By virtually any metric, I would consider myself a pretty tech-savvy individual. I’ve programmed multiple Control4, Lutron, and URC systems. I’ve set up, configured, and troubleshot so many home theater systems I couldn’t possibly keep count. I’ve also installed Escient, Kaleidescape, Sonos, and almost everything in between. Point being, there aren’t too many pieces of tech I’m not totally comfortable with.
So, after battling with the other tributes at Wal-Mart’s annual Hunger Games Black Friday event recently, I brought my wife’s new HP laptop home and figured it would be easy to get it all configured and set-up. Unlike the other hundreds of thousands of people buying laptops from various door buster and Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, I certainly had a leg-up by being a custom integrator that is intimately comfortable with technology; surely configuring a new laptop should be child’s play, right? After all, this was an entry-level computer that I purchased for my wife, not some tricked up gaming rig, and was a model that many users like her–or other non-techie types–could have purchased for themselves and then brought home wanting nothing more than to turn it on and start surfing the web and emailing.
When I got the new computer home, we powered it on and right out of the box it had 74 critical Windows updates that needed to be downloaded and then installed. This was a process that literally involved hours of download, install, restart, update, download, install, restart…
Once all of those 74 updates were finished, the computer was finally ready to actually move to the latest stable version of Windows, version 8.1. And that upgrade was a smooth little 3.4 GIGABYTE download that took several hours to complete, followed by a lengthy install and system configuration and then six more updates to download and install.
And in the midst of all of this, the computer’s Wi-Fi continually dropped out. It would connect, and then one or two minutes later it would say “not connected to any network, connections are available.” I’d reconnect and then…drop. It showed my Pakedge wireless access point, and showed that it was receiving five bars of signal and that it was selected as the preferred, “connect automatically,” network but it wouldn’t hold the connection for longer than two minutes.
I called HP and–to their credit–they have a 24/7 tech support staff that took my call late on a Sunday evening. (The sun never sets on Indian tech support apparently. And my tech’s name was–I kid you not–the impossible to pronounce, Subrahmanyam.) After about 45 minutes on the phone going through their standard rigmarole of rebooting the computer and my network–even though I proclaimed that every other wireless device in my house was connected without a problem and that I’ve never had to reboot the enterprise-grade Pakedge WAP–we moved on to breaking out a screwdriver and taking the computer apart to remove and re-seat the laptop’s wireless card. When this still didn’t work, HP agreed to ship me a new card to install into the machine.
You might be asking, “Dude! Why didn’t you just take the thing back and get a new one?!” Well, by this point I had invested several hours of time into this machine, and returning it to Wal-Mart–even if I could get another computer following the Black Friday mayhem–would mean starting all over again from Ground Zero.
In many ways this whole experience really helped me to understand and empathize with the mindset of the simple thing that our clients want from us every day: they just want it to work. They don’t want to come home and struggle with it. They don’t want to download patches and updates and install drivers and wade through configuration screens. They don’t want to learn all the ins and outs of how and why it does what it does. They don’t want to read manuals or spend long minutes on the phone with someone in another country who walks them through a pre-written litany of things to try. And they by God surely don’t want to have to break out a screwdriver and start dismantling the brand new thing they just purchased.
They just want to press a button and have magic happen.
Even when it is something we might consider “simple” like installing a router, a Sonos component, a Blu-ray player, or a Harmony remote, our customers gladly pay us for the peace of mind of knowing that when they go to use it, it will be properly updated, configured, and…just work.
Wal-Mart, Amazon, Best Buy, cheapelectronics.com… People will continue to have more and more options on where they can buy their gear, but it’s our ability to “just make it work” and provide a turnkey, hassle-free solution and offer on-going support beyond the initial sale will always be the greatest asset we have to offer to our clients.
John Sciacca is principal of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.