Pro-Active Design

By George McKechnie
Published on: April 7, 2017

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Re-Visioning Customer Support: II – Pro-Active Design

To read Part 1, “Up Your Customer Support Game” – Go here.

Last time, we looked at common causes of system failure for modern home digital systems, and made the case for pro-active design to eliminate—or at least reduce—the need for service calls.  This time, we’ll look at specific strategies to stabilize these systems.

Equipment Choice.   Performance used to be king.  In the prime of analog sound, we chased after high-performance electronics and speakers, knowing that we could count on our manufacturers to deliver reliable goods.  But today, dealers must cope with the tension that exists between performance, stability, and digital innovation.  And all-to-often, we wind up paying the price for selling products that aren’t quite ready for prime time.

The rapidly-evolving role of the surround receiver exemplifies the problem.  Do we sell receivers that lead the technology charge, incorporating the latest streaming apps and other digital features?  Or should we go with manufacturers that choose to step back from the bleeding edge, and let the dust settle before introducing the latest features?  None of our clients want to be a beta-test site, and few dealers can afford to subsidize this activity.

With smart home automation products, the problem is often worse.  Manufacturers work hard to bring to market network-dependent control systems and multi-room amps that are ready for prime time.  But the task of integrating these products flawlessly with multiple partners is so daunting that few get it right the first time—or the second or third.  And dealers, once again, play the beta-test game, making excuses to clients and eating uncompensated service calls.

Beyond Surge Protection.   Equipment-damaging surges aren’t the only problem.  More annoying are the subtle voltage fluctuations missed by most surge protectors that cause system misconfigurations in cable and sat boxes, and in the digital circuitry found in so many other products these days.  The answer: tighter monitoring, and protection strategies that filter out these transients, including regenerative surge protectors, uninterruptable power supplies with batteries large enough to support higher power loads, and isolation transformers.

All are expensive solutions, and each will probably necessitate an explanation for the extra expense.  But they will reduce or eliminate the most common (and annoying) causes of service calls.

Own the Network.  With so many devices that are network-dependent (not just enabled) these days, we’re fooling ourselves if we take on a project without assessing, re-designing and upgrading the client’s home wireless network.  This includes understanding:

  • current (and anticipated) video streaming needs, including worst-case scenarios (say, three kids each streaming their favorite show at the same time)
  • where in the home coverage is needed.

Adequate performance may require expanded service and updated equipment from the broadband provider; and for adequate coverage, the addition of a network controller plus wireless access points.

Another snag: many providers supply a proprietary modem/router combination where the built-in router can be bypassed in favor of an outboard unit for higher performance, but which defaults back to the integrated router in the event of a power anomaly.  Such a unit should be replaced with a stand-alone modem, to prevent this from occurring.  

In Sum.  For each of the above strategies, customer support means adopting the consultation role, and guiding the client through decisions that go beyond what’s typically recognized as consumer choice.  They include helping the client find the best technology matches for family needs; assessing equipment choices and infrastructure from a system stability perspective; and finding solutions that address any weaknesses identified.  This is pro-active design.

Next time: Managing Digital Frustration.

George McKechnie

George McKechnie

George McKechnie is President of Axiom Home Tech in Monterey, CA, which he founded in 1999. He has written on Home Automation topics for various trade publications, and consults with venture capital funds, investment banks, and manufacturers on competitive factors in this sector.

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