Philip Kolterman On How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti


One critical customer experience for our business is retaining customers when they have a life change or come to the end of their support contract. We want to retain customers for life and have invested in digital tools to optimize these experiences.

As a part of our series about “How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Philip Kolterman.

With over two decades of dedicated experience spearheading operational transformation initiatives, Philip Kolterman serves as Brinks Home’s Senior Vice President of Digital Transformation and IT Services. Throughout his career, Philip has identified opportunities and executed programs designed to realize the synergy between operational excellence and the ideal customer experience. Since joining Brinks Home in 2021, Philip has reduced call volumes by more than 50% and moved those customer interactions to digital channels. Phil has also led teams focused on digitizing Brinks Home agent and technician experiences, creating efficiency and ideal customer experiences. He is dedicated to leading Brinks Home toward continued growth and customer-centric innovation in the digital age.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you got started?

I was a college student at Iowa State University studying Computer Engineering and took a job with US West Communications while still in school. That led to a 20-year career in telecom and a natural transition to the home security industry. I was fortunate to have a large variety of early technical and management experiences that gave me a great background to lead operational transformation programs working on both the business transformation and IT sides of these efforts. I feel like I’ve been working on what we now call “digital transformation” for 24 years!

I came to Brinks Home in 2021 to manage our digital transformation. We were very voice-centric with our customer base and I’m proud to have been a part of our transformation. Today, the majority of our customer interactions are handled in a digital channel (self-help, app, chat, or ChatGPT). Our call volumes have reduced by more than 50% and our customer transactional NPS scores are best in class and rising. I’m excited to say that Brinks Home provides the best customer experience in the industry.

Can you share a story about a mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

Early in my career, I treated work as a game. Someone gave me goals to accomplish — I found opportunities to master the game and, occasionally I leveled up. I believe I would have delivered great value for the business if I had thought more about the business as an economic concern and the role my effort was to play in value creation. At Brinks Home, we work very hard to explain the business to our employee base.

In the IT organization at Brinks Home, we work hard to educate employees on the why. Teams, at every level, scrum daily to ensure strong communication. We meet in monthly town halls where we go deep on the whys that are driving the business and changes in our backlog. We host quarterly scaled agile program increment planning sessions where the business and IT come together to align on goals and commit to outcomes. Communication drives alignment and commitment to our shared goals.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I’ve had great mentors throughout my career. For this question, however, I’m going to reach back and give a nod to my high school English department at Seward High Nebraska. I’d especially call out Pat Brauer, Maxine Moore, and Rodger Harpham who did everything possible to maximize students. The education I received in high school English and communication has been incredibly important in my career. After, I went off to Iowa State to study engineering, where that engineering background taught me to solve problems, but it did very little to teach me to communicate. I left technical engineering pretty early in my career and entered management, where these teachers provided me with the basis of communication skills that I use every day! My high school training carried me through a very paper-heavy master’s program in technical management from South Dakota School of Mines and 20 years of presenting, managing, and training employees.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

As a leader, I realize that all digital transformation starts with people. Angela Duckworth’s book, “Grit” was an influential book for me because it provided a framework to explain and look for a set of skills that I see as critical in our employees. The question is, why do some employees deliver 10x the value to the organization even though they might have a background and skills similar to their peers? Duckworth proposes that skill = effort x talent and achievement = effort x skill — so effort is an exponential term! Grit as a concept is something we’ve started to incorporate in our hiring practices and it’s something we talk about with our employee base.

I consume a lot of media. My don’t-miss podcasts are the Ezra Klien show, Odd Lots, and The Journal. I read the New York Times and Wall Street Journal daily and also subscribe to two local newspapers — the Gilpin County Colorado Weekly Register Call and Nederland Colorado Mountaineer. Something I would recommend for digital transformation is Ezra Klien’s interview with Sam Altman on the implications of AI acceleration of digital for society, as this interview does a great job highlighting the opportunities and dangers of AI. It’s very influential to me as to how I think about digital transformation in the future.

