Dear Customer, My apologies on behalf of myself and our team for delivering a great job. We have failed to exceed your expectations and for that we are truly sorry. I am refunding 10% of your bill, which represents the premium for the value proposition that you paid for in good faith, but did not receive. -Your Humble Supplier
Based on what I hear many AV owners and executives say about their products and services, the above letter needs to go out to customers everywhere. I visit dozens of businesses and speak with scores of business owners every year, and most honestly believe that they are delivering best in class results to their clients. In their defense, on any given day someone in their firm does something admirable, but that alone does not a great company make.
Good people and good companies have the same qualities through and through. When you slice one up, each piece is full of pure awesomeness, which is why some companies really are worth more than others. Unfortunately too many firms wrongly believe they are that great and therefore diminish the value of superlatives with every presentation, pitch, or promotion. Admit it, if you have to tell everyone how good you are, you aren’t.
In the past few months I have seen some incredible examples of companies in our beloved AV Industry that exceed expectations for no other reason than that’s what it takes to be successful. Here’s what excellence really looks like:
I recently visited a company that exemplifies innovation. They are a full service event and systems integration company that has placed large LCD screens in EVERY office, meeting room, and common area (ok, not the bathrooms…). An AV company with lots of displays is not unusual however, this company uses them cleverly: each screen has its own Apple TV, which allows any device user on the network to send their screen to someone’s else’s space. Anyone on the network can collaborate with someone else simply by sharing his or her screen to the screen where the co-worker sits. Pick up the phone and instant collaboration session. Could they use Microsoft Lync or any other peer to peer tool? Of course they could, but the Apple TV and shared screen provides an instant one to many (or many to one) option. No scheduling of meeting rooms needed. Just send your drawing to the Project Managers’ room and get everyone’s input.
Why is this so great? Walk a customer through this office and ask them why they think it’s awesome! Here is a company that not only cares about communicating, they choose an inexpensive and versatile tool that anyone can use to do it. As a customer, I want that kind of innovation focused on my project! In addition to this, the Apple TV screen saver displays some of the best marketing photos I have ever seen. (What a difference it makes to have a photographer shoot for you instead of using images from someone’s mobile phone!) These offices are beautiful, functional, and informative. You can literally touch the quality this firm represents.
Real Quality Control
The standards for quality control in the production rental world are all over the map. For some companies, eyeball verification is the criteria for “going the extra mile” for customers and projects. Occasionally the equipment is actually inspected and even turned on to make sure it works properly. I recently visited a B2B wholesale rental outfit that also vacuums out cases after every order. I think a company that cares enough to take an extra two minutes to fire up the shop vac is worth giving my business to. They don’t stop there. Every case is cleaned inside and out and all technology is inspected for even the smallest of blemishes. For instance, a scratch on a projector warrants ordering a replacement cover. The cases and equipment all look like new.
Are these people crazy? I think not. They understand that being worth more means you have to DO more. There are plenty of companies that will rent you dirty, scratched, but functioning equipment. Is that the image your customers are paying for? Low standards lead to low returns, which often lead to even lower standards.
Who has time for this? What about the cost? Companies that command 10% more revenue per item know it doesn’t cost that much more to care. Aside from getting a higher overall price, this kind of quality earns loyalty and referrals. When it comes time to sell off that gently used gear that looks almost new – this firm often receives close to what they paid for it twelve to eighteen months prior. And buyers know their purchase will be reliable. You can’t cut corners and expect best in class results.
The price of a mistake goes far beyond the cost of just fixing the error. That’s why the third company in this feature dedicates a person to re-checking the double-checks. This is not a cursory check by the team of its own work. I mean an independent review that not only looks for hidden mistakes, they recommend changes in process to help prevent missteps from happening in the future. It’s a continual improvement system that pays for itself over and over again.
In production rental there are countless opportunities to overlook an important detail: Leave out a critical cable, miscalculate a lensing decision, or simply miss an item on the pick list. In addition, there are planning items that can really hurt a project if overlooked: Order power, update the crew on the schedule, or confirm a sub-rental. Consider the cost of all the items you miss each year when pulling a show or rental order. Every extra trip to show site, air cargo, or sub-rental supplier costs real money. Not having the things you need on show site when you actually need them is expensive. Lost time can’t be replaced and the potential damage to your image and customer confidence is priceless.
Good intentions do not equal good quality.
Many owners will tell me that they can’t afford to pay employees for better work. “The team already has too much to do. We don’t have time to vacuum cases or money to remodel the office.” My point is that when you gave up on quality as a priority, you allowed your creative, entrepreneurial, and innovative spirit to die too. In dire economic times, prices do drop sometimes dramatically. Customer standards and expectations may even be set aside temporarily. Eventually though, quality will always rebound, caring companies will persevere, and the customers that would pay more for better quality will find the suppliers that deliver.
If you want to regain your edge, then you have to THINK like a start-up again. Focus on long-term ROI not transactional progress. Borrow money to upgrade infrastructure. Invest in training instead of replacing employees. Improve your image instead of trying to make up for it. If you want to charge more, be worth more.
Tom Stimson, MBA, CTS, is president of Stimson Group LLC, a Dallas-based management consulting firm specializing in strategy, process improvement, and market research for the Audiovisual Industry. Tom is a Past-President of InfoComm International and a current member of InfoComm’s Adjunct Faculty.