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Setting and Meeting Expectations

Communication is key in client relations.

My good friend’s wife works in HR at a Wall Street investment bank. We were talking recently about how such a large percentage of the compensation on Wall Street is in bonuses and how hard that must be for the bankers to plan for. She said something that hit home — they should never be surprised because it is all about setting expectations. They make sure that throughout the year the bankers know where they stand in terms of performance. They should never be told something at an end-of-year review (when they are also given their bonus number) that they didn’t know was coming. Communication is key.

We need to do the same thing with our customers. We need to make sure we are setting expectations throughout the process — from the first consult, through every site meeting, and into handover. I remember being at a Crestron training years ago and Eric Roach said to me, “Always set realistic expectations.”  That said, you need to be careful that you don’t undersell and seem negative, but you need to be realistic as well.

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If the client has dreams of controlling everything in their home with Amazon Alexa being the primary interface, it is important to let them know that Alexa is far from perfect, commands will need be repeated, and you will find yourself shouting at it. And don’t forget something that has tripped me up many times — the “I’ll give it a shot and see how it works for you” method. That can get you into a lot of trouble because the client doesn’t remember that you said it is iffy — they just remember that they are going to get their smart coffee maker to make coffee in the morning when they activate their wake-up scene in the bedroom. Even if you get it to work the first time, it may not work later because either a third API changes (see Google and “Works with Nest”) or even an update from your control system may cause an incompatibility.

Not only do we need to make sure the expectations are set, but any and all foreseeable (and some not foreseeable) issues need to be put in writing and communicated to the client. We always warn clients that firmware updates from third party devices — everything from TVs to AVRs to thermostats to AppleTVs — can break or limit integration. There will usually be a solution, but it may require a service call. Remember: document, document, document.  Every conversation, every decision. Provide daily project updates when on site with all changes or decisions that have been agreed to. Moving the TV over three inches to account for the light switch? Put it in writing in your daily or weekly update to the client.

And not only is it that things change both during the project and with third-party integrations, but things can change with product we sell as well. From day one, we emphasize our support plans and the fact that there will be hiccups, downtime, and service calls. We are working with disparate technologies, not plumbing. Things are very delicate, are subject to interactions with dozens or more of other devices, and need some TLC. The relationship with a home tech pro is long term, not set-it-and-forget-it.

We Find it very useful to have analogies to put things into perspective. Some great comparisons include cars — they need regular service and maintenance;  computers — need frequent software updates and security patches, as well as replacement; and even fashion — they are not wearing the same clothes they wore 20 years ago. Even if they are still functional, they aren’t up to date.

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The best way to know how to explain all of this to a client is to put yourself in their shoes, which leads me to the second thing Eric said to me: “Always eat the groceries.” This means you shouldn’t just buy the equipment and install it for your clients; you should also install it in your own home and live with it. Understand all of the quirks and all of the work-arounds, and even the added bonuses and interesting ways you find to use it. Give your techs and sales team an allowance to put gear into their own home so they can speak to clients from a point of knowledge and they can troubleshoot more effectively.

If you eat the groceries, you will know what expectations to set and you will be able to consistently meet those expectations, resulting in successful projects and happy clients.

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