One activity that we do in the Brinks Home IT organization is a quarterly leadership book study. A senior leader on the team prepares and leads a discussion on a book about managing and leading. Any team member interested is invited to participate in a four-session review of that book. This is one of my favorite activities, as not only does the team expand their skills, but we also learn a lot about each other. If you want to get to know someone, read a book with them!

Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help your customers?

I’m excited about the efforts we kicked off in 2024 to revolutionize the agent experience. The effort started with the deployment of Cresta, an AI agent assistance tool. Cresta transcribes the agent’s call or chat and provides AI-driven real-time hints and guidance. This sort of real-time coaching changes the game on how we deliver training to agents and for our IT team, that means we can ship code and changes much quicker. We’re now in the process of building on Cresta with a simplified agent desktop. Like a lot of companies, Brinks Home agent CRM is reliable — and we want to move agents into a modern simple app experience driven by what is taking place on their call. The concept will use AI to drive the perfect 360o information and the right tool directly to the agent so that they can efficiently and predictably resolve the customer’s issue.

Digital transformation can mean many things to many people. From your perspective, how do you define digital transformation in the security industry?

Great digital transformation delivers on the synergy of customer experience and operational cost reduction. I think that’s an important test. If a given effort isn’t going to delight customers AND reduce costs, you should probably be doing something else.

Most customers do not want to talk with a service provider — and if that’s the case, we need to provide that customer with a full set of tools and a rich library of self-help articles so that they can operate their system and care for any account issues without having to make a phone call.

When customers interact with a Brinks Home employee it’s important that our agents and technicians have the digital tools to be efficient and knowledgeable with our customers. Simplifying the employee experience creates excellence in customer service.

For our industry, product is an important consideration. In the home security business, video has changed the game. It gives the customer the ability to understand what’s going on when they get that alarm notification. It also creates a whole new set of system support challenges and issues that we work hard to eliminate for our customers.

It’s important to recognize that all digital transformation is built on a foundation of data. Perfecting the customer experience in many cases requires identifying and exposing information. Often, the hard part of this is finding the elegant minimum of data that matters at the moment for the customer or agent.

Which companies can most benefit from a digital transformation?

Every company with customers and employees can benefit from digital transformation. It is however important for companies to approach digital transformation from a thoughtful outcome-driven perspective. If not, digital transformation can easily become a poor investment.

It’s important to focus on people over tools. It’s easy to spend money on digital transformation tools — lots of vendors would love to help! The reality is that without excellent team members to execute a technology, your program will not meet its potential. Average tools, in the hands of long-lived teams with experience in the business, will always beat better tools in the race to value.

Start with weight cost in mind and go after areas of high value where you have strength. Agile principles apply here — shipping working software as quickly as possible is paramount. At Brinks Home in 2022, we didn’t have the greatest technology basis for self-service, but we had a customer portal, and we were able to quickly make significant progress with some small enhancements to that existing platform. Over time it’s important to chip away at things that aren’t excellent. The portal team recognized the limits of current technology and over the course of 2023 that team migrated our portal functionality to a modern headless CMS architecture. They did so while continuing to evolve and create customer functionality.

Digital transformation relies on data — but putting a focus on data is a value multiplier. Every company can get value beyond digital transformation by focusing on the evolution and management of their data environment. An investment in data gives you the ability to not only drive digital transformation, but also enables and enhances business decision-making. We spent 12 months developing the data pipeline aligning digital advertising campaigns, website visits, phone calls, and sales because we wanted to automate the optimization of digital advertising. While it was crazy hard to gather the data and build the linkage between disparities systems, we were successful in optimizing digital advertising and gained a tremendous amount of insight into our business. Today, operational leadership uses that new data to aggressively manage their business.

Has integrating digital transformation been a challenging process? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?

We have a great leadership team at Brinks Home with tight alignment between technology and business operations. If you can accomplish this alignment, then everything becomes much easier. Providing this environment for success and clearing the road is the first job of any leader. Every organization wants to do digital transformation and intuitively sees the opportunity. However, someone must make the case for investment. Business case development and storytelling are a big part of what I do as a leader.

