Brink's Home Security: A walking tour

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Sunday, April 1, 2007

IRVING, Texas--The product testing area is set apart from the other divisions at Brink's Home Security. It's tucked away in a 600-square-foot, two-room space near the generators. "We're out here because we make a lot of noise," said Tim Rader, director of product development for Brink's. Indeed, banging issued loudly from one cube in the office. I soon met the noisemaker in person, a gray-haired gentleman named John Zimmerman whose cube is piled high with blinking and beeping alarm system components.
"Johnny Z" as Rader calls him, is in the midst of a "shoot out." That's the term for a product test. Zimmerman has different testing methods, but today he's repeatedly dropping half-pound weights on alarm contacts made by four different manufacturers to find out which one is most likely to stand up to door-banging and other ill treatment.
When Rader joined Brink's he specifically recruited Zimmerman, whom he had known years before when Rader was with C&K (a manufacturer that was acquired by Honeywell), tracking him down in Illinois. A former installer, Zimmerman knows his stuff, and he obviously likes his job.
"It's not often you get to break things on purpose," he said. Rader handpicked the two other employees in this office "from the field" as well. That field experience is invaluable, he said.
Maybe it's this attention to detail that has Brink's so "undervalued" by the market (see accompanying story, this page). It's easy to see how hard this company works to maintain its reputation for customer service and efficiency.
Jay Autrey, director of customer relations, showed off the monitoring department. The awards shelf is jam-packed with service awards. The office is bright and busy with cubes full of employees dealing with alarms. The vast majority, 86 percent of Brink's customers, use enhanced-call verification, meaning two calls are placed before police are sent to the scene.
There is a mirror department to this at Brink's Knoxville, Tenn., monitoring center; 160 people work in Irving and Knoxville, 130 of them handle alarms. Brink's receives one million alarm signals each month; roughly 250,000 of those require operator intervention.
Employees here spend a lot of time on the phone, but they're also required to spend time off the phones in training and with mentors or mentoring. "We have a career path for our monitoring center employees," Autrey explains. They progress from operator to senior operator to specialist. The career path is designed to cut down on attrition and it seems to work; the average tenure is seven years and there are supervisors who have been here for 16 and 20 years.
Nearby, on the same floor, is the customer care department. Rob Washington, senior manager, takes time to point out some slick software programs that enable customer care employees to answer just about any customer question. Customized by GE, the software can call up the specs of any alarm panel Brink's has ever installed, so the employee can troubleshoot with the customer over the phone. "We try to solve the problems here," Washington says, "because rolling a truck costs [at least] $150."
Mybrinks.com is a web site for Brink's customers. "Everything (except for service calls) we do here at customer care, a customer can do online," Washington said. So, for example, customers can look up what the specific requirements are for registering their alarm system in their city on this web site or enter vacation notes, letting Brink's know if they'll be out of town. There are 240 total customer care employees (here and in Knoxville).
Next up is the first-floor office of Doug Valenski, director of national accounts for Brink's new commercial division.
Charged with growing Brink's nascent commercial operations, Valenski says the way to do that is "lots of cold calls." He has the benefit of having a "50,000-customer base" that he can tap into, and the back-up of the well organized Brink's operation. Business is concentrated at the branch level and the growth states for Brink's are, not surprisingly, the population centers of California, Texas and Florida.
Will he be hiring more personnel? Yes, but "we build strategically, we don't do bulk hiring," he said.
No, as the Product Development department shows, Brink's is careful about its hires.
After spending a few minutes with Johnny Z, I'm starting to think product development is pretty fascinating. Steven Else is testing CCTV equipment and Elijah Grantham's doing a shoot out on fire equipment. They've got other cool equipment here, including a machine that simulates a lightning strike--the single-most common reason, Rader said, for alarm system failure.
The product development department will soon be relocated to an adjacent 6,000-square-foot building, with separate rooms for testing products and where they can continue to "make noise."
As long as a potential buyer doesn't meddle too much, there's no reason Brink's Home Security shouldn't make noise for years to come.