If AV integrators wish to survive both the current work stoppages and whatever comes afterwards, they’ll have to first identify — and then satisfy — what may be an entirely new set of customer needs
I don’t have to tell you these are challenging times for AV integrators. Companies are drifting with the tides, employees are anxious, and nobody appears able to control or predict the future. So what should integrators do while we all wait to find out what happens next?
Harsh Reality: Businesses exist solely to meet the needs of their customers. If AV integrators wish to survive both the current work stoppages and whatever comes afterwards, they’ll have to first identify — and then satisfy — what may be an entirely new set of customer needs. Here are four questions to start answering now:
- How can we help customers today?
- How can we help customers the first few weeks their workplaces reopen?
- How can we help customers as they adapt to ‘new normal’ workplace conditions and practices?
- What technologies, services and insights will best benefit customers in a future where the concepts of ‘workplace’ and ’collaboration’ may be redefined.
A Little Empathy Will Go A Long Way Today
You may have discovered your customers feel just like you do right now — anxious, confused and uncertain. Some are furloughed or on reduced wages. Others are working from home in less than ideal conditions, with limited resources and even less corporate leadership. Please don’t make them fell any worse!
This is not the time to fill customer inboxes with new product information, webinar invitations or white papers. Nor is it the time to ‘follow up’ on pending proposals or ‘nail down the timelines’ for future projects. Be patient and empathetic. Some types of calls can be very stressful for people who don’t have any more answers than you do!
Be Gentle. Be Genuine. Be Helpful.
This is, however, a very appropriate time to connect or reconnect with your customers. Reach out. Touch base. Wave the flag. Let them know you’re still at work and available to help any time in any way they need it. Then, perhaps, briefly define what you mean by “help”.
Generic examples, which could be spread out over several weeks’ emails, might include:
- You have webcams in stock for immediate delivery, in case they’ve had difficulty finding good ones. (Or, perhaps, that you have service technicians available for ‘safe’ house calls).
- You’re able to supplement their internal resources by providing free help desk support for newly remote workers who may be struggling with Zoom / Teams / Whatever. Or need help setting up an approved virtual backdrop.
- You plan to offer ‘start-up services, support and technology’ for the initial return-to-work’ phase. And are taking advance bookings…
- You’ve heard (or developed) some great ideas on re-configuring existing systems for ‘the new normal’. Which you’d love to talk about whenever they’re ready.
Your objective is to be seen as an available and supportive service provider, not a revenue-hungry what-can-we-sell-now supplier. And, what you really want is to start (or restart) a conversation about how you might be able to best help in future.
Be Generous. Be Diligent.
Have you told your customers you’ll extend their service contracts by the duration of the work stoppage at no extra charge? It’s a great opportunity to ask if they feel they’ll need any remedial, recertification or other preparatory work done before their workplace returns to full occupancy and production. And to discuss what the ‘new normal’ might look like for them.
Have your project customers been receiving weekly status updates on projects already in progress, about to start or scheduled for later this summer? Do they know how long your re-mobilization delay will be after government restrictions are lifted? Is your remobilization date contingent on specific dependencies they need to arrange with others? Have supply chain issues been identified and communicated?
Be Flexible and Forward Thinking.
Chances are, COVID-19 has negatively impacted your customers at least as much as it has you and your company. How you respond to their business (and personal) problems today will define your relationships going forward and, possibly, your reputation in the business community forever.
- Do they need to cancel their project? Give their deposit back, no questions asked, no strings attached as soon as you can.
- Do they need extended payment terms? Work with your vendors and bank to help make that happen, at least partially.
- Do they need work completed after hours at no extra cost? Throw out your old rule book, bite your tongue and find a way to say ‘yes’.
Be Focused. Be Proactive. Be Strong.
In challenging times it’s easy to be distracted. Everyone is worried, and many may be looking to you to ease their anxieties. You’re worried too, because so much of your future suddenly appears outside your control.
Work, not worry, is what pays the rent and now, more than ever, you need a laser focus on work. Do what you can to strengthen and retain customer relationships. Do what you can to quickly reposition your service and system offerings for whatever becomes the ‘new normal’. And do what you can to help your customers also survive and adapt.
One of the few thing you can control today is how you interact with your clientele. If you find ways to help them cope with their new needs at a cost they can afford, they will find ways to help support the resurgence and future success of your business too. Because, as the saying goes, “we’re all in this together.”
Brock McGinnis is a longtime audiovisual integrator. Now, as Principal of avitaas inc., he provides technology program consulting for enterprise and advisory services to integrators.