Published In October 2000
Providing first-rate, after-installation voice/data/video (VDV) service to your customers can be very profitable. More importantly, providing after-installation VDV service is a must if you want your project VDV business to grow and prosper. Customers need quality VDV service, because people are demanding 24x7 service from them. VDV service is not an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. proposition in today’s competitive business environment. If you can’t provide 24x7 service to your customers, they will look to your competition for it. If this happens, your VDV contract work will soon be given to your competition as well. However, if you can provide the needed VDV service, the rewards are bound to be great. Ongoing customer contact through after-installation VDV service gives the firm an advantage over competitors when customers replace or upgrade existing systems. Additionally, VDV service work often provides an opportunity to do the associated power distribution work for the customer. Customers will pay a premium for service on demand and will become loyal to the firm that provides it. To take advantage of the after-installation VDV service market, the firm must be able to deliver quality services that meet customer needs and expectations. This means developing an effective VDV service delivery system tailored to your customers’ needs. Change your perspective Developing a successful after-installation VDV service business requires a paradigm shift for many. The company needs to view itself as an organization that provides ongoing VDV service to its customers, including VDV project work. In the past, project work was considered the primary thrust; service only entailed the warranty work on VDV systems that the firm installed. This has to change. Moves, adds, and changes (MACs) are ongoing as customers continue to reconfigure their organizations to better meet competitive challenges. Additionally, your customers need someone to keep their VDV systems up to date and operating around the clock. Over time, the dollar volume of your VDV service work may dwarf the initial system installation cost. To build a successful after-installation VDV service business, the firm must cultivate a service mentality. Marketing and business development efforts need to focus on building your firm’s VDV service business and not just getting the next VDV project. By providing the VDV service, the company will get the customer’s larger VDV projects. Service should be the glue that cements the firm’s relationship with its customer and makes it the customer’s preferred supplier of all its VDV needs. Use your full-service advantage After-installation VDV service provides an opportunity to cross-sell between the electrical contracting firm’s power distribution and VDV services. Both the power distribution and VDV businesses can benefit from the firm’s providing after-installation VDV services, because a full-service firm can address the customer’s total power, communications, and control needs. In addition, it provides the customer with one-stop shopping and single-point responsibility. Single-point responsibility for the installation and maintenance of the VDV system is very important for the customer, especially when their VDV system malfunctions and different firms have supplied and installed different portions of it. Each supplier or installer may verify performance for its portion, yet the entire system may not be working as designed or have unexplained intermittent problems. Under this scenario, troubleshooting is both disjointed and adversarial, with each supplier and installer focusing only on its portion of the system. Consequently, system problems with multiple causes for component or subsystem incompatibility may not be discovered. There is no systematic approach to troubleshooting that will lead to a remedy. Finger pointing and conjecture do not get the system running. Extended downtime results from each supplier and installer investigating its part of the system. Full-service firms can analyze the overall system and work with individual suppliers to get it up and running quickly. Single-point responsibility means no fragmentation of responsibility. Staff carefully Service personnel are key to your company’s success in providing after-installation VDV service. Finding and keeping good service personnel is a major constraint to growing your after-installation VDV service business. Effective service personnel typically differ from traditional VDV installation personnel in a number of ways. For example, service personnel often like to work independently and are typically motivated self-starters. They enjoy difficult technical problems, not routine work. They need to understand the overall system, how it operates, and how all the components and subsystems work together. Ideally, your VDV service personnel will also understand power distribution, grounding, and power quality. Service personnel must have good communications skills, especially listening. They must also “see the problem and sell the solution.” Your best VDV installation personnel may not be your best service personnel and vice versa. Service personnel typically need to have better technical skills and theoretical understanding than installation personnel. They need an intimate understanding of the technologies involved, the operation of subsystems and components, and how the overall system is supposed to operate. Even though your VDV service personnel need an overall understanding of the system, they do not need to be experts in all its parts. They should know enough to properly diagnose the problem and, if it is beyond their expertise or capability, get experts to the customer’s facility to solve the problem. In many ways, VDV service personnel are first and foremost expert diagnosticians. They should be able to diagnose the customer’s problem and develop a plan for correcting it. If service personnel can’t solve the problem themselves, they should mobilize the needed expertise from both inside and outside the company, organize to focus on solving the problem, and serve as the liaison between the firm and its customer until resolution. This is a far cry from the traditional view of the service technician as “jack of all trades” who operates as a one-person crew. Project the right image Customers think your service personnel should resemble the service technicians that maintain their office and manufacturing equipment. They also believe their VDV systems are much more fragile and sensitive than their power distribution systems. Therefore, customers expect to see a different image in your VDV service personnel than they do on the power distribution side, even if the service personnel are one and the same. Image opens the customer’s door, then retains that customer long term. Right or wrong, first impressions are lasting ones. To project the right image, consider requiring the following for your VDV service personnel: - Uniforms, or at minimum, uniform shirts with your company’s name and logo neatly embroidered above the pocket. - Cases for tools and test equipment instead of tool boxes and belts. - Laminated photo identification badges that can be clipped to service personnel’s shirts and show the employee’s name, company identification number, and title as well as prominently display your company’s name and logo. - Vans instead of pickup trucks. In short, your service personnel should resemble technicians that regularly service your customer’s office equipment. Marketing and business development You need an expanding customer base for your VDV service business to grow. Through marketing and business development, you must educate existing and potential customers about your service capabilities and commitment to providing exceptional 24x7 service. The most effective business development vehicle is word of mouth. This advertising is not free; it comes from consistently doing a good job and satisfying customers at all costs. The second most effective VDV marketing method is personal sales calls on existing and potential VDV customers. As your business grows, these time-consuming calls will hinder effective management of other work. When this happens, a salesperson can be hired to make initial—and maintain ongoing—personal contact with customers. Word-of-mouth and sales calls may get your firm in the customer’s door, but the quality of your service personnel and their ability to meet customer needs will keep you there. Always hire the best service personnel, ideally those with a sales orientation. The customer identifies overall quality with that of your service personnel, who determine future service and projects with that customer. Customers demand that their VDV firms provide not only an outstanding initial installation, but also a commitment to maintaining that system throughout its life. To grow its VDV business, the company has to provide exceptional ongoing service. Not only will your firm lose out on the lucrative ongoing service work; it may also lose out on the customer’s future VDV and power distribution projects. Acknowledgement This article is the result of ongoing research into the impact of information technology on the electrical contracting industry that is sponsored by the Electrical Contracting Foundation, Inc. The author would like to thank the Foundation for its continuing support. Dr. GLAVINICH is Chair and Associate Professor of Architectural Engineering at the University of Kansas. He can be reached at (785) 864-3435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.