Let's Work Together
Finding the right monitoring partner for your business
- By Megan Weadock
- Oct 01, 2011
Building a successful dealer business is much like experimenting with a new recipe: Without the right ingredients, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
That’s why security dealers must partner with a monitoring company that will back them up, keep them ahead of the industry and help make their business a success. For a dealer, that means carefully assessing the goals, strengths and weaknesses of your business; understanding the needs of your customers; and finding a partner that has what it takes to help you win.
The Lay of the Land
The industry has no shortage of alarm monitoring companies, each claiming to be the most reliable with the fastest response times. It’s up to you to distinguish fact from hype by focusing on the key points that truly matter.
“Really, there’s a broad range of factors to consider when looking for a monitoring partner, from cost and flexibility of offerings to dealer support,” said Muawia Bishr, senior director of national accounts at Monitronics International.
However, he said these four main points are a solid starting point for assessing a monitoring provider: a focus on providing each customer with excellent service, low response times, ease of installation and easy integration to the central station.
The CSAA Way
First and foremost, consider customer service. The task of finding an alarm monitoring company that provides excellent customer service sounds daunting, but luckily the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) does most of the legwork for you.
Make sure any company you’re considering is Five Diamond-certified by the CSAA. If you’re not familiar with the CSAA, you will be soon enough. The trade organization represents security monitoring companies that use a central station, as well as other businesses within the industry.
Most importantly, it ranks monitoring companies’ central stations to help dealers (and customers) determine the best bet. And it’s not just another industry ranking—it’s quite an achievement. In fact, more than 5,000 companies have not achieved the Five Diamond-certified title.
“Five Diamond certification is a must for dealers who are shopping for a monitoring partner,” said Bruce Mungiguerra, vice president of sales and dealer development at Monitronics. “That ranking is important because it tells dealers that their customers will receive quality service; fast response; and, most importantly, professional support during an emergency.”
The CSAA awards Five Diamond certification to central stations that achieve five points of excellence:
- Commitment to random inspections and quality criteria standards by a nationally recognized testing laboratory such as FM Global, Intertek/ETL or UL;
- Commitment to the highest levels of customer service;
- Commitment to ongoing job-related education and testing by having 100 percent of its central station operators certified using the CSAA online training series;
- Commitment to raising the industry standards through CSAA membership and participation in its activities; and
- Commitment to reducing false dispatches.
On top of these strict requirements, the central station must be a CSAA member in good standing, have 100 percent of its operators certified by the CSAA Central Station Operator Level 1 online course and pledge to continue all future CSAA certifications. The Five Diamond certification is valid for one year, so you can rest assured that central stations that achieve the title are continuously striving to meet these five key points.
In addition to being Five Diamond-certified, quality monitoring companies make the effort to minimize both false-alarm rates and emergency response times.
Monitronics tracks and shares its average response time, which currently hovers at 22.1 seconds. This figure is a strong selling point to customers, who often ask how long it will take before help is on its way during an emergency.
In its most recent effort to reduce response times, Monitronics was selected from hundreds of other monitoring providers to beta test a prestigious program known as Automated Secure Alarm Protocol (ASAP).
“This program replaces the telephone calls between the alarm company and the 911 PSAP call-takers,” said Mary Jensby, Monitronics central station director. “Central stations will gain an immediate communication from the PSAP, eliminating hold times sometimes experienced when making a dispatch. The program will not only reduce the amount of phone calls that are received by an agency on a daily basis but will also eliminate the potential for human error.”
Monitronics is only the third, yet the largest, central station chosen for the ASAP pilot program, which has three important goals that could save lives: reduce the number of telephone calls in emergencies, eliminate miscommunication, and reduce processing and response time. By transmitting emergency data electronically, central stations can simplify and speed up their responses—an exciting move for the industry.
CSAA and the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International developed the protocol that reduces the two- to three-minute relay that currently exists, in part by allowing data to be processed by a computer at the dispatch center.
As part of the program, Monitronics is now monitoring emergency calls in Richmond, Va. In August, the company also began monitoring calls to the Houston Emergency Center, which is the fourth-largest public security access point facility in the United States.
“We’re in an industry that can have a real impact on each customer’s personal safety and security,” Jensby said. “By speeding up the dispatch process, we could reach customers during the precious moments when a second feels like an eternity. I truly believe that we are going to begin seeing more burglars caught in the act and more property saved as a result of this program.”
Reducing False Alarms
Even those who are new to the industry know that false alarms can waste time and money for customers, dealers and emergency responders—and could even cost lives. That’s why dealers should work to partner with a monitoring company that actively reduces false-alarm rates. And the best place to start is the False Alarm Reduction Association (FARA).
