Business

Focus On The Client

You know…the people who keep us in business.

Checklist Items Under Test: The heart of AV9000: Focus on the client.

The Story: On Thursday, my partner complained that she wasn’t getting her typical volume of emails, but I shrugged it off because everyone else in the company was fine. I figured it was some weird software glitch on her machine. The next day, no one was getting emails at all. You never realize how dependent you are on email to do business until it stops working.

We immediately went to the provider to complain. As it turns out, they were bought by another internet company and things were “a little crazy at the moment.” Our logins were changed, so we couldn’t get access that way. The company also split up service management, so there were separate departments to handle email service, domain registration and website hosting. If your problem spanned two departments (like ours did: domain registration and email service), you had to call two different departments that didn’t yet share information. Another glitch was that, after the merger, the company no longer provided “just email” service; they required all clients to purchase a website and email service for the same low price. We told them we would do whatever it takes to get things back up and running, so give us a random website domain and please fix our original email service. No one had a real answer as to why this was happening, but this is what they were instructed to do to fix the problem.

Then our website went offline.

As it turns out, the website hosting domain has to match the email domain. The technician helping us was unaware of this. So, in transferring us over to the “new, improved” service, they took over our website hosting, which was working fine up until this point, and just killed it. Visitors to www.avres.com got a beautiful ad for the new web hosting service with an HTTP 404 Not Found Error message.

Oh, and our email still wasn’t working.

I bet a lot of you think that you can just flick a switch and domain services can be repaired. Well, my friends, I can assure you this is not the case. It’s been five days without consistent email and web hosting services. As I understand it, the original email service provider (which technically no longer existed) was still registered as the domain owner in some ISP DNS servers, while the new merged company was also registered as an owner. So, the new company was fighting with the old company it bought over who gets to deliver my email! The result of this epic DNS war is that I only get about half my messages.

Why am I ranting about this? Nary a day goes by that I don’t see a new press release announcing that two AV companies have merged. In all honesty, this freaks me out for many reasons. However, my biggest concern with all these mergers is the impact they will have on the industry via the clients of each of the old companies. How often will people have to hear:

  • Oh, she doesn’t work here anymore.
  • We can’t do projects that way since the merger.
  • This is our new website. It’s easy once you get the hang of it (but I liked the old one better).
  • We can’t use that manufacturer any longer.
  • Your old login won’t work with the new server. Here’s a new one for you to try.

I know mergers can be done right. I fear that most mergers will not. It is human nature to get so consumed with your own problems that you forget how things might be affecting other people. People get so frustrated with using their own new systems that they forget what the clients are going through because of that same new system.

I am reminded of visiting a friend in the hospital and asking a nurse for directions. She was clearly having a rough day and begrudgingly answered my question and stormed off. She didn’t have the presence of mind to appreciate that, because I was looking for a friend in a hospital, I also might be having a bit of a rough day. So, now we were both in a terrible mood.

I’m not saying that great customer service is easy. If you want to keep your clients happy, though, it’s a requirement. A better option would have been for the nurse to take a breath, explain that she is having a really rough day, point me in the right direction and express her hope that my friend gets better quickly. She doesn’t have to ignore her rough day (we all have them), but she could have answered my question with honesty instead of anger. I would have the information I needed. I could now empathize with her and, hopefully, she feels a little better because we shared a human connection for an instant. That’s way better than us both huffing off in bad moods.

I would feel much better if my email provider said, “Things are crazy right now, but I understand that your email service is your lifeblood, and we will work hard to get it up as quickly as possible.” This notion was never expressed. They continually gave us the runaround. As soon as service is restored and domain ownership is documented, we will be looking for a new provider immediately. That’s how clients think.

In a world where AV work is being swallowed up left and right by structured cabling companies, IT companies and electricians, I would hate for the AV industry to lose more ground because, in the merger chaos, companies lose sight of their clients’ needs. End-user feedback is rare in the AV industry. They usually express their dissatisfaction by taking AV companies off their approved service provider list. It’s like being blocked by your old high school girlfriend on Facebook. You don’t know it happened. You just never hear from them again. Understand that your clients are also dealing with change. Don’t get Facebook-blocked by your clients because of a merger. The AV industry can’t afford it.

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