Inaugural HTA Summits Zone In on Customer Experience
The two-year-old Home Technology Association (HTA) held bicoastal versions of its inaugural Customer Experience Summit Aug. 8 on the West Coast and Aug. 14 in New York City. Between the two daylong events, the group hosted an impressive representation of its 184 certified technology integrator members. On the agenda: a roster of sessions meant to inform, encourage brainstorming and stir up self-examination of their business’ best practices and ability to successfully engage with architects, designers and the builder community.
“We’re out to help our integrators think differently,” Josh Christian, the organization’s director of certification told Connected Designat the New York event, held at HTA member Gilmore’s Sound Advice showroom on Manhattan’s West Side. “There are small things that can make the difference for clients to have that ‘wow’ experience.”
The event’s sponsors, who sandwiched brief company presentations in between each session, included Sonance, Crestron, Savant, OneVision, Cineak, Kaleidescape, Access Networks, One Fireflly and AudioControl.
Eric Thies of L.A.-area member DSI set the stage for the presenters who followed, encouraging attendees always to use their HTA certification badge as a way to leverage their legitimacy with clients. Let them know that HTA talks to nine references, verifies both an integrator’s reputation and technical expertise with vendors, and ensures there is no history of legal issues, he exhorted the audience, because “when an independent party says you’re amazing, it’s 100 times more effective than if you say it yourself.” He also encouraged use of the HTA Budget Calculator, which helps rein in client skepticism by establishing a budget range through agnostic means – and may even encourage clients to add subsystems to a project’s cost.
Joey Kolchinsky, CEO of OneVision Resources, explained how his company, through tiered servicing plans ranging from basic support through top-end Signature service, can help integrators streamline their after-installation client servicing in a manner that is high level, transparent to the client, and profitable.
Benjamin Pearson, a 17-year expert in luxury estate management who was seminal in developing the customer service culture for the Montage luxury hotel network, delved into the intricacies of how that culture is enacted, from the time an employee is first vetted and then hired. He walked the audience through all the steps of a meticulous orientation process about the company’s history, followed by a training and trial period where hires that didn’t fit the Montage culture were eventually winnowed out, and those who were retained were then steeped in the do’s and don’ts of the highest levels of client service.
Throughout his talk, he emphasized that it is imperative to deliver a concierge-level customer service experience to luxury homeowners, because they will not tolerate anything less. He said the Montage philosophy in the way employees at every level were expected to deal with luxury clients was founded in the four ‘S’es : stop (i.e., stop whatever you’re doing – “come off your ladder”), stand (i.e., make eye contact), smile, and provide a salutation. It is about “keeping clients close by, engaging with them, sending them hand-written notes, being their sounding board. It’s also about using consistent verbiage – ‘yes,’ not ‘yeah,’ ‘absolutely,’ not ‘no problem,’ and about owning a request – or a complaint. Apologize, even if it isn’t your fault.”
A panel discussion moderated by Christian in the afternoon and including “technology architects” –consultants Andrew Southern of and Scott Marchand - addressed the role of these impartial experts in helping develop the scope and budget for a connected-home project. The technology integration industry is “the Wild West” to many in the designer and architect trades, said Southern, and specifiers like himself and Marchand are advisors who can help gain the trust of these disciplines.
“Architects want to love our industry,” said Marchand, “but they’re scared to death. There’s fear there. We assume they don’t care about our industry – but they do care about technology. They know they need us. So we need to be more than those AV dudes who show up late and ask to borrow a ladder – not be the battering ram that forces things in… Our job is to educate clients; we’re collaborators, not replacers… And what ends up happening is that clients are relaxed around us, and budgets even go up around us.”
The concluding session was a rousing talk by HQ Group’s CEO Dan Caulfield designed to help HTA members identify personality types among architects, designers and builders and tailor their approaches to most effectively zero in on what will satisfy their needs. “The Analytical Guy always needs more data. For the Driver Guy, it’s all about time and getting it done. The Expressive Guy is emotionally based and wants an audience. The Amiable Guy wants approval and assurance,” he offered. For all of these personalities, Caulfield said, “price doesn’t matter. It’s about learning the value you have to someone.”