From a technology perspective, access to data and access to APIs are the two foundational exercises. Often the “digital transformation team” is not the expert on the underlying system or data that drives the business. It’s important that you break down these barriers and create expertise early. Development velocity is largely dedicated by team independence and if your digital transformation teams can operate without crossing organizations you will get rapid time to value.

Continued digital transformation gets harder as you improve. Going from 14% to 35% of digital transactions was a relatively straightforward effort to clean up customer access controls, provide some additional self-help tools, and redesign our help center. Going from 35% to 55% of digital transactions was harder. It meant a rebuild of all self-help tools so they could be accessed from our customer app. Today we fight for every new percentage point. The opportunities that are left to drive digitalization are more technical. Go-forward opportunities require more steps on the part of the customer and that necessitates much more thought and customer-centric design.

Based on your experience and success, what are five ways digital transformation can take a company to the next level?

I think it’s helpful to think about digital transformation across your customer’s journey. There are opportunities to improve the customer experience at every touchpoint digitally.

1) Prospective Customer Optimization

We started our digital transformation with a focus on sales and that started with an effort to improve the customer’s “learn” experience on the web page. We did an extensive SEO-based rewrite of the main homepage and all associated advertising landing pages. We spent a lot of time optimizing the experience and improving the page technically so that it loads quickly and perfectly across all common browsers using tools like Google Page Speed and its insight metrics. Please test our page — I challenge you to find a website in the industry with better technical performance! The reality is that we spend a tremendous amount of money getting people to the website — once they are there, we want a frictionless experience. The cost of a wasted website visit is so expensive that we also spend a significant effort in proactive website monitoring. There are tools to do this, but we elected to use and run regular tests of the experience throughout the day to ensure that our sales pipeline is running smoothly.

The back end of the web experience is just as important as the visible bits. We have an extensive data collection pipeline that tracks every visitor from advertising campaign to sale. This allows us to optimize our advertising spend based on the demographics and website behavior of the visitor. It also allows the sales agent to have visibility of the prospect’s website behavior and any offers they were presented prior to the call. All of this has resulted in a dramatic reduction in cost per lead and created the data needed to tune and optimize advertising spend.

2) Installation Digital Experience

Once the customer purchases a new home security system, they must be provided with an exceptional installation process. Brinks Home specializes in do-it-for-me home security and automation. So, the majority of our customers have a professional come to their home and install their system. It wasn’t that long ago that this process was managed with a clipboard and carbon form. At Brinks Home, we have invested in digital tools and processes to optimize this experience for the customer.

This begins with our state-of-the-art dispatch platform that incorporates GPS routing to ensure that the best technician is assigned to the job. This process features machine learning capabilities to balance customer commitments, technician availability, and drive times. This tooling has also created a tremendous amount of data that we use to optimize the customer experience and cost structure of the organization.

Once the technician arrives at the site, our newly optimized technician app takes center stage in provisioning the customer. We’ve worked hard at Brinks Home to optimize and automate this tool. Technicians are provided with a 360o view of the customer. They can use the tech app to upsell the customer, automatically bring the customer system online, and document the customer system for alarm monitoring and future maintenance. Here again, it’s all about the data. The information we capture at the time of installation is automatically documented and becomes the basis for service excellence.

3) Customer Self-help

If the customer has an issue or question about their system, we want to meet them where they are. Brinks Home has invested in a variety of digital channels to support the customer — and today the majority of customer interactions happen digitally. This begins with the Brinks Home help center. In 2022, we did a lot of research into customer behavior in the help center and realized that the traditional search-heavy experience wasn’t working well for our customers. They often didn’t have the search words needed to get to the right article. We migrated the experience to be what we refer to as a visual decision tree. Customers can find the part of their system that is creating the issue and quickly find a support article or video solution. We continue to tweak and enhance the help center content both by monitoring customer behavior on the site and reading every customer article comment.

