Have you ever been afraid of your phone? Over the past few weeks, I have had several friends and family members contact me because they had money in hand to spend with an AV Contractor but were unable to reach their integrator or get a phone call back from them. I find this incredibly disturbing. However, it is not isolated to the CE industry and low voltage contractors. In fact, I had a similar experience recently trying to hire an electrician to do some work at my home. I tried several recommended contractors; I left voicemail messages for a couple that were never returned. One had a mailbox that was already full, so I scratched that one off the list for obvious reasons.

This exact subject was also the topic of a recent editor for a leading CE publication in the USA. He was desperately trying to spend money with an Integrator but could not get them to provide him with a bid or begin the work for many months.

Over the course of my career, I have often been in a position to interview and hire (or fire) employees. As anyone who has ever gone through an interview process with me would attest, I would always ask “are you good at communications?” and I would follow up by saying “if you are unable to respond to emails or phone calls in a timely manner, we will have problems.” In fact, in my management experience, the irate customers would often get elevated to me; having managed sales, customer service and technical support teams. In nearly every instance, when I would encounter a disgruntled customer, a communication breakdown was at the heart of the problem.

I have found that people can deal with issues or bad news FAR better if they have an open line of communication. So why might someone avoid that call or email, let’s explore some examples and potential solutions to deliver better communication and avoid the angry gorilla of a customer that may come knocking on your door someday (virtually or physically 😉):

“I’m too busy, and can’t take on more work”

I have certainly experienced this dilemma over the course of my career. However, I firmly believe in filling the well before you are thirsty. You may be busy now, but what about next week, next month or 3,6, 12 months from now. Not that this prospective client would wait 12 months but hang with me for a few minutes.

My sister-in-law recently asked, “what drives you?” I immediately responded “Fear!”. As an integrator for 20 years, no matter how busy we were, I always had a fear that someday we would run out of work. I told my team “if someone wants a network jack installed, we are doing it!”. It may not be today, but we will take the work, if we can get paid properly. Sometimes, this may fall into the old adage: “Do you want it, good, fast, or cheap? Pick two.” If the customer wants the network jack installed this week and you are slammed busy, maybe you need to hire an independent contractor to help finish some projects and also complete this job. The project can then be Good and Fast, but it may not be cheap. If they are willing to wait a few weeks, so you can fit them into the standard schedule, then it may be good and cheap(er), but not fast.

Very often these small “network jack” installations turned into massive projects in the future. Maybe that customer moves into a new house in a year or two and they want it tricked out with the latest technology? Or they decide to do an extensive remodel. I am not alone in this experience; I know many Integrators who have performed a fairly minor installation and then moved on with the customer to far larger projects.

“I don’t want to do the work for this customer”

I am well aware of the fact that some customers may be challenging, and the project or service call may not be exciting for you. However, not responding or calling them back is worse than telling them you can’t get out there for a few weeks or maybe referring them to an independent contractor you may know, who could be interested in the work. I know many single person operations who will take nearly any project that comes their way, especially if they think they may be able to get more overflow work from you in the future. Avoiding the customer does not make them disappear, rather it puts poison in their system for your company that they will freely share with their friends, family, neighbors, and anyone else who will listen.

Further and much more significant is the damage it may cause to the future of our industry. I know many people who have been in this predicament, unable to get any support from the installer of the technology in their home and it tarnishes the experience with them forever. When a consumer has a poor experience installing technology in their home, often they will simplify the technology or avoid it altogether in the future. This can have a significant impact on our industry moving forward.

“I’ll get back to them when I have more time”

It is very easy to get consumed with the daily responsibilities and workload. I can tell you that when I am tasked with writing these articles, I never have the “free time” available to draft and contribute them. However, I have made a commitment to the editors to contribute on a regular basis and they count on me, so I make time in the evenings or on weekends.

Time management is a hot topic and something I believe is very relevant to our industry. I have witnessed many installers over the years who become completely immersed in a project and a tornado of tasks: phone calls, voicemails, emails, duties begin to swirl around them gathering intensity and mass. Ultimately, it begins to break apart and balls get dropped, opportunities are lost, and people become agitated.

So, how can this be addressed so the proverbial tornado can be dodged. I really like the Eisenhower Matrix. Former US President Dwight Eisenhower himself developed the concept behind what would later be called the Eisenhower Matrix. He used it to help him prioritize and deal with the many high-stakes issues he faced as a US Army general, then as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO Forces, and eventually as president of the United States. Once you pause and evaluate the task(s) at hand and really consider how they land in the Matrix, it can be very effective in freeing up some time and helping to focus on the really urgent and important matters

In conclusion, don’t be afraid of your phone. You are never too busy to call someone back and invest 5 minutes on a call with them – even to tell them “I don’t have time to discuss your project right now, can we talk next week?”

The money for the smaller projects is spent the same way and very likely will lead to future business at a time in the future when you may need the work.