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Smart Home Pros Kill ‘em with Coddling, when Customers Just Want Convenience

All those rich people who purchase smart-home systems and big TVs on Amazon ... are they "not your customers anyway" or do they just want a simple buying experience, a la Uber and Amazon?

Smart Home Pros Kill ‘em with Coddling, when Customers Just Want Convenience
Not everyone who has money to spend on a smart home system wants a masseur to go with it.

Julie Jacobson · April 10, 2018

At ISE 2018, I gave a presentation called “Uberizing Smart Home Services” as part of a TED-style series held at the CEDIA booth. Before launching into the core principles of Uber and Amazon, I warned attendees not to take the presentation literally. It would not be a lesson on how to sell DIY products to cheapskates; rather, I hoped to challenge integrators to explore new business models for today’s self-sufficient buyers.

And yet, many dealers responded with comments like: “We are nothing like Amazon” and “Julie’s model is a recipe for disaster, to say nothing of insulting.”

So, I stress again: You can’t be Uber or Amazon, and you don’t want to be. But you CAN study their approach to customer experience and incorporate some of their practices into your integration business, regardless of how “custom” it is.

Big Spenders Don’t Need Cuddles

I think we misread potential customers and miss golden opportunities when we assume that big spenders want to be coddled. Maybe that was the case several years ago … before they discovered online reviews and one-click ordering. Today, however, they buy exotic cars and book luxury tours online, without ever having to “call for more information.”

These customers may have plenty of money to spend, but they don’t want the “high-touch” service that integrators often foist upon them. We tend to equate higher budgets with needier clients who thrive on the fuss, when really these busy buyers want to make quick, informed decisions without people getting in their way.

I think we misread potential customers and miss golden opportunities when we assume that big spenders want to be coddled. 

A decade ago, when I wrote about buying a big-screen TV from Amazon, I received piles of hate mail to the effect of: “You must hate custom” and “I can’t believe you ordered from Amazon just to save a few dollars.”

Actually, I have no idea if I saved a few bucks, and it didn’t really matter. What mattered is that the whole experience was just so simple. I went online, searched a few things, pressed a button and received the TV a couple days later at the appointed time.

Today, buyers can order “smart home” systems just as simply, whether through Amazon’s Smart Home Services – 5-star worthy if you believe almost every single reviewer –  or specialty A/V dealers who offer similar programs (plenty of them do). Ordering a complete system is as simple as adding a familiar brand of thermostat to the shopping cart, plus some cameras, smart bulbs, voice assistants and maybe a smart TV with home-automation inside.

At checkout, just click “professional installation,” and voila! You see the real and fer-sure final price (barring exceptions at the job site), including shipping and installation – not a rough estimate that will be discussed with the team and presented in a week. Right then and there you can schedule an installer to arrive next Tuesday between 12 and 2.

Hard to Resist the Lure of ‘Simple’

There is a real possibility that this pragmatic patron actually desires a more robust smart-home system. But it’s hard to resist the pull of a quick-and-easy

The full-service generation is disappearing, replaced by self-helpers who will pay extra for the luxury of being left alone. 

“But they don’t do what we do!” dealers rightly proclaim. Even so, custom integrators could put more decision-making into the hands of their Alpha clients, which not only would attract these buyers in the first place, but also engage them in the process, and quite possibly improve dealer margins as they help themselves.

The full-service generation is disappearing, replaced by self-helpers who will pay extra for the luxury of being left alone. Our industry thinks the self-help crowd is motivated by cost savings, when they really just want a predictable, frictionless experience from the very first Google Search for “smart home.”

Nowadays, users can vet service providers, review and select products, configure a rudimentary system through online wizards, schedule installation, and pay for the whole thing without picking up the phone, waiting on hold, standing by for the “right” associate to serve you, hanging tight for the first proposal, second-guessing every decision, deliberating with your spouse, wondering what all this will cost … and doubting if these guys even know what they’re doing because they only have three online reviews.

How many customers go through the process once … and never again?

