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Inside the Industry’s Overlooked but Critical Departments

Inside the Industry’s Overlooked but Critical Departments

On the occasions when Advanced AV clients come face-to-face with accounts receivable coordinator Kristine “Kris” Buck, they may be taken aback.

“Clients think I’m a big brute but I’m a skinny little thing,” Buck said. “You have to be a little aggressive to do what I do, but when I meet clients at a conference, when new people come here, or if clients do a walk-through, they’re always surprised when I introduce myself.

Buck, who has been at Advanced for nine years, is part of the legion of “hidden department” AV employees who rarely are heard from but make the industry tick, often performing tasks that may seem out of their job descriptions.

She started out as a bill collector, now performing an array of duties in addition to accounts receivable, including updating, paying for, and keeping track of all the licenses and certificates for the firm’s many out-of-state projects.

“I also keep track of the company health insurance, maintaining spreadsheets with the various plans,” Buck explained. “I recently phoned in claims for worker’s comp and auto claims so what I do is like human resources as well.”

When she first interviewed with Advanced controller Mike Gallagher, Buck was wearing the scrubs of her previous career as a certified surgical tech. “I wanted a change and I knew Mike wasn’t sure about me; I looked like a Valley Girl but I knew I was tough and smart.”

A lot of people regard accounting employees as pencil pushers, but the post involves running an often-chaotic department. “We hold the company together,” Buck stated. “It can be stressful with constant changes in health insurance, for example. Our bank account was even compromised by forged checks. We had to cancel our account, and I had to contact hundreds of customers with all our information. But I love new things.”

The Detail Man

Karl Eifrig, Pentegra Systems project engineer for more than three years handles CAD work and manages service repairs for vendors. Sounds deceptively simple, but wait, there’s more.

“There’s a lot of documentation involved in my job whether from manufacturers’ manuals, test reports, and in making sure all lines work well,” he said. “I have pages and pages of Excel spreadsheets. That’s in addition to preparing drawings/numbering cable tags.”

There’s always room for improvement, he admitted, but in the engineering department, employees must ensure that every little cable gets ordered for a project. “I’m a detail man,” Eifrig said. “We take the macro and go into the micro. No matter how much detail you check, you always forget something and get a panic call from the field to clarify the intent, or you have copied something from an earlier version. One change ripples through your drawings, even one part of a giant design. So I keep the phone lines open, and we know how to tackle any problem.”

His Pentegra colleague, operations manager Kevin Curran, manages back office procedures, including purchasing, logistics, warehouse management, and shop assembly, as well as maintaining all company vehicles. He’s done so since 2003.

Everybody’s looking for something and all kinds of issues come up, Curran said. “It could be in regards to boom and scissor lifts that have to be dropped off before 7 a.m. for the tech onsite, or where I must drop ship a product quickly that was not ordered. They get the product without even knowing that it was through me.”

Every day is a challenge, he noted, from the problem of a $5 part that’s not onsite turning into to a $150 part it by the end of the day because the warehouse doesn’t have it. “The customer doesn’t see me but everyone in this company is my customer. It’s all mission critical. I’ve never gotten a call where someone says, ‘Hey Kevin, everything is going great.’ My middle initial is ‘I’ and my last name is ‘need.’ I’m always multitasking.”

Curran can view his warehouse and access the company’s system online, anytime. “Customers think things materialize magically, but it’s really me behind the scenes. A call might come in and I send someone downtown to a job. You never know what’s going to happen and that’s what makes it fun.”

A Tight Ship

Colleen Leskowich, inside sales account manager at Advanced AV for more than 15 years, holds a position created just for her.

“I started as sales coordinator and built my own customer base into inside sales,” she explained. “I consider myself like customer service as I handle direct accounts and deal with box business. If a customer needs just a projector or cable, they come to me. An outside sales rep has bigger fish to fry, so this is a neat niche for me. What I enjoy is the core group of people who’ve worked here for a long time and the challenges of dealing with customers and exceeding expectations.”

