What qualities would someone have to have for you to consider them a professional, or pro, in the consumer electronics industry?
A quick Google search of “professional defined” reveals a very low bar: “Competent, Skillful, Assured … Engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation rather than as a pastime.”
Really!? That’s all it takes?
As the former CEO of a nationally ranked integration firm I reflected on the things we did to make sure each client had an amazing experience at each phase of a project, from Design & Engineering to Implementation, and through ongoing Service. In a world where customers and design professionals are so quick to search for a quantifiable differentiator, what should they actually be looking for to compare low-voltage integration firms?
I went about assembling a David Letterman-style Top 10 list as a conversation starter:
- Client’s Perception: The client ultimately decides if you were professional. Your policies and techniques matter very little if the result is a dissatisfied customer. There are so many opportunities, especially during long and complex projects, to leave a client feeling less than enthused. While good process and communication will help avoid most issues, the purest way to determine the client’s perception is to ask them. Try the Net Promoter Score, or NPS. This simple question (“On a scale of zero to ten, how likely would you be to recommend us to somebody else?”) is asked at the end of every project, and the score of zero (No!) to ten (Yes!) is recorded along with any comments. Post those scores to your website for potential clients to see.
- Project Portfolio: Demonstrable work history to accompany those great NPS Scores allows clients to see the finished product. This captures more than just the technology. It communicates the caliber of residence and associated partners from architects, interior designers, lighting designers, general contractors, etc. The portfolio will likely include photography, video, publications, awards, and testimonials. You should easily be able to determine if the information provided measures up to the exacting standards of the prospective client or partner.
- Task Specialization: If any one person wears too many hats, some will fall off. That person will be stretched in one direction to, at the very least, partial neglect of their other responsibilities. Accordingly, create dedicated teams for marketing, sales, engineering, procurement, project management, installation, service, and accounting. In a small enough organization it may be possible to commingle some functions, but it prevents the business from scaling which is what allows for long-term stability for clients and partners.
- System Documentation: For every project require comprehensive engineering and corresponding system documentation. Rather than being part of the project it is the very first project. Without the required documentation it is impossible to write an accurate proposal, competently coordinate with other trades, assign teams to do the various work, or provide ongoing system maintenance following the installation.
- Internal Process: Constantly work towards an ultimate “Playbook” – a clearly defined process for each department that allows for consistent and repeatable behavior. It allows each team to add people and scale with proven methods. The pursuit is endless, but the continued refinement of best practices will result in each department maturing to a healthy level of professionalism. The future of any company depends on the ability to recreate the amazing experiences that generate those positive NPS scores.
- Great Employees: Quality staff is rarely found but far more often developed. When done correctly, development creates longevity and retention of your key team members. Clearly defined roles with training programs and benchmarks enable the ultimate performers. Hiring well is key. Making sure to follow a great recruitment, interview, and onboarding process will pay dividends in mitigating lost productivity, creating resentment within teams, and unnecessarily repeating the process.
- Ongoing Service: The custom installation industry is rapidly becoming very similar to the Managed Service Provider (MSP) model found in the IT industry. It is now considered to be standard to have systems capable of remote monitoring and management, combined with a fully developed service platform including ticketing, dispatch, and dedicated service technicians. Many integrators struggle with this concept.
- Suppliers/Partners: The act of integrating various technologies is inherently complex. On any given month an integration firm may procure from 50+ different vendors. Keep that number as low as possible with several key criteria. Products must be: best in class, demonstrate proven reliability, survive a rigorous internal evaluation process, come from a brand with longevity, have fantastic customer support, provide great training resources, and work well with our other established solutions. Too many integrators try to use the “latest and greatest,” turning their clients into guinea pigs. Others try to support three different brands in every category and thereby become insignificant to all suppliers and never an expert in any one product family. Focus and consistency are necessary.
- Financial Stability: It is not uncommon for clients in the middle of an active project to seek a new provider because their previous integrator went out of business. That must be an awful feeling for the impacted client. The chosen integrator must run a fundamentally sound business because they are likely to develop a lifelong relationship with the client and project. The integrator should be consistently profitable, have a track record for growth, and a plan for the future of the business.
- Industry Engagement: Ideally, an integration firm uses a positive and sharing-based outlook meant to help the entire industry. An easy manifestation of this is membership, participation, and leadership in reputable professional industry organizations. This leads to community, education, and acknowledgement. The ability of a firm to have a true presence or “pulse” in its space is a testament to their legitimacy and professionalism.
When reflecting on your business, do you see opportunities for improvement?