FARA serves as a type of forum for members of the alarm industry, law enforcement officers, and customers who are concerned with high false-alarm rates and are working to minimize them. Earlier this year, the group recognized Monitronics with the Industry False Alarm Reduction Achievement Award for significantly reducing false-alarm rates. The company decreased false alarms from 0.67 percent to 0.5 percent through several programs that it launched in August 2010.
“One of our industry’s basic challenges is false alarms; our ultimate goal is to positively impact how quickly emergency responders can reach victims during actual emergencies. The fact that FARA recognizes our efforts is an honor,” Jensby said. “Our programs only work if every single member of our team is on board; that’s why this award represents our entire company and not just one person.”
Monitronics has implemented its own False Alarm Control Team, which continues to investigate new ways to reduce false-alarm rates and improve customer awareness on the topic.
“The effort Monitronics has put in to reducing false alarms is impressive,” said Brad Shipp, FARA executive director. “Our members voted to recognize them with this year’s achievement award because they have implemented a plan to attack false alarms that has shown noticeable results in several jurisdictions across the U.S. If every monitoring center followed a similar plan, we would not have such a significant problem with false alarms.”
Other Marks of Quality
Dealers should also seek a monitoring partner that is reliable and growing, with the experience and staff to support its dealer base.
“As a dealer, you want to know that a monitoring company is still going to be there 10, 20 years from now,” Mungiguerra said. “We have seen several young dealer programs come and go over the past few years because they could not weather the storm and left many dealers without a partner. We are proud to have been a great partner to hundreds of dealers over the past 18 years and have continued to grow along with our partner companies.”
Look to industry associations and publications that track the success of alarm companies. For example, industry analyst firm Frost & Sullivan has recognized Monitronics as the 2010 and 2008 Alarm Monitoring Company of the Year, citing flexibility, reliability, enhanced customer service and responsiveness as distinguishing factors.
Also, beware any monitoring company that does not have a fully redundant central station. Customers need to know that their alarm will be monitored 24/7, regardless of power outages, natural disasters or other emergencies. Only a company with a true fully redundant station will be ready and able to handle alarm traffic in the event of a problem. Markers like this tell you that a monitoring company is successful and reliable and offers quality service to its customers and dealers.
Installation and Technology
Not surprisingly, the technology you choose to offer will have a big effect on the success of your business. You want a partner that provides industryleading technology that will both satisfy your customers and simplify sales, service and installation for you.
“Look to alarm companies that have a broad range of technology partners, so you can customize your offering,” Mungiguerra said. “That way you’ll be comfortable and familiar with the system, which makes sales, installation and support so much more seamless.”
Monitronics’ vendors include Interlogix (formerly GE Security), Honeywell, 2Gig, DSC and Alarm.com. This expansive network of partners allows dealers to offer technology that suits every customer, from gadget lovers who want interactive services to elderly homeowners who need two-way voice or a Personal Medical Alert System.
And remember, Bishr says, there are several service providers that are not supported by all central stations. Make sure the product or service you are providing to your customers is supported by your partner central station.
Keep in mind that the whole point of partnering with a monitoring company is to make your own business more successful. So look for one that supports every angle of your business.
“You should be able to take off the burden of things like billing, collections and customer service so you can focus on what your company does best: selling and installing alarm systems,” Bishr said.
Dealer tools, such as Monitronics.net, enable users to review invoices, make payments, find product information, order marketing materials, access the mCAP data entry tool, use a variety of reporting options and more.
Monitronics also offers comprehensive tech support to help installers and servicers troubleshoot issues. And dealers can take advantage of continuing education opportunities from the company. In fact, several Web trainings are scheduled each month on a broad range of topics.
Another key way for a monitoring company to support its dealers is through simple, seamless integration to the central station. Customer data should be fully integrated from the dealer to the central station so that the customer experiences fast, straightforward, and professional emergency response and customer service.
Seamless integration should benefit the dealer, as well. Identifying a monitoring company that enables real-time account management, for example, should be a top priority.
The Big Picture
While taking all these factors into consideration, the best way to find a quality monitoring partner is to do your research.
It is often tempting to focus only on the basics, such as cost—which is an important factor.
“Beware of some stations’ à la cart-ing additional cost to their prices, like charging for activations, telecommunication fees, etc.,” Bishr said. “Look for a company that is all-inclusive without additional fees.”
However, a broader view is vital to your company’s success. Bishr recommends starting your search by pricing monitoring companies and then investigating the other four main components: customer service, low response times, ease of installation and easy integration to the central station.
This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue of Security Today.