With a large percentage of tech-related projects drying up in the past year or so because of the continued spread of the coronavirus pandemic across the U.S. and around the world, integrators have finally come around to an idea we’ve been trying to teach them about for years: service comes first.
Several PSNI Global Alliance integrators recently gathered for a panel discussion dubbed “Services in a Post-Pandemic World” as part of the group’s virtual Supersummit and the message resonated among the group: if you don’t have a service offering at your AV integration firm, you’re missing out.
COVID-19 is “forcing companies to reconstruct how they work and collaborate,” according to the PSNI Supersummit session promo.
“Physical spaces are rapidly evolving to support collaboration rather than individual work and the financial and service models that AVaaS supports allow for collaboration technology to be implemented at greater scale without taking on the complexities of servicing the technology,” the announcement says.
“The COVID world has helped us to better know our customers and ourselves,” says Diego Perez of Newtech Solutions Multimedia in Argentina. “We took advantage of the experience by building in more services.
“Customers are telling us they want us to be more proactive and be more with them to know their businesses better. Service is more about that than delivering equipment,” he says.
AV integrators must think more about the big picture than focus on individual projects.
“We like to consider what our customers really need,” says Jean Pierre Overbeek of Econocom in the Netherlands. This new way of working will remain, so we’ve reinforced our office design service with three architects to help redesign spaces.
“What we deliver is a communication service. We used to see service as an add-on, but now it’s the start of the conversation. We’ve become mission-critical. If our systems fail, the primary function of the company fails too. We’re moving up the ladder,” he says.
Staffing services for HB Communications have become more focused on real-time monitoring and management, adds Peter Charland.
“We’ve moved how we structure our contracts to adapt to these needs,” he says, noting that network and security issues are more prominent concerns for HB’s customers today.
More of Supravision’s customers are asking for remote support these days, since AV integrators often aren’t allowed to physically be in the office with them, says Erich Jaeger.
“More and more, it’s the only way to help people since you’re not allowed to enter their facilities,” he says. Jaeger adds that “many international integrators are asking us to do local services because of travel restrictions” to and from their countries during the pandemic.
As more customers are building more collaborative environments in their offices, schools and other facilities, “that requires more technology,” adds Daniel Skit of Brazil’s Seal Telecom.
The pandemic has “changed the way customers think about services,” noted panel moderator Faye Bennett. “It’s no longer an afterthought.”
Level 3 Audio Visual customers are thinking more about permanent hybrid solutions in their offices, says Jeremy Elsesser. That means meeting spaces are changing their original functions and possibly being used in new ways and that will trigger different AV needs, he says.
“Customer experience is so critical to us,” says Elsesser. “We’re all learning how to deliver that without being in front of the customer and in some cases not even stepping on the customers’ site. Service is now top of mind when it comes to integration. It’s the first conversation we’re having.”
More About the Importance of AV Service
HB’s ability to offer broadcast capabilities as a service gives them an advantage with corporate and education customers, says Charland. Perez noted the ultimate thing AV integrators must provide for their customers through their technological installations is flexibility.
“The spaces are changing,” he adds. “We need to be prepared. Our customers’ demands continue to change. We have to build and deliver and find out from the customers what they expect from us and that’s a conversation that continues as long as they have us as partners.
“Customers always expect more from us. We have to take the next step and grow with them,” says Perez. Standardization of technology across the company or school district or other enterprise is another key in being able to provide the service AV integrators can offer their customers, says Jaeger.
“As good as we can be on delivering and our project, service is the day-to-day link between our clients and the company,” says Charland. “We have may customers who have retained us because of our service. Systems and process can go so far, but when clients deal with our people, they stick with us.”
Overbeek sees “the bricks, the bytes and the behavior” as the three most important aspect of customer relationships. The company generates about 40% of its business through AV-as-a-Service, he says, and they hope to build that to 60 to 70% in short order.
“Stickiness is being at the top of mind and in constant contact,” says Elsesser. “We want to feel like an extension of the customers’ team. We have to be flexible in our own tools and processes to be able to come together with a customer that has its own. Salespeople bring in new clients. Service keeps them.”
The biggest challenge in delivering good service, says Perez, is “understanding the customer.
“When we fail, we face the reality we haven’t understood our customers’ needs,” he says. “Knowing our customers processes, pains and goals is the way to do that.” It’s sometimes a struggle to connect customers with the right resources to solve their problems, adds Jaeger, but they’re getting better at it.
Service-based AV contracts move the relationship with customers from transactional to more permanent and long-lasting, says Overbeek.
“A lot of our customers have a fragmented AV fleet,” he says. “We have to figure out what to do for them that’s in line with their wishes through a more strategic, realistic approach that we build together. It takes some time, but once you’re there, the customers will never leave you.”
Level 3 staffers have what Elsesser called “strategic conversations” upfront, leading to targeted and long-term solutions for their customers.
Providing good service sometimes means being invisible, says Jaeger, which can sometimes make it difficult for customers to understand an AV integrator’s true value to them and their business.
“We want to be there for the customer before they know they have a problem,” he says.
A versatile suite of service offerings allows integrators to have “the right expectation and the right service for each of our customers’ needs,” says Charland. “It’s important for us to be able to support the systems we build.”
Put simply, good service provides a basic need, says Overbeek.
“We want to exceed our customers’ expectations,” he says.
This article originally appeared on our sister publication Commercial Integrator‘s website.