Leskowich excels in the fast turnaround, shepherding the product needed quickly, and the customer, through to delivery. “I find I go from sales to customer service to purchasing to follow-through and communication with the end-user. Sometimes these customers are just looking for somebody to respond to them. I’ve had calls where the customer starts by saying ‘I know you’re too big and you probably don’t do this.’ They are very surprised to find out we will happily do that.”

It’s All About the Talent

Finding and retaining talented employees is the name of the game for any company, including those in AV. Briana Cassidy, human resource generalist, AVI Systems, is most conscious of this need.

“There’s a lot of behind-the scenes recruiting and onboarding (moving someone from applicant to hire) that goes on in our industry,” she said. “It’s important to stay current and make sure we have the same offerings, benefits, and base or incentive pay as our competitors. What’s unique here is our employee stock ownership plan and our focus on training, whether on the job or through manufacturers. We have lots of opportunities for advancement from install to project management and sales. So my job is to keep people engaged in their jobs, happy, and willing to learn.”

Karen Mitchell is a freelance writer based in Boulder, CO.

Tips From the Underground

We asked AV professionals working behind the scenes for a few of their best practices tips. Here’s what they shared:

PLAY NICE: Bill collectors have a bad rap, so I really try to get to know my customers and am very light-hearted before going in for the kill. I always write notes to myself so I know what’s been going on with them in their lives when I call, even something like knowing they just were on vacation and being able to ask them about it.

BE HAPPY: Have a positive attitude, no matter what. My number one trait is that I have a flair for settling things in any rough situation, finding a solution that people can be comfortable with.
—Kris Buck, Accounts Receivable, Advanced AV

CONSTANTLY IN CONTACT: If I know a customer is urgently looking for a product, I keep an eye out for a confirmation from the vendor and for tracking information. I can send this information to the customer even before they are expecting delivery. This alleviates stress. The customer typically needs this part quickly, so I handle them with care.

INSIDE JOB: Maintain effective communication within the company to all departments. You do catch more flies with honey, and there are times when I need to collaborate with coworkers. Internal customer relationships are just as important as external. So if I come across an opportunity involving installation, I hand it over to an outside sales rep.

GET YOUR NOTES ON: Keep notes and get back to people immediately. I don’t like it when people downstream of me internally have to come back and ask me a question. I want to provide information up front. There are multiple people touching what I do, so I make notes everywhere. That way purchasing doesn’t have to come back to me or struggle to clarify anything. It’s the same with accounting. If there are special billing instructions when something’s out of the ordinary, I want to make sure there’s not a question later. If somebody has to ask me a question, I don’t feel like I’ve done my job.
—Colleen Leskowich, Inside Sales, Advanced AV

UPDATE YOURSELF: Always make sure you work with the most updated project version from the consultant or even from your own drawing. It’s all too easy to find and pull up the version from two days ago. And never delete emails. Keep the important threads for a paper day.

NEAT AND CLEAN: Try to keep your desk clean, so you know where everything is. I keep the docs for each of the projects clipped together. It sounds obvious, but I would say that if you keep it organized, it will be easier to find the answers when things are fast and furious.
—Karl Eifrig, Project Engineer, Pentegra Systems

OLDIES BUT GOODIES: I sometimes have to go back through old emails to catch mistakes; you want to see where something happened even six months after. Some jobs don’t finish for months. It could be a question such as, “Why did I order this product in red?” Then I might discover that it was unavailable in another color at the time.

STANDARDIZE YOURSELF: Make sure you have standardization of tooling. We standardize connectors so that everyone has the same tooling. I use P-Touch label printers, and our cartridges all match. This is the kind of practice that eliminates problems.
—Kevin Curran, Operations Manager, Pentegra Systems

LISTEN UP: You have to be a good listener. Think through your responses before answering a candidate or an employee. Put yourself in their shoes.

NAMING NAMES: I always make sure to know a name before I meet a candidate or employee and to say their name to establish a report. And I always bring a pencil and paper or something to write with to a meeting. It’s the little things.
—Brianna Cassidy, Human Resources, AVI Systems