I am getting to that point in my career where I want to be busy, but I do not want to be stressed out all the time. As you all know, the stress in our industry comes from so many different directions — system troubleshooting (especially after hours), scheduling conflicts with contractors and other trades, scheduling your team members across multiple projects, product availability and inventory management (especially in the past year), learning new product and new categories, and supporting some high-maintenance clients.
Over the years, I have come up with key ways to help offset my stress levels (and none involve a trip to the local pub!).
Also by Todd Anthony Puma: Working in Unprecedented Times
1.The Right Client
The right client respects us as professionals in our field. They value our expertise and our time and know the integrator is critical to the project success, not necessarily the product that is chosen. For example, it does not really matter whether an integrator uses Control4 or Crestron or Savant, as long as they are well versed in the product line and know what works well and what should be avoided. Essentially, the client sees us as a trusted advisor.
I have found that paying close attention to how client’s treat, speak to or speak about other trades on the project gives me a good insight into how they will be in interactions with us. We also have in-depth conversations about the project and what the final end-user experience will be. The conversation focuses more on the experience and less on the products. I always emphasize it is critical that we have a close working relationship with the client, and that it is a two-way communication, not a one-way street. Being upfront with potential clients and setting expectations about the relationship has proved invaluable in identifying the relationships we do not want to enter into.
2. Over Communicate
I know it is said all the time, but communicate, communicate, communicate. I always try to anticipate potential issues and get ahead of them. For example, we only have two ISPs in our area, so when one is down (usually Spectrum), we get a lot of OvrC alerts. When I start to see a flood of alerts come in, I check to see if there is a common thread — same neighborhood and same ISP. When there is a commonality, I send an email blast to our clients in the area to let them know that we have noticed an outage with Spectrum and to please be patient as Spectrum works on the issue to get everything up and running and that there is nothing we can do until Spectrum has resolved the issue on their end. This has dramatically reduced the frantic flurry of calls we get about network and cable TV issues, helping to reduce my and my staff’s stress levels.
More generally, we have a “how we work” document that we share with clients at the beginning of a project and we then have an addendum for “how we work” ongoing. In the pre-project document, we go over things like the installation phases, what happens at each phase, who we will be partnering with from their construction team, when payments will be due, and when we will need the client involved to make decisions or provide input. It really makes the whole process go much smoother when everyone is on the same page. Our post install document has basic troubleshooting steps for when things go wrong (i.e., how to power toggle the cable box when the “no signal” screen comes up), who to contact for support, how to schedule semi-annual site visits for cleaning, testing, and firmware updates, and other similar items.
Putting this laminated, bound document on a chain hanging from the rack saves innumerable calls directly to me and instead directs customers to the support line. We also put a sticker on the rack that says “for support please call….” Which ensures they call the support line as well. Our voicemails all say, “If you are calling for a support-related issue, please refer to the phone number on the front of your rack or in the instruction manual we left with you for the fastest and most efficient resolution of your issue, otherwise please leave a message and we will return your call within two business days.” This really pushes clients to call the support line, giving me and my staff our lives back.
Also by Todd Anthony Puma: “The Cleaning Lady Did It”
This is always a challenge. We all want a good pipeline of projects to keep our teams busy, but not too much that things slip through the cracks and we get overwhelmed. No matter how well we plan, project timelines are not fully in our control and invariably delays get in the way. This is when it is critical to have a partner you can work with to share the load by having teams that work well together and can jump in to pull wire or mount TVs or build out racks when things get tight. It must be someone you trust and who will not try to steal your clients. Believe me, I have had that happen. I am fortunate to have a great partner in Home Theater Advisors. We have complete faith in each other and would never step on each other’s toes, at least not intentionally or maliciously.
This was also covered in point #2 above about communication, but having a clear line of support is crucial to keeping your sanity. The best solution for our company is to outsource Tier 1 support to Parasol. Parasol solves 60–80 percent of the support calls without ever having to get anyone from The Source involved. They provide the first line of triage, rebooting devices via OvrC, talking clients through using common devices like AppleTV or Sonos, killing the app on their phone and reopening it to refresh it, etc. This has improved my quality of life dramatically as I now rarely get the after-hours and weekend calls that used to ruin my family time. My voicemail directs clients to call the support line and I only have to get involved for the 20–40 percent of cases (more like 20 percent lately, based on our monthly reports from Parasol) that can’t be solved by the amazing team at Parasol.
Figure out what works for you and your business. It may be incorporating all the above, just one or two ideas, or none of them, but something else you have come up with. This can be a challenging industry to keep your sanity and maintain a personal life. Do not let the stress and constant interruptions overwhelm you. Find a way to manage it so you can enjoy the fruits of your labor.