The customer may not always be right, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve stellar service. In fact, great service is not a question of whether the client is entitled to it, nor is it just a bonus—a nice thing to offer. It’s a necessity, both for AV firms facing the ongoing and ever-increasing commoditization of technology and the shift from hardware to software (and thus, lower margins), and for the people who are using this stuff. As technology grows evermore sophisticated, your customers aren’t just your customers; they’re your partners, and it’s through service that you can help them to grow—and you to succeed as well.
But in order for you to provide stellar service to your partners/customers, you need to receive the same thing from your partners/suppliers. Training, consultation, easily digestible resource materials, and an efficient way of bringing all of the different aspects of your business together are some of the things that you require in order to meet your customers’ needs. Here’s how several companies are striving to offer you stellar service so that you may do the same on the frontlines.
Kiley Henner, Biamp Learning Can Be Everyone’s Forté
This March, Biamp Systems, headquartered in Beaverton, OR , launched its first-ever online certification-training program focused on the manufacturer’s new TesiraFORTÉ line of audio processors, designed to extend AVB (Audio Video Bridging) to application-specific settings. Comprised of self-guided sessions complemented by comprehension testing throughout (if you don’t pass the quiz, you can’t get to the next level), this development is another component to what the company calls its “Biamp Education Experience,” which also consists of webinars, the Cornerstone online library of instructional videos, Biamp’s YouTube Training Channel, as well as the in-person certification training conducted through multi-day courses that take place around the world and cover the manufacturer’s Tesira, Vocia, and Audia products.
Kiley Henner, education and applications manager at Biamp, explained that this new online certification-training program enables the company to service a greater number of people across the globe. “Access to our customers is a huge plus of the system,” he said. He also noted that in many cases, it’s a more cost-effective approach to training—and not just for Biamp. “[Our customers have to fly in] and take time away from their workday, so it’s expensive both in terms of the cost and the time that they lose from their job. Those two factors really led us to look into online training and the advantages that it can provide.” Another benefit of an online training system is that it can be easily updated, monitored, and modified based on student feedback. “We’re going to be able to respond really quickly and tweak it as necessary.”
Henner underlined that just because Biamp has taken some of its certification training online does not mean that the company currently has plans to discontinue its in-person training program. “There is no doubt in my mind that the experience of being face-to-face provides some advantages, and those really are the ability to interact with your peers, the ability to interact directly with Biamp people, and the ability to be hands-on with a lot of Biamp product. Those things cannot be 100-percent duplicated in online training,” he said. However, different people learn differently, and this online training-certification course expands the manufacturer’s menu of offerings. “I’m looking at this as a way for Biamp to extend its training opportunities to better reach more people, and more people’s individual learning styles.”
Your Business in One View
In order to provide stellar service, you have to have your stuff together— and everyone knows that’s easier said than done. Aligning the massive amounts of information that professionals compile both on the front end and in the back office is a challenge that every business in every sector struggles with daily, and Solutions 360, a software solutions provider based in Newmarket, ON , Canada, is specifically helping AV integrators struggle a little less.
Offering what Solutions 360 calls “One View of the Business,” the Q360 platform is an integrated suite designed to address the different aspects of an integration firm’s business functions: sales, proposals, service and dispatch, invoicing, and accounting. This, according to the developer, provides immediate access to reporting and related information, boosting efficiencies in project management and business processes and thus, profitability.
John Graham, Solutions 360 John Graham, executive vice president at Solutions 360, noted that the ideal AV integrator candidate for this solution is one that is either in growth mode or plans to be, and has determined that they need the structure and processes to support that growth. Generally, companies at this stage tend to have anywhere from 20 to 50 employees, although the software can support larger organizations boasting several hundred employees; Graham often meets new clients when they are in the 50 to 300 employee range.
“The greatest benefit we offer an integration company isn’t really a feature or function, but a new mode of operating,” he said, because his company’s approach is to focus on its clients’ business goals, and where its clients’ organizations are headed. “It’s how that feature set is deployed that makes the biggest impact on their business. We are providing one system, one database, with the full operations and accounting functions as part of the same fabric of the software, so our clients have complete visibility into every facet of their business.” The result: users can make better decisions because they are up to speed, in real time, about what’s really going on in their integration firm.
