Recently, I was at dinner with some friends and the topic of Smart Home Technology came up in the conversation. Immediately one of the ladies at the table said “Don’t mention smart home technology to me! I have a Smart Home and I regularly get locked out of my own home!” This conviction is sadly not unique. In fact, I regularly hear from friends, family, acquaintances and certainly from various roles I have held in the industry over the years, that their “Smart Home” experience was poor. While the first example certainly is not representative of a full “Smart Home System” it is representative of what can go wrong and the impact on consumer interest in our technology.
When a bad experience occurs with a smart home installation or more simply, an A/V or technology installation, the reverberation effects can be extremely damaging to our industry and potential future customers. In fact, researchers estimate that 95% of consumers who had a bad experience (with any service or purchase experience) will share the poor experience with others. I have heard many consumers over the years declare: “whatever you do, don’t put technology in your home. It will make your life miserable”. The last thing our industry needs is a group of dissatisfied consumers telling their friends and family to avoid technology.
Of course, this is not always the case. We have an industry full of extremely talented Integration companies and professionals. However, as with any industry or profession, a few bad apples can create a poor vibe for the entire profession. Unfortunately, I do not have a magic solution to the concern and problem. Rather, I believe it is something we should collectively explore and collaborate to develop some ways to ensure better technology experiences for consumers. We have extremely talented and knowledgeable professionals in our industry, who are way smarter than I am, as potential contributors to this topic.
A few potential areas to explore may be as follows:
Education and Certification:
I am a strong believer in training, education, and certifications – not to mention low voltage/power limited licensing. This education and certification accreditation is important through our industry resources and government, but also through manufacturers and 3rd parties. Additionally, each of us and our industry should be educating consumers on the importance of licensing and certifications, vetting companies and contractors for the proper qualifications. While this will not provide 100% assurance of an outstanding experience for the consumer, it should provide some form of credibility regarding a level of dedication to professionalism by the business and its owners. Not to mention weeding out some of the quacks!
Manufacturer verification and accountability:
Many manufacturers require training and certification, prior to officially onboarding their dealers. Further many have tracking in place to monitor the level and nature of technical support required by each of their dealers. Mechanisms can and should be in place to filter out dealers who may not be qualified or technically capable of deploying and/or programming their products in a manner that properly represents the brand. I have personally witnessed remarkably poor home automation and distributed audio/video systems. In fact, just recently I visited a restaurant with 12 (8 Ohm) Speakers on one 2 channel amp. When the pre-amp failed, they simply removed it and told the owner to use the gain controls on the back of the amp to adjust the volume. Certainly, a dealer with the right qualifications and experience would have never seen this as an acceptable practice or standard of excellence.
It is our responsibility as an industry group to influence our peers in being accountable for the level of professionalism they exhibit. I understand this is a tricky subject and I am not endorsing knocking on your competitor’s door to berate them. However, we can certainly lead by example and raise the bar for the level of excellence to be expected of a respected professional in our industry. There may be several ways to accomplish or influence our industry. First: promote your certifications and licensing on your website and possibly elsewhere, like company vehicles, advertisements, etc. Add a comment to the consumer, like: “When interviewing contractors for your technology needs, be sure to check for the licensing and certification credentials, as you see for our business.” Second: promote testimonials for satisfied customers on your website, in your showroom, maybe even one on the back of your business cards. Raise the level of expectations for the consumer when they see your brand. Third: Promote your commitment to customer satisfaction. Some Integrators do this by offering free service calls for a period of time, others demonstrate this in their tag line. The tagline for my former Integration company was “We Make Entertainment Easy”. Accountability is not just for our peers in the industry but also for us and our businesses. I would often tell a potential new client when discussing the products, I had recommended: “I chose these products based on years of experience and thorough evaluation, to ensure the best possible experience for our clients. At the end of the project, I want you to hold me personally responsible for how easy and enjoyable your system is to operate.”
I have been involved in control and automation for several decades and I am also CEDIA Subject Matter Expert (SME) for User Interface Design. Over the years in various roles, as an Integrator taking over a project, and working for various Home Automation Manufacturers, I have seen some magnificently over complicated system designs. I recall one visit with an integrator in particular. Shortly into the meeting the owner stated, “if we are going to continue selling your home automation brand, you need to make the programming process more efficient.” I was a bit surprised by his comment, since the programming process for this brand was quite efficient. As the conversation continued, I learned that his programmer had spent over a week programming the remote for a single room system, with basically a TV and a few sources. I asked to please meet with the programmer and view the system file. I was shocked to learn that there were over 200 pages for the remote control in this single room system. Obviously, the consumer will never use all 200+ pages in this user interface and it will only over complicate the intuitiveness and ease of use to navigate the daily operation of the system. While this is only one example, I have seen countless other instances of system designs that were way over engineered and far too complex for the home or business owner. I would often test my system/user interface designs, by handing the remote control to my 80-year-old mother-in-law and asking her to navigate the operation of the system.
As an integrator, I would state to potential clients: “No matter how sophisticated you would like the technology in your home, I promise it will be easy for any member of your family to operate the system”. This is a topic that is extremely important, as many consumers are nervous about technology and are worried they won’t be able to turn on their TV or enjoy similar daily activities with a “high tech system”. If you can assure them during the initial client meeting that your system (design) will be easy and intuitive, it will have a significant impact on your likelihood to win the project. See my other article, consumers are terrified of you, for more on this subject.
This is certainly not a comprehensive list of potential solutions, nor is it written in stone. I would welcome your input on how we can collaborate together to elevate our industry further and ensure an outstanding experience for consumers enjoying their technology. The goal should be that each consumer absolutely loves their technology and tells every friend and family to add the same system(s) and products into their home!