common? For one thing, all their operators have completed Level 1 of the CSAA Online Operator Courses.
CSAA is the leading international provider of the training central station employees need. More than 12,000 students in more than 30 countries have completed CSAA online operator training. The training is used by CSAA members, many federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, and Fortune 500 companies.
The training is online and self-paced. Manager account administration enables supervisors and trainers to track employee progress, and a comprehensive final assessment quantifies student performance. CSAA offers generous discounts to CSAA members as well as to bulk purchasers.
Courses include: Central Station Operator Level 1; Central Station Operator Level 2; and Alarm Industry Employee Orientation. Learn more at csaaintl.org/education.
Special thanks to Bold Technologies for partnering with CSAA to offer funding for first-time operators to take the Level 1 training course.