In its purest sense, the term collaboration means working with someone to produce or create something. The AV industry is the business of fostering collaboration through creating products, integrating systems, or developing software that support communication between people. It is the individuals and groups that seek methods of collaboration and communication to satisfy their needs, who are the clients of the AV industry.
Although the AV industry thrives on supporting collaboration among its clients (the users of the systems or devices), is the value of collaboration truly realized within the AV industry itself, including AV professionals and their clients?
A SAVVY CLIENTELE
For those of us who have been creating AV solutions for a decade or more, the evolution of the industry has been a terrific opportunity for learning. The days of selling expensive hardware or systems with loads of features that didn’t always translate into client benefits are in the past. Also, gone are the days when clients did not have access to information about products or as much comfort in what they were purchasing.
While industry professionals have always done their best to offer the right solutions based on what clients requested or their perception of what was appropriate, clients of the past didn’t always have the experience and understanding to articulate their needs and expectations. It was a time when AV systems had mystique. An automated boardroom was a prestigious showpiece that possessed a wow factor only experienced by select members of an organization and their clients or associates. Automated AV systems were certainly not the prevalent, relied-upon tool for business operation that they are in most organizations today.
Fast forward to current time, where the adoption of technology in business is widespread. Audiovisual electronics and IoT automation have become staples for everyday use by individuals and organizations seeking to communicate, collaborate, share information, and interact. What used to be a luxury for high-end organizations has now become commonplace and a requirement for businesses to operate.
All throughout this progression, the familiarity and comfort with AV systems has shifted dramatically for the client. The average user has not only become more accepting of AV technology, they have also become more demanding of functionality, ease of use, and value.
How do AV professionals maintain their relevance and position as subject matter experts in an environment where the knowledge gap and skill set between professional service providers and clients is narrowing?
CONNECTING WITH CUSTOMERS
First and foremost, familiarity and closeness between users, technology managers, manufacturers, and service providers of AV systems fosters better understanding of pain points, needs, goals, expectations, and opportunities. As consultants, integrators, manufacturers, and programmers spend more time meeting with technology managers and end users in their native environments, they will naturally glean a greater understanding about how to best serve them.
Increased communication and collaboration between clients and vendors not only leads to increased comfort and familiarity, it also builds relationships that result in better outcomes and a higher level of satisfaction. Many times, it takes an outside observer to identify where improvements can be made in workflow, where technology or automation can lead to time or cost efficiency, what improvements can be made to existing systems or products, or what adjustments can be made to provide a better level of service that is more highly valued. Although clients may be requesting a particular solution that they feel best suits them, by getting to know them better, it may become apparent that there is a simpler, more cost effective, or higher valued option that is more appropriate for their specific needs.
Another form of collaboration that can aid in the effectiveness of AV professionals is to observe users actually operating the systems that were recently implemented. One of the takeaways can simply be identifying the differences between the actual usage and the intended or expected use of the system or equipment. Likely, the users’ level of satisfaction is related to how close the intended and actual operation fall. This effort will not only provide feedback for the future, but also offers avenues for immediate improvement and greater satisfaction. How often do AV providers witness their products or systems being used by the end users in normal operation? There can be significant lessons learned and opportunities for growth and success through this form of collaboration.
Furthermore, collaboration is a key element in an iterative approach to AV projects or software. As opposed to the traditional “waterfall” process, an iterative project approach that provides an opportunity to make adjustments based on client feedback at several defined points throughout the project process, rather than waiting until the end to determine the effectiveness of the solution. How often are clients delivered systems that didn’t quite meet their expectations, leaving them not truly satisfied without a means for resolution? This can be remedied by deliberate collaboration throughout the project process to ensure that the desired outcome is always in sight.
The last aspect of collaboration that can benefit the AV industry is the increased adoption of videoconferencing. The value of videoconferencing can be quickly realized in the ease of engagement, effectiveness of communication, and efficiency of a meeting as compared to an audio conference. Additionally, the ability to share content in a video call enhances the ability to collaborate.
Specifying, installing, and commissioning videoconferencing systems has been a staple in the AV industry for decades. Clients have realized the value that videoconferencing provides for them and their organizations for a while. However, this can be a lost opportunity on many levels for AV professionals that don’t adopt it for themselves. With the rise in software codecs and low-cost solutions, there is no excuse for not leveraging this form of collaboration. In the end, the benefits can be realized, not only through a relatable experience with clients, but also through increasing their effectiveness in support and troubleshooting in addition to sales and management.
For AV service providers and manufacturers, the rise in collaboration should not only be about opportunities to offer more products and solutions. Collaboration is a great way to build familiarity, rapport, and synergy between those delivering, supporting, and using AV solutions. All of the players in the industry play an important role in achieving a valued user experience and accomplishing mutual goals. Through increased collaboration, everyone can benefit and achieve greater success.
Steve Greenblatt, CTS, is president and founder of Control Concepts, a provider of specialized software and services for the audiovisual industry.