Like many others involved in technical education, I have been guilty of continually telling you that you need to get more training. The best way to keep up with technology, products or the industry; enhance skills; or network with peers is to attend training seminars. Training seminars often allow you time to reflect on your work and give you insight to new opportunities. Many are free, and some even include lunch.

But training is a “give and take” proposition. Not only should you look to acquire knowledge and skills through training, but you also should share your knowledge and skills with others. You may not think of yourself as a teacher, but you probably act as a tutor all the time. You assist less-
experienced coworkers to understand how a job should be done correctly and help them practice to develop the necessary skills. You probably need to occasionally explain technical issues to people in your company who are more business-oriented.

One area you might not have considered, and one that could have a positive effect on your business, is training your customers. Sure, I know the pressure is on you to get the job done and move on to the next job. But some time spent with the customer doing some low-key training can have big benefits. It can make your relationship with the customer better, enhancing chances of future business. It can make your customer more self-sufficient, reducing the need for service calls. And it can reduce tension when the customer simply doesn’t have a clue what you are doing and seeks clarification from other sources.

The last point is an important one. Whenever you do VDV cabling work, fiber or copper, your customer may have no clue what you are doing. IT managers often consider cabling a necessary nuisance, a small part of their budget that causes many problems. Even business owners and managers tend to see cabling as simply a connection to their computers that they don’t need to understand. Plug and play is all they care about. This can cause problems for the cabling contractor when things don’t work exactly right.

For example, I have had end-users contact me many times asking if their installer is doing the job correctly or asking any of the following questions: What do they do now that the installation is complete? Why is the installer leaving big loops of cable behind racks? Shouldn’t the cables be routed more neatly? Why are they cutting holes in my floor? What should I expect for test results on these cables? What kinds of patchcords do I need with this cabling?

And, perhaps the most important question: Can I upgrade my systems using this cable? This is an invitation to educate your customer and perhaps get another big order.

I’m not advocating that you create and present formal training programs. Customers would rarely be interested in that, unless it is a large company with many employees involved in or affected by the project. More appropriately, you can have discussions with your customer in which you explain what you are doing and provide them with reference materials, either printed or Web-based, where they can go for more information.

These discussions should begin as soon as the sales process gets serious. It’s a good way to make sure the customer understands what your company does or what is involved in the project proposals you make. It also builds confidence in your work. During the design and installation phase, involve the customer by explaining what you are doing and when appropriate, why. Component selection is another opportunity, as you can explain why particular components are used and manufacturers are selected. Testing is a big issue for most users, as they want assurance they are getting the cabling performance for which they paid. It’s an even bigger issue if they are getting an upgrade from an earlier system, with a goal of higher performance.

Once the installation is complete, provide the customer with some training on how to use the cabling with their equipment, such as how to connect hardware, choose the proper patchcords to maintain cabling performance, document where patchcords go, keep the telecom rooms neat (and remember that they are not janitor’s closets).

Don’t make it seem like training. It should be informal discussion, and the customer should feel free to ask questions. If you have a big crew on a job, a designated contact for the customer who provides the information and answers probably will keep the user from interrupting your other workers, making them more productive. Create some basic educational materials oriented toward your customers, using some of your projects as examples. They can be printed and excerpts posted on the company Web site for promoting your business. Provide links to relevant Web sites where they can go for background information, such as “Uncle Ted’s Guide” (www.vdvworks.com/UncleTed) and “Lennie Lightwave” (www.lennielightwave.com).

The goal of providing this training is to enhance customer satisfaction. And satisfied customers are the best referrals you can get for future business.   EC

HAYES is a VDV writer and trainer and the president of The Fiber Optic Association. Find him at www.JimHayes.com.