It’s when integrators are equipped with this information that they are better positioned to provide the best service possible to their clients, Graham said. “Having a 360 view of their experience with your company helps everyone make better decisions that lead to both increases in customer satisfaction and profitability by customer,” he said. “If you’re making a sales call for a new product line, wouldn’t it be beneficial to know what’s happening with their service issues? Or perhaps they are in arrears on their account. Armed with this information, you are not only informed; you come across as being professional and you can offer real help to your customer. You become a valued partner, creating stickiness to that client.”
Frank M. Culotta, SymcoThinking Out of the Box…Literally
What’s expected of the modern manufacturer’s rep these days? Ask Frank Culotta, and he’ll tell you that it’s a lot different than it used to be.
Culotta is president at Symco, a 42-year-old manufacturer’s rep firm based in Stirling, NJ. For the majority of those 42 years, the firm’s job was to sell something that came in a box, and that was pretty much it. “But the business model of the AV industry has changed drastically,” he said, “and users seem to care less about hardware, which means the integrators seem to care less about hardware because they can’t make any money at it anymore.” As a result, Culotta and his team are emphasizing the service and knowledge they can offer. “It’s much more than just a product and a spec sheet and a price. It’s evolved more into business consulting, services consulting, market consulting, and competitive analysis.”
As a manufacturer’s rep, Symco is well positioned to provide these insights, since like integrators, the firm’s team is out in the field every day. “Everyone is starving for information: what’s happening out there? Who’s doing what? What’s working? Why? What’s not? Why?” Culotta illustrated. “Rather than just show up with a price sheet, a spec sheet, and a demo unit, we can sit down and have a true business conversation with the integrator: where do you see your firm positioned now, and what do you want to move into in the future? Do you want to get more into education? More into government? More into corporate? Do you want more of a service-based model? We can sit down and have a true business conversation and see what their needs are.”
In essence, Culotta said, Symco is striving to be a business partner to its clients. “Many [of our partners] have realized that we know a lot, we’re out there every single day talking to every competitor, every end user, every manufacturer, and every consultant, so we’ve got a wealth of knowledge,” he said. “Our focus is value, and our value is truly knowing and understanding the individual integrator’s business model, and aligning our sales and values with what will help them reach their goals.”
Showing Through Showing (And Telling…)
Rob Sheeley, Vaddio If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many is a video worth? Somewhere around at least a million for the people at Vaddio.
For the last eight years or so, the video products manufacturer has not only been fabricating products, but videos to go along with them. The goal? To educate users on what the company’s technology can offer them, and to help integrators gain an understanding of how these products can be integrated and operated. “We live in a world where we don’t like to read manuals, and we all like to be entertained,” said Rob Sheeley, president of Vaddio in Minnetonka, MN . “The cool thing about video is that they can watch it passively, but still learn something at the same time, and it takes about two minutes to get the information that they would normally spend three or four days trying to get through a book.”
Sheeley believes that the best videos inspire people to think about all of the functionality they can gain from Vaddio’s products. He cited the company’s video on GroupSTATION , its unified communications solution for collaboration and presentations. “If you look at that video, it was really about, ‘Boy, I can do all these amazing things I can do on my desktop on my personal device, but how do I share that in a room?’ What we’re really trying to say is that your personal app is now a group app.” He says that during production, his team and their agency worked a lot on the messaging related to this. He added that Vaddio’s more technical videos address the fact that many integrators are so time-strapped that reading manuals just isn’t a longer process—it’s also one they have trouble fitting into their day. “Typically, they’re doing their proposals and design work at night because during the day they’re either involved in an installation or they’re talking to customers. Our videos are designed so that in essence they can look at one of our videos at night and understand how they should be designing that system for their customer. Hopefully they’re sitting there drinking a beer, watching our video and having a little bit of fun.”
For Sheeley, a video products manufacturer that makes videos is just plain logical: “A lot of the things that we do in the AV world are used for creating content,” he said. “So as manufacturers, obviously we’ve got to be able to offer the same high level of content that our customers do.”
Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer/editor.