The Big Idea with Ron Davis
Customer Service and Building Relationsips Pay Dividends in Business
If you had just one really great idea you could share with the alarm industry, what would it be?
This month we feature Dick Sampson, Founder of American Alarm
Sampson's BIG IDEA:
"Success in our world means being in our customers’ faces with good, solid, reliable and proactive customer service. That’s how we built our company, and the concept is as valid for today’s managers as it was for me."
ICK SAMPSON IS A GOOD GUY, a great thinker and a real cheerleader for the alarm industry. He is the founder of Arlington, Mass.-based American Alarm, one of the largest and most successful regional players in the country. Today it is run by two of Sampson’s sons, Wells and Lou, who are a great complement to the legacy that he has built for most of the past 40 years.
I asked Sampson, “If you had just one great idea that you could pass on to young executives in this industry about what they could do to ensure a successful future, what would it be?” He said, “Success in our world means being in our customers’ faces with good, solid, reliable and proactive customer service. That’s how we built our company, and the concept is as valid for today’s managers as it was for me.”
FRUITS OF SUCCESSFUL LEADERSHIP EVIDENT AT HEADQUARTERS
If you tour their two-story ultramodern facility in Arlington and meet some of the 240 people who work for the company, you sense that Sampson has passed down his perspective to the bulk of the employees. They seem happy, engaged and when I was left alone for a few minutes wandering around the corridors there, at least a half-dozen approached me to see if they could assist with anything.
While interviewing Sampson, he couldn’t stop regaling me with stories of lives that were saved, fires that were extinguished and bad guys who were caught as a result of somebody in the company going beyond what is considered normal in this industry. Later on in the conversation, we talked about how the industry is changing on a daily basis. While RMR is still the driving force, integrators are rapidly catching up with the many available metrics of measuring success.
As we discussed how these changes were impacting many alarm companies, Sampson went on to say that “the mantra that management must keep on repeating is that it’s important — even critical — that we hire only the best technicians and operators, train them well, compensate them in direct proportion to their contributions, encourage them and, perhaps most importantly, praise them.” In doing so, regardless of all the shifts that go on within the industry, companies that instill such discipline will always succeed.
I don’t know how Wells and Lou Sampson have been able to maintain the positive attitude and vibrancy that exists within American Alarm, but they have. And that got me thinking hard about how a manager, owner or executive in a security-related company can develop that kind of attitude among employees.
As an executive, you cannot operate in a vacuum. You cannot go to employees for decisions; you must go to them with decisions. But where do you obtain that knowledge and motivation? The answer came from Wells, while I was getting a tour of the building. He mentioned that American Alarm was part of the group of similar-sized companies that met frequently throughout the year and freely traded the most confidential of information, including how they managed their companies.
GROUPTHINK CAN AID IN ADDRESSING EVER-PRESENT ISSUES
I’m familiar with this group, and the companies are all like American Alarm — they are successful, have great relationships with their customers and employees, and when one company comes up with a good idea it is immediately shared with the others in the group. I’m not going to mention the name of the group because, frankly, it’s the idea that we’re talking about here. Also, membership is extremely limited, and most companies would probably not qualify for entrance into this club. However, why not start your own club?
I’m sure that anyone reading this knows of at least one other like-minded company somewhere, and if you’re comfortable enough to reach out, the next time you meet your counterpart in another company, regardless of what part of the country they are located, talk about getting together, perhaps a couple of times a year, to chat about issues that are common to you (e.g., hiring and firing, providing solid customer service, lead development, financing — you get the idea). Then the two of you could find two more similar companies, and expand the size of the group. Keep doing that until you have reached a number that allows you to still effectively communicate as well as getting feedback from your counterparts.
There’s an adage, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Think about how you and maybe a few other “fishermen” might foster change within the industry, for the better. And in so doing, change your company along with its customer retention, profitability and legacy. Not a bad way to face the second half of a year that is certainly changing the industry.
Ron Davis is Security Sales & Integration's "What's the Big Idea?" columnist and contributing market analyst. He is president of Davis Group, a full-service consulting firm serving the security industry, which also includes GraybeardsRus. He has 35 years of industry experience, including founding Security Associates International in the 1980s.