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Stepping Up Your Service

White-glove treatment requires dedicated staff and clear-cut processes — is it right for your business?

Logic dictates that customers who invest five or six figures (or more) in residential technology are going to expect impeccable service. Whether that’s in the form of bi-annual maintenance calls, 24/7 remote servicing, or same-day, on-site repair, AV and custom installation companies need to follow well-defined best practices in order to remain profitable.

Premiere SAV, based in Jackson Hole, Wyo., is a partnership formed by residential AV integrators/custom installers Premiere (out of Chicago, Ill., and Naples, Fla.) and SAV Digital Environments (in Bozeman, Mont.). Dave Harriff, COO at Premiere SAV, notes that providing VIP service requires a dedicated department staffed with people who are skilled in handling what are, at times, delicate situations.

Butte Residence by Carney Logan Burke Architects. Photo courtesy of Premiere SAV.

“You’ve got to have a customer service manager who really understands your mission and what it means to respond to customers,” says Harriff. Many times, when customers call to report an issue, they’re concerned that, for example, their dinner party is going to be ruined because of a system failure. The customer service manager’s job is to provide reassurance that this will not be the case. The same, he says, applies to the service technicians on site. “You’ve got to have highly skilled technical people who are not only solving problems but understand how to interface with VIP-level customers. Because if you’re not inspiring confidence while on-site, that’s not helping the customer feel like we’re really working for them and that we’re on their team.”

This means recruiting people with the soft skills that apply to delivering top-notch service, Scott Abel, director of quality at Premiere SAV, notes. “It’s about finding the right individuals who are devoted and motivated to really provide that service,” he says.

Cyber Group, headquartered in Scottsdale, Ariz., comprises four main divisions: technology, network services, electric, and shading and lighting. Jonathan McNabb, director of technology, explains that the firm offers a full roster of VIP services, including on-site party attendants when clients are hosting an event at their home (and who want a technician present to make sure the systems run smoothly). He recounts that the company’s client services department is made up of 10 team members, including a client service manager, client service coordinator, a help desk agent, and seven client service representatives who, he says, each have at least 20 years of industry experience. “Years ago, there was a stigma around client services or just service — it was where old techs went to die,” he says. “Frankly, we’re shaking that up. I look for people and skillsets that are sharpened to troubleshoot and effectively resolve system issues on-site, and we groom them to work with the clientele.” These skills are largely different, he adds, from those required of a field technician charged with installing equipment in a new, as yet uninhabited, home.

Also by Carolyn Heinze: Selling Luxury

Established in 2008, ATI is a residential AV and custom installer based in North Salt Lake, Utah (with a showroom in Park City, Utah). Ben Ray, founder and principal, explains that the firm offers several different-tiered service plans, as well as service that is billed per call. He relays that, as the company grew, it was necessary for him to make some changes in order to successfully deliver VIP service. “We had gotten to a point where we had one service manager and other project managers dealing with the brunt of customer service calls themselves, both after hours and during business hours,” he says. “We had to re-examine how we were doing things and structure it to where we had the people in place to make sure that we could provide great customer service, and not have it sacrifice the employees’ daily lives.”

This involved automating some processes through the deployment of ticketing software, explains Manny Barboza, service department manager at ATI. Whereas clients previously contacted their sales rep or project manager directly (individuals who are often working on-site at other customers’ residences and are therefore unable to respond right away), this system streamlines workflow by ensuring that tickets are sent to service technicians or help desk personnel that can respond immediately. “Automation has helped a lot just because the ticket goes to the right people who will take care of it,” he says. He adds that the system also provides a technical track record: if data shows that a client’s system needs re-booting on a weekly basis, for example, it’s clear that there is a larger issue that requires attention.

Electronic Environments is a residential AV and custom installation firm with locations in New York, N.Y., and The Hamptons. Kim Michels, CEO, explains that while the company offers tiered service agreements (same day or next-day service at the latest), all clients receive same-day remote troubleshooting. “I would say that 90 percent of our issues can be resolved remotely — it’s something we manage very well to really make all of our clients VIPs,” he says.

While all clients may be VIPs, every company has a finite number of service technicians to deploy when a problem can’t be solved remotely. For calls that require on-site servicing, Michels says he and his employees work with clients to determine the urgency of the situation. “If you have an urgent need, then I’m going to find a way to take care of that urgent need. If it’s not an urgent need, then I do rely on my clients expressing that,” he says.

In many cases, customers will call with an issue, but convey that they can wait a day or two for it to be solved. Michels attributes this flexibility to relationship-building: “Not everything is a five-alarm fire, and I find that if you always come through for clients when the situation is important or desperate, then they work with you and they volunteer when the situation is not desperate and not urgent,” he says. “We’re working together, and that’s very important.”

In order for VIP service offerings to remain profitable, residential AV and custom installers need to be diligent about recording both remote and on-site calls, Ray points out. “You need to make sure that you’re billing everything, [and] make sure that the service ticket is in the system, and it’s being tracked,” he says. If this process isn’t in place — and it’s not regularly reiterated to employees — companies will wind up giving a lot of work away for free. “We’re constantly reminding [our employees], ‘Hey, if somebody calls, it needs to be a service ticket.’” For organizations that are new to this process, it may require some adaptation, but he underlines that this is crucial to the bottom line.

Related: Luxury Redux

For Harriff, residential AV and custom installation firms should not launch and promote VIP service offerings until they are fully prepared to support them. “One of the worst things that can happen is if you set parameters for a service like this and then you can’t deliver it,” he warns. “Before rolling out any new initiative related to VIP service, we try to carefully walk our way through all of the [potential] outcomes — the details — and make sure that we’re geared up from a documentation and personnel perspective, and that we have the resources to fully support it.”

Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer/editor.

Good Documentation Equals Efficient Remote Troubleshooting

Thanks to remote monitoring and management tech, residential AV and custom installation companies are able to quickly troubleshoot (and many times, resolve) system issues. Combine this with detailed documentation, and firms further their chances of servicing their clients without having to roll a truck.

At ATI, Ben Ray, founder and principal, relays that his company invests a considerable amount of time on documentation, which includes details on what power outlets equipment is plugged into and photos of every equipment rack (front and rear, up close and from a distance). “If somebody is trying to walk a client through something [over the phone], they can pull up the pictures and say, ‘It’s in the right-hand equipment rack a third of the way down and it says this. What lights are currently [blinking] on that?’” he explains. “We do a ton of documentation to make it easier for future remote service because, ultimately, the client gets a quick fix so they’re happy, and we don’t have to have as many service technicians on staff.” ––C.H.

Pandemic-Fueled VIP Service

Kim Michels, CEO of Electronic Environments, notes that the Covid crisis has caused well-heeled families to utilize all of their residences at the same time. For example, before the pandemic a family based in New York, N.Y., would live in their home in The Hamptons primarily during the summer. This dynamic, he says, has changed.

“The Hamptons used to be a vacation community — it’s a four-season community now,” Michels says. “During Covid, sometimes the kids would go out to The Hamptons and the parents would stay in New York. Under normal circumstances, companies in our industry are built to service one of those [residences] at a time. Now you’re servicing two, sometimes three [of a given client’s] homes at the same time. The service load can double or triple.” ––C.H.