Translating Client-Speak for Custom Integrators

But after enough client encounters where the same incorrect terminology is used over and over, I thought I would make all of your lives considerably easier by giving you a handy translation guide so you’ll be able to cut right to what people are really asking you for.
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But after enough client encounters where the same incorrect terminology is used over and over, I thought I would make all of your lives considerably easier by giving you a handy translation guide so you’ll be able to cut right to what people are really asking you for.

Over the years, I’ve had my share of customers that used odd vernacular to describe things that they wanted from me as their custom integrator. One client called up complaining that his monitor wasn’t working. “Monitor?” I asked. “You mean the TV?” “No, not my TV, my monitor.” “Which TV are we talking about?” “My monitor! Not TV, monitor!” We went back and forth for several minutes before I was able to figure out that by “monitor” he meant “remote control.” (I’m still not sure how that has any correlation, but, what can you do? This is also the customer to whose home I drove 45 minutes to avert a “My TV isn’t working!” crisis that turned out to be the result of him not knowing he needed to plug his new TV into an electrical outlet. So, this was probably not the most intuitive guy in the world.)

But after enough client encounters where the same incorrect terminology is used over and over, I thought I would make all of your lives considerably easier by giving you a handy translation guide, so you’ll be able to cut right to what people are really asking you for.

“I want an intercom…”

Usually this means that they lived in an older home that had some kind of NuTone or M&S intercom system, and they liked that they could use the radio in the main unit to play music around the house. Did they use the actual intercom part? Unlikely. What they’re really after is some kind of housewide audio system. The quickest way to the heart of this client is a follow-up, “Do you want to be able to listen to music all around the house, or do you actually want to be able to talk from one room to another and call people to dinner?”

“I want surround sound around the house…”

In its most literal definition, having speakers around your home would technically surround you with audio. But to custom integrators, “surround sound” means a very specific thing, involving processing, speaker placement, a video display, etc. But like the intercom request, this client request is actually just another way of asking for housewide audio. A great follow-up is, “Surround sound usually means five speakers and a subwoofer and is mainly for watching TV and movies. Is that what you are looking for, or do you just want to have music around your house?”

“I need a splitter for my modem.”

It’s certainly getting better, but proper networking terminology still escapes many people. Responding to this with, “Oh, do you need a router or a switch?” will likely return the same 1,000-yard stare as if you’d just launched into a discussion of Euclidian geometry. You might be able to figure this out by asking if they already have anything connected to their modem, but chances are good that they won’t know. Probably the safest bet to assume they just need a router, but be sure and tell them that they don’t want to have two routers installed, and what they might really need is a switch.

“My TV isn’t working.” Note: Alternatively pronounced as, “That TV you sold me isn’t working!”

To the customer, any event where the TV isn’t showing the picture they are expecting is a case of, “My TV isn’t working.” Of course, there is a rainbow of “not working” possibilities. One means that the TV is broken. Another means that the TV is on the wrong input or some other setting. There is also the case where the customer messed something else up. Then there is the 90-percent of the time when the cable box is locking up and needs to be rebooted. Of course, it’s your job to figure out which kind of “not working” you’re dealing with. My first question here is, “By not working, do you mean that it won’t even power on?” If it physically won’t power on, then you’ve got a variety of other potential problems. Usually though the answer is, “Oh, it’s on. It just says, ‘This channel cannot be displayed. Please contact (insert name of cable provider) for tech support.’” And, while there would be some real gratification in saying something smart like, “Oh, I’m so flattered. Your TV literally told you to call the cable company, and yet you chose to call me instead! That means so much to me!” the satisfaction is fleeting, I assure you.

“My system is broken.” aka: “Nothing is working!” and also, “MY SYSTEM IS BROKEN!”

Barring some kind of catastrophic electrical event—say a direct hit from a lightning bolt that probably also burned their house to the ground or a rogue EMP that wipes out all of the microprocessors for miles around—the chances of everything going down at once are infinitesimal. Far more likely, there is a single component that is the root cause. Common culprits can be a surge protector that has been somehow turned off, keeping everything from powering on. An AV receiver that isn’t on or that is on the wrong input can also give the appearance of everything being down. But, in my experience many of these crisis calls boil down to something involving the remote control, and often that something is dead batteries.

“It has brand-new batteries!” or “I just put in new batteries.”