We have continued to innovate the help center experience for customers. In 2023, we added ChatGPT support at the top of the page. This is a “RAG model” implementation of ChatGPT we developed for Brinks Home Help Center content. Retrieval-augmented generation (RAG) is a technique for enhancing the accuracy and reliability of generative AI models with facts loaded from a content library. We feed ChatGPT with the customer’s question, the three best articles from our vector database to answer the question, and some prompt engineering to optimize the response. ChatGPT does a better job than help center articles alone in quickly providing information on technical problems. Since deploying the help center, we extended this ChatGPT implementation to our customer chat (chat bubble at the bottom of the screen). We have a vision of continued expansion of this tool. We want to give ChatGPT enhanced information about the customer system and trouble conditions and system access to make changes for the customer just like an agent. We’d also like to continue to expand its usage moving next to the telephony IVR — stay tuned!

We’ve also focused our digital transformation on customer self-service tools. This started with some very basic enhancements to the usability of our customer portal. Our first chore was to tackle identity. In 2021, it was very difficult for a customer to get a Brinks Home portal account created or reset. Identity may not be exciting or cutting edge but getting the experience right for customers was the single biggest driver of digital adoption! We’ve continued to enhance the customer portal experience to the point where more than 80% of the reasons customers call Brinks Home can be addressed with self-service tools. We also enabled all portal capabilities in the customer’s system management application so that help is at their fingertips when they are using their system.

It gets harder to move the ball with every new digital self-service effort because we’ve covered all of the “easy things” to digitize in the customer’s experience. What we’re working on now is the simplification of the complicated in the customer’s journey. Today, we’re working to optimize the customer’s shipping and return experience, digital the experience if the customer is moving, simplify the process of changing a sensor or battery on your system, and provide better options to manage alarms. All of this requires a much deeper user experience design of the simple portal tools. It’s also a very interactive process of shipping code and then watching the customers interact with the experience to improve.

4) Digital Care Experience

If a customer does call for support, we’ve done a lot to optimize and improve that experience for the agent so that they can provide an ideal customer experience. This improvement starts with the customer’s self-help journey in a couple of ways. First, self-service has helped the call center with a reduction in call volumes. This volume reduction gives the agents the flexibility to deal with the calls that remain. Second, self-help assists the process as customers coming into the call center are much more knowledgeable about the process, and where appropriate the agents can direct the customer to self-help assets for further assistance.

The calls that remain are generally more technical and complicated. We’ve done a lot to digitally simplify the agent’s experience so that they can provide the customer with fast and consistent resolution. This started with the development of new digital experiences for our most complicated processes including scheduling a technician and creating a field service job. I often say that before these tools agents would have needed a PhD in the history of Brinks Home warranties to appropriately create a job. Not only did these digital tools create simplicity, but they also gave us a platform to enforce policy consistency and collect appropriate revenue for service work. It’s hard to believe we ran the business without these capabilities.

In 2023, we deployed agent assistance AI with a partner called Cresta. The Cresta tool has transformed the agent experience. It transcribes the call in real-time and the AI identifies moments in the call and supports the agent with best practices and workflows to serve the customer. Cresta also provides the call center management team with digital transformation. Gone are the days of sampling a few customer interactions per agent for quality assurance — with Cresta 100% of calls receive basic Q&A and the reporting points from the quality assurance team to opportunities to the best opportunities to coach. Cresta has been so successful that we recently expanded the program to our sales and chat organizations.

Moving forward we are working to combine our agent experience into one simple desktop tool. We call this new tool the common agent desktop. This will simplify our agent CRM but also integrate the experience across eleven tools the agent uses today. This experience will be integrated with the Cresta AI such that we won’t just tell agents where to go or what tool to use — we’ll automatically load it for them. Our first experience is now with agents and we’re working this year to aggressively expand this tool.

5) Retention

One critical customer experience for our business is retaining customers when they have a life change or come to the end of their support contract. We want to retain customers for life and have invested in digital tools to optimize these experiences.