Some Like it Pampered

OF COURSE there will always be high-wealth, high-maintenance clients who would never order UberBlack by voice and, for that matter, never engage directly with a home-systems integrator. These money pits will never go away, but they represent a very small portion of the customer base currently served by home-technology pros.

Think back to when you first fell in love with SnapAV. Was it because their products were better and cheaper than anyone else’s? No. It was because they made it so easy to do business with them. Wouldn’t your own customers want an experience like that?

Perhaps you actually believe that clients savor your high-touch, personal approach to service. But is it possible you continue this way because it’s a lot easier and cheaper – at least in the short run – to run your business “manually?”

Creating a low-touch, predictable experience for clients is an expensive proposition that requires investments in logistics, e-commerce, user interfaces, cloud services, and many other disciplines. But the harder thing, first of all, is to abandon the notion that “anyone who buys from Amazon is not my customer.”

You can still deliver Ritz service and upsell premium suites and massages if a guest toting a witty bitty poodle named Mitzi made her room reservation online.


MORE ON THIS SUBJECT
An expanded 1-hour version of the 'Uber' presentation will be offered at the Florida Technology & Business Summit (CASTLE Summit), May 1-3 in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.



  About the Author

Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Email Julie at [email protected]

Follow Julie on social media:
Twitter · LinkedIn · Google+

Julie also participates in these groups:
LinkedIn · Google+

View Julie Jacobson's complete profile.



  Article Topics


Business · Sales & Marketing · Business Operations · News · Blogs · Amazon · Business · CEDIA · Industry Insider · Uber · All Topics
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Comments

Posted by Adroit1 on April 11, 2018

highfi is right on the mark

Posted by highfigh on April 11, 2018

If our customers were asking for a ride, our lives would be very different.

We are in an industry that’s based mainly on want, not need. We’re often asked to provide an experience that a big box store can’t because they aren’t specialists and when the client wants amazing sound, Sonos or other streaming boxes aren’t going to provide it. That means control will be different and, while Alexa does control many devices, the verbal instructions don’t always work and it’s up to the user to find the words that make it more reliable WRT understanding what is wanted.

I have been working at one house since the end of 2006 (because they continue to add and change things)- five separate Audio and AV systems are used in various areas and all are connected so the same music can play everywhere. That’s not a Big Box job and I know people who have worked as some level of CI whose heads would explode if they had to figure it out and while there’s no need to control everything with one remote, it needs to be easy for the whole family to use the equipment.

Define ‘Alpha client’. Many people actually want the decision-making in someone elses’ hands- they have other things to deal with and when it comes to the “Let’s do it” or “Not sure- can I get another option?”, they want to hear that it will do what they asked for, with the ability to be expanded or improved without gutting the whole thing. These people sometimes DO require hand-holding, but not as much to make them able to use it as catering to their whims. They want the convenience of making a phone call and at some point, they’ll find it done when they go home but they also want to be able to trust those who do this- for many of us, the homeowners don’t need to be at home because we have keys and/or codes.

You bought a TV, sight-unseen? I don’t know of anyone who thinks that’s a good idea. If you went to at least one store to compare and then bought from Amazon, you contributed to the difficulty of retailers staying in business.

I have never fallen in love with a supplier, but the first item I received from SnapAV worked out of the box, unlike the other item that came from a company owned by someone who writes articles about HDMI in trade mags. They were easier to deal with than many other suppliers, so I bought more. The one piece that developed a problem was advance-replaced and the client never knew about it. NOBODY else does that.

WRT “Creating a low-touch, predictable experience for clients…”- if you think that’s as easy as you seem to, try it. If that’s what you think people want, is it because you have actually spoken with people, or just thought about it?

