The Right Recipe

The Right Recipe

Training and support creates effective monitoring

If there’s any doubt about the value of live monitoring as part of an effective home security system, consider a self-monitored system that sends an alert only to the homeowner. What happens when they’re in an important business presentation and their smartphone alerts them that their house is on fire?

Precious minutes get wasted while they excuse themselves to figure out the extent of the problem and alert the authorities. When minutes matter, they’ve got a front-row seat to the destruction of their property, and that’s a show nobody wants to watch.

That’s when quick reaction from a central station becomes important. It can be a big differentiator when dealers are trying to close a sale or dissuade customers from do it yourself (DIY) products.

Of course, a number of companies do central station monitoring, so it is quality monitoring that acts as a true sales differentiator. Monitronics has spent more than two decades figuring out the formula, and the results speak for themselves. Its Alarm Response Center (ARC) didn’t achieve Five-Diamond Certified Alarm Center status and IQ Certification by accident, and that makes a dealer’s case for differentiation even stronger in the customer’s mind.

Selecting the Right Candidates

Darin Anderson, vice president for monitoring at Monitronics, says effective central station monitoring isn’t a secret recipe. It starts with finding good people who don’t necessarily have a traditional call center background.

“People who do better in this world are actually people with good customer service skills who may come from retail or even a fast-food environment,” he said. “They’re attentive, customer- oriented, and they don’t mind repetitious work. They’re also squeaky-clean from a background check standpoint.”

In an effective central monitoring center, repetition isn’t a negative. Whatever situation may arise, there has to be consistency, Anderson said, and it takes a certain type of personality to be able to follow a methodology that produces an effective response to emergency situations.

“People who come from a traditional customer service background like another call center have usually bounced around a lot between different types of calls,” he said. “They’re likely to get bored in our environment. We’re not looking for someone who’s robotic, but someone who is smart and can stay focused.”

Scripting plays a big role in being a monitoring agent, and the best candidates don’t mind the repetition of following a script in virtually any situation.

“Every scenario has a different script,” Anderson said. “That creates a consistency in service. We want our customers to expect the same service all the time. It also helps us to be more efficient in handling calls. We want to guide the call to an efficient, high quality resolution, and be able to move on to the next call. There’s always another potential emergency waiting.”

Training and Mentoring

After hiring, the next ingredient is a blend of effective training and real-world observation. Not everyone who is hired will end up in the ARC, and 80 hours of full-time instructor-led training is a good way to identify potential standouts. Classes ideally consist of anywhere from 10 to 12 candidates who spend their first two weeks in the classroom, but also spend valuable time on the floor listening in on real calls and observing action in the ARC.

“Being paired up with someone and getting the chance for interaction is an effective job preview,” Anderson said. “That way, when someone sits down to take their first call, they’re prepared.”

Once they have passed through the classroom education and testing, Anderson said, the training is far from over. Now the recipe calls for an ingredient that sets Monitronics apart from many central stations. Call center candidates are paired with mentors who guide them through the crucial first weeks on the job, starting with a full 40 hours of intensive work in full shifts. Now it’s a mentor’s turn to listen in as new agents handle real calls. Mentors will jump in if necessary to make sure that no one’s security is jeopardized during the training process. The emphasis is on taking learning to the next level.

“When you’re choosing mentors, you try to match up the right personality types,” he said, “whether it’s a new agent who needs a lot of attention or someone who moves pretty fast and catches on quickly. Mentoring also gives our existing operators some sense of ownership in training the new people coming on the floor. They get to see who’s coming out and help guide them, because those are the people who are going to be sitting next to them on the floor.”

That mentoring process is pivotal, he said. “The new agents are out there proving to us that they’re going to be able to take care of customers, and the mentors play a crucial role in determining that.”

Attrition takes place along the way. Some people simply decide it’s not the life for them, while others don’t pass the class. There’s also the reliability test: Not showing up is the cardinal sin. “If someone violates the attendance policies up front, there’s zero tolerance.”

The first three months are crucial, Anderson said. “We lose some after 30 days, and some more after 60 days, but if someone makes it through 90 days, it’s a good investment. We’ll generally be able to keep them for at least a year or more.”

Consistent Staffing Levels

The final ingredient is staffing, and making sure there are enough agents on the floor at any given time to handle calls that might arise. It would seem like an inexact science, but sophisticated software—along with good old-fashioned intuition— has helped to put a finer point on the process. Employees don’t follow traditional “shifts” in their work hours. Instead, there is a constant flow of agents coming and going at various times throughout the day.

“We try to staff differently than everyone else,” Anderson said. “Service level consistency is our goal. We want to have the right number of people here around the clock, and that means that people are here to handle a call quickly and efficiently at 6 a.m. or at 6 p.m. We want to provide that level of consistency no matter when someone has an alarm event.”

When all the ingredients are combined, the end result is the kind of customer experience that Monitronics encourages throughout the process, from the first customer contact at the dealer level to the first alert for the Alarm Response Center.

“Other companies train their people, and the material is mostly the same, but I think the difference for us is the mindset,” he said. “We’re here for a reason, and there’s a purpose for what we’re doing. Our monitoring center concentrates strictly on monitoring, and leaves customer support or sales to other areas. In our call center, we keep that focus on monitoring.

“So, if you get the right person, train them correctly and give them good support, then you’re off and running. It’s a whole system where the right training, the right resources and the right timing equals success. And that’s what makes us different.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of Security Today.

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