Like many custom AV integrators, I work really hard and spend long days doing estimates, programming systems, and keeping my company’s financial books in order. So my wife finally convinced me to take a vacation this spring, and I’m glad that I finally did.
The key to my enjoying a restful and (relatively) stress-free break, however, was making sure that I’d properly prepared my company and my clients to deal with my absence. I came up with a pretty good checklist and learned a few things I should have done differently and figured I would share my advice for getting ready to take your next vacation.
1. Prepare Your Customers
Make sure you’re clients know when you are leaving, when you are returning, and whom to contact in your absence for urgent issues. You can make personal phone calls to large or more recent customers, send emails, send regular letters, or a combination of all three. Be sure to set up an out-of-office email with the same information as above. Do this for your voicemail outgoing message, as well.
2. Ensure Customer Service Continuity
Make sure you have the right people in place to cover for you while you’re gone. This can either be direct employees or if you are a one- or two-person operation, I highly recommend developing partnerships or close alliances with other integrators you trust who can take care of emergencies while you are away. You can’t set up these alliances a week before you leave. It is something you have to nurture and grow for months or longer before you might trust someone else with your client relationships. But it will pay off in spades, and not just for vacation. Now you’ll have a sounding board for ideas or someone to talk about the new, complex situation you’ve run into with an install or a difficult client.
3. Keep Up with Emails
It may be impossible for a small business owner to avoid email completely, so spend 30 to 60 minutes a day scanning emails and replying to critical ones. Most of hotels today have wi-fi for free or for a nominal fee. Bring your iPad with a keyboard to make responding quicker. Spend some time early in the morning or before dinner triaging your emails. Reply, save for when you get back, or forward to your team members or whomever is covering for you with a quick description of how to handle it.
4. Add Value When You are Away
Make sure you are helping more projects along when you are replying – don’t just reply for the sake of replying and being heard. Make sure you are helping the team back in the office make the right decisions or help the customer.
5. Empower Your People
Make sure those back in the office feel comfortable making the right decisions. Again, this isn’t something that can just happen the day you go away. You have to nurture your staff. Remember that even if it isn’t the decision you would have made, was it made in the best interests of the customer? Did it solve the problem? Make sure your team always feels comfortable providing customer service and making certain decisions on their own. Then, when the time comes for you to be away, they will be able to make decisions quickly and effectively.
6. Trust but Verify
While empowering your people or having another integrator support you while you are away, trust they will do right by you and the customer, but also verify things are going smoothly by staying on the email chains and following up directly with the customer to make sure they are happy. Also don’t be afraid to shoot a quick (one- to two-sentence) email to your team lead or integration partner to see if things are going well.
7. Enjoy Your Vacation!
We all need downtime to recharge and get our energy and enthusiasm back. Don’t let the business absorb you while you are gone. Don’t bring your phone to the beach. Trust your team to take care of your business.
Now that I’m back from a few days in Jamaica, I wish I had gone longer. The beach was incredible, the weather was amazing, and the drinks were outstanding. I’m relaxed, less stressed, recharged, and ready to be even better than I was before I left. There’s a reason many Fortune 500 companies encourage their people to take their full vacation allotment. It is good for morale and makes people more productive in the long run. You’ve earned it, you deserve, and you need it.
Todd Anthony Puma is president of The Source Home Theater Installation in New York City.