Posted by Adroit1 on April 10, 2018

Julie,
  Your model is still a recipe for disaster. Most CE pros cannot compete with the big box stores, with their barely trained cheap labor, and buying power that gives them the ability to sell cheap. Unless we sell products not available in those stores and provide higher quality labor, we a re doomed. Uber is a simple service, one does not need any explanation. When our customers are about to pay over $100,000.00 for a new system, they want to see the design and know how it is going to be installed. The involves interacting, unlike Uber.
  As for Snap AV, you have it totally backwards. We started using them specifically because of price. Their quality of what we saw at their first exposition was a little iffy in the beginning, so we ordered parts that were not consequential. As we used their parts, we found their quality was better than what we expected, and their prices were, and still are, really good. Ordering from them is not much different than any other of our distributors. It is not the ease of doing business with Snap AV, but rather the quality and price that keeps us coming back.

Posted by Brad on April 9, 2018

Another great article on this topic. While none of our clients has asked for ‘cuddles’, at least, as far as I’m aware, I wholly agree that the way we all buy products and services is changing and we as integrators need embrace the change.

Posted by Brad on April 9, 2018

Another great article on this topic. While none of our clients has asked for ‘cuddles’, at least, as far as I’m aware, I wholly agree that the way we all buy products and services is changing and we as integrators need embrace the change.

Posted by Adroit1 on April 10, 2018

Julie,
  Your model is still a recipe for disaster. Most CE pros cannot compete with the big box stores, with their barely trained cheap labor, and buying power that gives them the ability to sell cheap. Unless we sell products not available in those stores and provide higher quality labor, we a re doomed. Uber is a simple service, one does not need any explanation. When our customers are about to pay over $100,000.00 for a new system, they want to see the design and know how it is going to be installed. The involves interacting, unlike Uber.
  As for Snap AV, you have it totally backwards. We started using them specifically because of price. Their quality of what we saw at their first exposition was a little iffy in the beginning, so we ordered parts that were not consequential. As we used their parts, we found their quality was better than what we expected, and their prices were, and still are, really good. Ordering from them is not much different than any other of our distributors. It is not the ease of doing business with Snap AV, but rather the quality and price that keeps us coming back.

Posted by highfigh on April 11, 2018

If our customers were asking for a ride, our lives would be very different.

We are in an industry that’s based mainly on want, not need. We’re often asked to provide an experience that a big box store can’t because they aren’t specialists and when the client wants amazing sound, Sonos or other streaming boxes aren’t going to provide it. That means control will be different and, while Alexa does control many devices, the verbal instructions don’t always work and it’s up to the user to find the words that make it more reliable WRT understanding what is wanted.

I have been working at one house since the end of 2006 (because they continue to add and change things)- five separate Audio and AV systems are used in various areas and all are connected so the same music can play everywhere. That’s not a Big Box job and I know people who have worked as some level of CI whose heads would explode if they had to figure it out and while there’s no need to control everything with one remote, it needs to be easy for the whole family to use the equipment.

Define ‘Alpha client’. Many people actually want the decision-making in someone elses’ hands- they have other things to deal with and when it comes to the “Let’s do it” or “Not sure- can I get another option?”, they want to hear that it will do what they asked for, with the ability to be expanded or improved without gutting the whole thing. These people sometimes DO require hand-holding, but not as much to make them able to use it as catering to their whims. They want the convenience of making a phone call and at some point, they’ll find it done when they go home but they also want to be able to trust those who do this- for many of us, the homeowners don’t need to be at home because we have keys and/or codes.

You bought a TV, sight-unseen? I don’t know of anyone who thinks that’s a good idea. If you went to at least one store to compare and then bought from Amazon, you contributed to the difficulty of retailers staying in business.

I have never fallen in love with a supplier, but the first item I received from SnapAV worked out of the box, unlike the other item that came from a company owned by someone who writes articles about HDMI in trade mags. They were easier to deal with than many other suppliers, so I bought more. The one piece that developed a problem was advance-replaced and the client never knew about it. NOBODY else does that.

WRT “Creating a low-touch, predictable experience for clients…”- if you think that’s as easy as you seem to, try it. If that’s what you think people want, is it because you have actually spoken with people, or just thought about it?

Posted by Adroit1 on April 11, 2018

highfi is right on the mark