I’m not sure what the aversion to, “Have you changed the batteries?” is but it is almost like you are accusing them of neglecting their kids or something. And when it comes to changing batteries, people seem to live in Inception-time, like three layers down in dream world. What feels to them like having just done something, often means they did it weeks or months ago. I usually try and ask them to just humor me and try putting in some fresh batteries. It’s possible the other batteries were bad or, you know, really changed like three months ago.

“Do you have any wireless speakers?”

This can often be less a wish for wireless speakers per se and more a cry for help on multiple fronts. Usually the request is a defeated admission that they don’t think it’s possible to retrofit a typical audio system into their home. Or it could be that their significant other has made it abundantly clear that any visible wires whatsoever won’t be tolerated. Either way, you need to draw them out further and will likely need to set up a visit to the home, explaining that with your amazing custom installer wire running retro skills, you can very likely give them exactly what they want. Of course, wireless technology has advanced to the point now that there are terrific wireless multi-room options available from Sonos and NuVo, so when wireless audio is indeed the correct solution, there are some great alternatives.

“My surround sound isn’t working.” Also heard as, “I never hear anything coming out of my surround speakers!”

The first thing to confirm here is that they are actually in a proper surround-decoding mode like Dolby or DTS. I ask them to look at the front panel of the receiver and read me what it says. After we get past the part where they inevitably say, “It doesn’t say anything!” they will start reading me things. Obviously if the front panel says, “Stereo” they aren’t getting any surround info. More likely though, they are under the misconception that just because you have two surround speakers that something will be playing out of them all the time. You can ask them what they are watching and when they respond with, “The Weather Channel,” “History Channel,” or “the news” then you can explain that surround sound is mainly featured in movies where it provides ambience like rain and wind noise, planes flying overhead and such, and that in daily TV viewing, they likely won’t be that aware of the speakers, but their system is indeed functioning correctly.

“My system is too hard to use.”

Probably a good time to remind them about that wonderful universal remote control that you offered them earlier. The one that you promised would replace all of their other remotes and give them one-button-press to watching movies or TV and simplify operation. The same one that they previously thought was “ridiculous, totally unnecessary, and way too expensive,” and that they would instead just make up several sheets of instructions that they would leave by the TV for people to use to try and figure the system out.

“I want to connect my computer to my TV.”

The truth is that most people do not in fact want to connect their computer to their TV. They just think they do. What I use to translate this one is a question like, “So do you want to be able to do word processing, browse the internet, and send emails using your TV as a monitor?” Most times they will respond with an, “Oh, no! I just want to be able to watch my Netflix or view my vacation pictures or play the music that is on my computer.” There are so many better ways to help them achieve these goals short of connecting their computer to the TV, steer them to one of them.

“I won’t ever want to do to that.”

This is usually a lengthy two-part translation, the first part being, “I don’t want to pay for that,” and the second—usually happening several years later—“You said my system could do that!” People. They’re great, aren’t they?

“I don’t want top of the line.”

This is almost always another way of saying, “I don’t want to spend a lot of money on this.” If people that come into our stores actually knew what “top of the line” meant in the AV world—six-figure speakers powered by stacks of electronics that can push a half a mill' and video projectors that cost more than most people’s first homes—they would know that we already determined they didn’t want “top of the line” when they didn’t roll up in a Bentley or Italian super car. The best follow-up to this question is usually something like, “Well, I want to make sure I show you the right caliber of system, so what kind of budget did you have in mind?”

“Do you have anything as good as Sony/Bose?” Sometimes phrased in the derogative/assertive, “I know you don’t have anything as good as Sony/Bose…”

In most people’s minds, Sony and Bose are the very pinnacle of technological performance. The money these companies have spent on advertising has garnered them unprecedented name recognition. (Though you could probably add Samsung into that list now, as they have rapidly built a name for themselves as well.) And name-dropping Sony and Bose is to them like walking into the jewelry store and asking about Rolex and Patek. In fact, the sad truth is that most of the people we work with have likely never heard of the brands that we in the industry hold so near and dear. Krell? Meridian? Runco? Digital Projection? Ha. HA! Probably not one in a 100 would know them. The good thing is that as douchey as this question may seem, it is really a couched opportunity and another way of saying, “I think I know about this stuff, but I really don’t. So why don’t you tell me what’s actually good and then educate me as to why it is better.”