Knowing When to Say ‘No’ to a Custom Installation Client

5/1/2013 4:03:00 PM

When business is slow, you have bills to pay, and payroll to meet, it’s hard to turn down a job that you know isn’t the right fit for your company. Most times, it’s important to trust your instincts and know when to say “no.”

In middle of 2012 we quoted a decent-sized job for seven zones of audio and three zones of video in a gut renovation of a Manhattan apartment. The contractor had completed the prewire, and now the homeowner needed a system. In our meetings with them, everything seemed good. They had a budget in mind, they were pretty reasonable with their expectations for what they would get within that budget, and they knew what they wanted and how they would use system. As it turned out, we ended up losing out to a big box store that underbid us by about 10 percent on the total job (using a different equipment mix, with slightly less functionality), and we never had the chance to walk through what we would do differently for the client.

Nine months that same homeowner called us hoping we could rehab the system that the big box store had installed. It wasn’t working up to his expectations and the big box had cut off its free follow-up service calls. His issues were fairly minor (the zone of audio that goes through the AVR was a little delayed from the rest of the rooms, creating an echo; the outdoor speakers are two different zones because the homeowner has parties and plays music so loudly that a shared zone for four speakers wasn’t working; streaming content from Rhapsody and others isn’t available in all zones; and there are some issues with the TV control. His complaints were legitimate, but probably solvable with the existing system. He understandably couldn’t afford to pull it out the current system and start from scratch.

It was still tempting to take on this rehabilitation and generate some extra work and maybe even a glowing review and referrals. However, knowing everything we knew about the system he currently had, his concerns, and what it would take to fix them, we knew we had to say ‘no.’ The risk vs. reward just wasn’t there. There was a high risk we’d spend a lot of time trying to fix some issues, and he still wouldn’t be completely happy—we’d end up in a money pit.

So what went wrong and how can we avoid the fate and now scathing reviews of this big box retailer? It’s all about getting back to basics. I firmly believe that knowing your client, conducting an in-depth upfront discussion of their lifestyle and how they will likely use the system is critical. We knew that this client liked to entertain and would be blasting the system on a regular basis, and that any all components and speakers needed to be able to handle that. That is why he eventually had to have his rear speakers put on different zones, which he found annoying. We would have spec’d in an amp to power the outdoor speakers, but kept them on one zone. That is why he is so attuned to the delay of the audio from the AVR. His home is open floorplan, so with one zone playing a fraction behind the others, at high volume, the echo is very noticeable.

All of these needs came out in our initial meetings, because we conducted in-depth discussions. I can’t say whether the company that installed his gear did this or not, but I firmly believe that had they asked the right questions and interpreted the responses correctly, their client would have a system he was ecstatic to use as opposed to one that he is “embarrassed” about (his words, not mine).

Know your customers and you will surprise and delight them with the magic that you can bring to their lives. The look on a client’s face when you sit down with them to review your proposal and they realize that you get them is a truly great moment. And it wins the job 90 percent of the time.

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