We have a partnership with Voziq AI to manage customers’ offers and present customers with the next best offer based on their scenario. Voziq evaluates a customer’s situation on more than eighty data points and allows the agent to build an offer to address the customer’s situation. Taking all this into account, Voziq calculates the Net Present value of the customer allowing Brinks Home to systematically approve the deal.

From a proactive retention perspective, Brinks Home has partnered with a company called OfferFit. OfferFit’s technology features A/B testing on steroids. We utilize OfferFit to test proactive offers for customers who may be coming out of contract or may benefit from a systems upgrade. Once offers have been optimized for a given demographic, OfferFit sends a cadence of marketing messages. It’s the ideal platform for testing and optimizing changes to the program.

In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?

Align the organization. Digital transformation won’t take place as a technology program alone. This effort has to be a partnership between operators and technologists to be successful. Everyone needs to be aligned on a common set of goals or metrics. We are fortunate at Brinks home to have an amazing alignment between operations and technology teams. I will give an example from my past. I saw a technology team struggle against a sales operations team in the creation of self-service. The reason was misalignment. The call center team was a support organization, but they also saw every phone call as a sales opportunity. They could quote numbers such as 1 of 6 calls was resulting in a sale — so fewer calls = less sales. They didn’t “get credit” for digital sales. As a result, they blocked digital transformation at every opportunity!

Build your innovation team. It’s important to create long-lived teams that can own and care for a system over the long term. A-players are important, but your teams should have a blend of A-players, who are constantly looking for new challenges, team players who are building and maintaining the system for the long run, and team members from the business. Digital transformation creates a great opportunity to reskill operational team members into the technology organization. Shifting business team members into the business of building software enriches the team with deep knowledge of the problems and opportunities.

Invest in data. A poor data foundation will limit any digital transformation, but improving data will unlock both digital opportunities and broader business improvements. Moreover, the digitalization of the customer and agent process will create opportunities to collect data. You’d better be ready to provide it — because operations are going to ask! Once this flywheel gets moving, it’s amazing how quickly the process can turn data drives into digital tooling, as digital tooling unlocks data and the data drives the ask for enhancements — repeat to great impact!

How can our readers further follow your work?

Brinks Home is active on LinkedIn as am I. We regularly post about our digital transformation and the great team members and partners we have working to make our customer’s and employees’ lives better!

How is AI changing digital transformation?

We’ve been working with Machine Learning in customer and agent support of digital transformation and AI for ten-plus years, but things have accelerated recently, and no discussion of digital transformation would be complete without a comment on this topic. The advent of widely available Large Language model AI is transforming digital transformation. It’s become part of every channel we support at Brinks home from AI providing “words that work” for Sales agents to overcome objections, support agent AI providing just-in-time hints and training workflow and customer self-help ChatGPT answer questions in simple intuitive ways across help center, chat, and (soon) IVR.

Brinks Home has aggressively invested in AI tools, and it has quickly become a part of almost every digital transformation program. That said, I believe we’ve just started to scratch the surface of AI digital transformation. Today’s AI usage is very exposed. In many ways, it’s still a bolt-on to the experience and it assists the customer or the agent to quickly use the “right tool” or process to resolve the issue. We’re moving to a world where the AI is out in front. The AI will be transparently assisting customers and agents will be assisting the AI. To get there, we need to continue to evolve. We need better-reasoned answers, better language modeling, and more complete system interactions. Obviously, this transition has an operational cost-saving component but it’s much bigger than this alone. As we make this transition, I believe that AI can also crack the code on solving tacit problems that today require reasoned and experienced human involvement. AI can do a better-than-human job of assisting the customer in troubleshooting technical and transient problems that require the assimilation of large amounts of data. Most importantly, AI will assist digital transformation in becoming a true delighter of the customer experience.

The companies who get here first, those who move from AI assisting the agents to agents assisting the AI will have a huge economic advantage. B2C companies that unlock this potential will be able to scale non-linearly with zero marginal costs. That transformation will create a virtuous economic model that allows for high customer acquisition spend and ultimately domination of entire industries.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.