Service calls are never good, even if you are getting paid for them or have a service contract in place.
“There are a lot more productive uses of our time than walking into a customer’s house and charging them an hourly rate of labor to unplug something and then plug it back in,” remarks Josh Rich, president of Rich AV Design in Stamford, Conn.
In business since 2001, Rich AV Design has never had a dedicated service team. “We all share the responsibility of service and support. We have one team of two technicians, two additional technicians that work alone, and me. I do a little of everything. This configuration allows us to be flexible and quickly adjust our response time based on the severity of the service call. We can get out to the project site the same day or next day in the worst case.”
Rich found the solution for his networking-related service calls back in 2010 when he started using Access Networks, an outsourced IT company that designs fully configured enterprise-level home networks that are simple for integrators to deploy. The results have been significant in terms of both installation and service for Rich AV Design, a five-man company that primarily works on large renovation projects in affluent areas including Stamford, Greenwich, and Manhattan. The company’s average project is between $150,000 and $300,000.
On the installation side, Rich says Access Networks provides him a network wiring diagram that significantly streamlines the process. “When we install an Access Networks’ system, our only time spent is literally installing the rack itself and putting in a few patch cables. We can have a fully managed wired network up and running in 15 minutes,” he says.
“Every minute we have at the job site is essential. And saving time while on-site at a project is very precious, especially when we are working in New York City because it is farther from our headquarters. A lot of these jobs in high-rise buildings have working hours. When the time is up for the day, the time is up. If you can save a whole day on the job, or even most of the day, by not having to configure the network those are real dollars being saved,” says Rich.
The results have equally been fruitful on the service side, especially when compared to some of the consumer-level gear the company used to install. According to Rich, those less-than-robust networks required regular reboots.
“On a single project, we would get calls two to three times per year for slow performance of network devices or other devices that could not connect. It was almost always bad gear. That cost us money to roll a truck out there and it cost the customer for the service call,” he comments.
He compares that to the rare service calls Rich AV Design receives for Access Networks’ equipment. Indeed, the company’s first-ever job using Access Networks was back in April 2010 for a 5,000-square-foot New York City apartment with a 3,700-square-foot roof deck. The clients are still active customers, and Rich says in more than five years, he has had only two network-related service calls. In both cases, it was an ISP issue.
Doing the math, two calls in five years vs. three service calls per year is an 87 percent reduction in service calls. Before using Access Networks, Rich AV Design was building all its home networks on its own. Rich admits that he did not have the necessary knowledge to build enterprise-level systems.
“At the time, I did not fully appreciate how much using Access Networks was going to help us grow. I only realized that after it was happening. It is difficult to find installers who are skilled with both audio/video and networking, so having Access Networks makes hiring much easier. What Access Networks does is at a much higher level than your average technician,” he notes.
The next stage for Rich AV Design in terms of service is offering service agreements. The company has just started building them into its proposals and has seen a very high client acceptance rate.
Sales Tips for Home Networks
Rich says most clients these days understand the importance of a solid network.
“The network itself is essential. It is as simple as that. Virtually all devices from the consumer electronics market are network-enabled now. Our average home has between 30 and 85 devices on its network, ranging from laptops, iPhones, iPads, source devices like Apple TV, TiVo and Blu-ray Players, to control solutions, music systems, and troubleshooting equipment such as ihiji and Bluebolt. That is a lot of stuff. It is a whole lot more than what people saw just five years ago,” he says.
Still, every customer is different in their level of knowledge, so the value of the network needs to be explained. The way Rich explains it is to talk about some of the streaming services that the client might want, for example Pandora or Netflix. Then he discusses smart TVs and lighting control systems that also need network connections.
“I explain how the most important thing is to start with a rock-solid network because everything builds off of that. The hardwired and wireless network is literally the foundation for all the devices in the home. If you don’t have a solid foundation, you cannot expect the other technologies to work well. Even if getting a solid network means you will lose one of the other things on your wish list, I insist on the network. I tell them that they can always add those other devices later when it becomes more doable for them,” he adds.
Before designing a home network, Rich advises integrators to step back and take broad look at what is really needed in the network.
“How many ports will you need? What locations will you need them in? Are there PoE devices or other special requirements? Thinking through the details of the network before you install anything will save you a lot of time and money,” he adds.
Standardization is also key. “If there are certain devices that you use on every job, maybe it should have the same address on the network on every job,” he says rhetorically. “If you can save your technicians time from having to look up that information every time they go to a project, you can probably finish those jobs a little faster. At the end of the day, faster means more money.”
The biggest challenge Rich faces in today’s networking environment is wireless interference. Working a lot in NYC, there are lots of rogue devices that are all competing for the same wireless channel space. That’s where using enterprise-level gear comes in. These more-robust networks have added technology that scans for competing wireless systems and auto-adjusts to find free wireless space to boost performance.
Another big challenge the company faces is placement of wireless access points.
“It is easy to over-saturate a job with too many access points,” notes Rich. “The trick is to find the sweet spot with just enough access points to cover the space adequately.”
Rich feels that partnering with the Access Networks Design Team ensures optimal access point layout and performance, and shaves hours off both preliminary labor and long-term support. Experience has shown him that a correctly designed layout, combined with high quality network equipment, makes an Access Networks’ solution an investment that pays for itself year after year.