The most successful companies in corporate America (and around the world) have processes in place, and they stick to them to maintain their success. GE has Six Sigma and Toyota has Kaizan. Both companies spend millions of dollars annually to train their employees and ensure that the process is followed for everything from manufacturing to ordering paperclips. You don’t have to have fancy names or spend thousands of dollars training your team, but you should have well-established processes and policies that hold firm.
I learned that the hard way this week when I bent one of my golden rules and got burned. I always insist on meeting our clients in person to present proposals. This way we can review floorplans together, walk the space, or review the product (depending on where we meet: the construction site, the Crestron showroom, my home/showroom, etc). However, in this instance the client made a last minute pivot to Crestron after visiting the showroom on their own and they were leaving for a family vacation in three days. So I made the exception to review the proposal over the phone. This is now the first proposal we have lost in more than a year. I feel very confident that had we met in person, this wouldn’t have happened. It was a close call between Crestron and another system, and with more information in the client’s hand, Crestron and The Source Home Theater would have won, hands down.
There are so many seemingly small ways we run our businesses, but many of them make a huge difference to our success. Here are a few things I insist we do at The Source Home Theater:
1.All proposals are presented face-to-face with the client. No detail needed here, since you’ve already read this far!
2.We do not reduce our prices. Reducing labor costs or giving product discounts without support from our manufacturing partners just lessens our professionalism and makes it harder to turn a profit. We will down-spec a project to less expensive components, to a degree. For example, we may quote less expensive remote controls or audio distribution solutions. But we will not be quoting Harmony remotes or Bluetooth speakers. Anything we recommend will still need to provide the client with a reliable and easy-to-use experience, as well as not create additional service calls and expenses for us or the client on the back end.
3.The client must be our direct point of contact. Every time we’ve worked through a middleman—be it an architect, contractor, or designer—something has not gone right or there has been a miscommunication. We will ALWAYS work with other professionals hand-in-hand, but we need to have a direct line to the client for decision making about the user experience as they will live with what we do every day for years to come.
4.The client must be present for training. We have had clients not be available, so we’ve shown just one member of the family how to use everything. Inevitably, we field multiple phone calls and have to schedule a return visit for training the other member or members. We end up repeating ourselves two or three times, and because the client tried to use something they weren’t familiar with, they can get frustrated and think the system is too complex, which predisposes them to being negative. As Murphy’s Law would have it, it’s always the less technical members of the family who can’t be there for the training. We make the systems pretty self-explanatory, but there are always those family members who need more handholding.
5.We stick to our expertise. Inevitably, on almost every job, a client will ask us to help with something since we are there. Be it hanging a shelf, installing a light switch, or changing a door lock. Historically, I always wanted to please the customer and would agree to help, but almost without fail, the one item we did outside of our wheelhouse is the one thing that wouldn’t work properly or would have an issue. So we went from being the guys who installed a killer AV or automation system to the guys who screwed up the light switch. Now we simply tell clients that those things are not our expertise, and for many items (like light switches) we are not licensed or insured to do that type of work. I have yet to have a client upset that we couldn’t do something that is outside of our expertise. If they balk or keep asking, I usually put it into a perspective that they understand. If they are a corporate lawyer, I tell it would be similar to them handling a criminal defense for a client instead of a corporate merger, or for a pediatrician to perform a knee surgery. When you put it into perspective for them, in terms near and dear to them, they understand.
What other policies do you have in place that are “untouchable?” And have you been burned by bending your own rules?
+Todd Anthony Pumais president of The Source Home Theater Installation, in New York City.