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Keeping Up with Information Overload from Our Vendors

How do we keep up with news and information that is really important when we’re so bombarded with garbage that isn’t? Different companies handle this in different ways.

We recently took over a project that had been installed by another dealer about eight years ago. It was a fair-sized Control4 job (large in that it had more than 100 Control4 lighting devices and 16 rooms of audio) that a dealer from several hours out of town did before our company became a Control4 dealer. The homeowner’s system had become fairly out of date—still running OS 1.7.4 where 2.8.2 is the latest, along with woefully outdated controllers—and he wanted to do some upgrading to the system that required a good bit of software migration and hardware replacing.

As we were getting into the redo, the homeowner let on that he was a little miffed that so many updates had passed him by. Why had no one informed him that there were updates? Why wouldn’t Control4 notify customers of updates? Why wouldn’t his dealer have notified him?

I explained that from a dealer’s perspective it would be a real nightmare if a company we did business with—especially one we did a lot of business with—took it on its own to notify all of our clients every time a new update was available. This could be a simple housekeeping update, it could be a fix for something that didn’t even affect the installed system, or it could be a new feature that the system didn’t even support. But in the customer’s mind, if they receive an email from the manufacturer saying there is a new, improved operating system for their system, they would often see it as their system was “broken” and that now it needed fixing. Urgently.

As a dealer, the last thing we need is 100-plus customers calling us all at once because they feel their system—which is likely working 100-percent correctly—is suddenly “broken” and that this “crisis” demands immediate action. It would be a massive service call nightmare. And, a fair majority of these customers would probably assume that since this was a “problem” with their system—acknowledged by the manufacturer no less—they shouldn’t have to pay to have it “fixed.”

Night. Mare.

I probably get about 150 emails a day, many of which are garbage. Old newsletters I signed up for, websites where I’ve registered, Amazon and Google footprints left behind while browsing the web, Nigerian prince offers, Canadian pharmaceuticals for male, umm, shortcomings, etc.—nearly all slipping past AOL’s laissez-faire attitude to spam filtering. Many can be immediately discarded, and some from our manufacturers and reps stand out as more important. But, even still, when you send me multiple emails each and every week, I tend to tune out.

As dealers, heck, as human beings in the 21st century of the Information Age, the problem can be sorting through all the noise from different manufacturers and filtering out all the non-essential information to get to the updates that are really vital and crucial. How do we keep up with news and information that is really important when we’re so bombarded with garbage that isn’t?

Different companies handle this in different ways.

Control4 has a dashboard on its dealer website that lets me look at all of my installed systems at once. At a glance I can see what controllers I have installed and what version of the Control4 OS they are running. A quick look at the online Control4 Knowledge Base tells me the hot topics of the week.

While this is helpful without a doubt, there is still some room for improvement. For example, we have been fighting a particular issue with a Control4 component on one project. I’ve worked with Control4 and Pakedge a few times about this, and it still persisted. Just by chance I recently discovered that Control4 released a patch to address this very issue. About a month ago. Wouldn’t it be great if their system had been smart enough to data mine my projects, see what versions of software I’m running on different jobs, see the components on my jobs, and then automatically suggest this patch—and any others that apply—for my project? Yes. Yes it would.

Kaleidescape, kind of the benchmark for all things user-experience-awesome, thoroughly tests and vets updates before automatically rolling them out to all systems. No need for action on the part of the user or dealer, and most customers don’t even know that the update occurred. They might just notice some new features. If a system I’ve installed does have an issue, I get an email with something like “ALERT–Too Hot–(Customer Name)” in the subject line. Very easy to identify the issue and the customer and immediately know what action needs to be taken.

Recently I received a couple of product recall notices from SnapAV and Lutron. These included multiple emails that listed the problem, the hardware affected, and the names of my jobs (based on my original PO) where the affected parts were installed. Snap followed up with prepaid FedEx shipping labels to return the product as well as an incentive (a full refund plus additional monetary credit onto our account) for complying with the recall. Lutron followed up with a phone call asking me if it was OK for their resolution team to reach out to the customer to handle the issue. That’s definitely a first-class way of handling a problem.

The flow of information between manufacturer, dealer, installer, and customer can often be a winding river with many tributaries. And keeping up with all of it and making sure the proper and necessary information gets to the correct person in a timely manner can often be a tricky proposition to balance.