The Source Smart Home Automation http://www.thesourcehometheater.com Tue, 07 Apr 2020 01:58:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.5.1 http://www.thesourcehometheater.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/cropped-Favicon-32x32.jpg The Source Smart Home Automation http://www.thesourcehometheater.com 32 32 AVNation Hosts Residential “Learn From Home” Virtual Event http://www.thesourcehometheater.com/2020/04/avnation-hosts-residential-learn-from-home-virtual-event/ Tue, 07 Apr 2020 01:58:25 +0000 http://www.thesourcehometheater.com/?p=598 AVNation brings together manufacturers and leaders for networking and education together on April 7 and 8.

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AVNation invites dealers, integrators, technicians, and industry professionals in the custom installation space to its first Residential Learn From Home Virtual Event. The virtual event was created to continue education, trainings, and networking as the industry has transitioned to remote work. On April 7 and 8, morning, noon, and evening online sessions will offer dealers and integrators the opportunity to learn, network, and stay up-to-date on the best practices and strategies through webinars and video conference panels and keynotes.

AVNation’s Residential LFH Virtual Event will include keynote presentations from the top industry leaders, including Jeremy Burkhardt, Origin Acoustics; Charlie Kindel, SnapAV; Mitchell Klein, Z-Wave Alliance; Joe Whitaker, Thoughtful Integrations, and Matt Scott, AVNation. Residential AV pros can get CEDIA CEU credit through some of the LFH Virtual Event education sessions, which will be offered on a variety of topics, such as networking best practices, home automation, communication and networking strategies, how to thrive following the crisis, and more. Sessions will be moderated by AVNation’s Tim Albright along with other volunteers, and Matt Scott will act as the emcee.

The event kicks off April 7 at 8:00 AM ET with a keynote presentation, followed by breakout education sessions at 9:00 AM. During a remote work “lunch break,” dealers can tune into a noon keynote presentation, followed by a second round of educational sessions at 1:00 PM. To finish off the day, attendees are invited to a cocktail hour before the evening session at 8 PM. The next day will follow the same format, with different speakers and educational content.

“Working from home is not the norm for the AV industry,” says Tim Albright, owner and president at AVNation. “While some AV professionals and residential field engineers have been deemed essential personnel amid the COVID-19 crisis, many are staying in or sheltering in place, so we wanted to make this an opportunity to unite and continue education. The Learn From Home Virtual Event offers dealers and integrators free education sessions from top industry experts to advance their skills, gain credits, and prepare their business for the future. It’s also a great way to just stay connected to prevent stir-craze.”

Educational breakout sessions from industry leaders and manufacturers will focus on the current crisis the residential AV market is facing, industry trends, and opportunities for growth, including expert insight from the following companies: Access Networks, Blue Salve, Caster Communications, CEDIA, Control4/SnapAV, Crestron, Davis Distribution, Enclave, Home Theater Advisors, Hunter Douglas, Intellithings, Klipsch, KMB Communications, Legrand/AV Luxul, Origin Acoustics, Pioneer Music, Powerhouse Alliance, Savant, SurgeX, SVS Speciality Technologies, The Source Home Theater, Thoughtful Integrations, Vanco International, WiSA, Zigbee Alliance, and Z-Wave Alliance.

To register for the Residential Learn From Home Virtual Event and join the community, click here. The full event agenda and presentation details are available here. Search the #LFHSummit hashtag on social media to follow along with updates on the event.

The Learn From Home Virtual Event will host a commercial event the following week on April 14 and 15, with sessions specific for the Pro AV industry; more details will be announced soon.

Click here to register.

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Integrators Boost Revenue, Efficiency Using Crestron Home http://www.thesourcehometheater.com/2020/02/integrators-boost-revenue-efficiency-using-crestron-home/ Tue, 11 Feb 2020 01:55:11 +0000 http://www.thesourcehometheater.com/?p=581 Three veteran integrators found moving from traditional Crestron systems to Crestron Home OS 3 to be a breeze and significantly improved the simplicity of running their businesses.

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For three custom integration firms, the rollout of Crestron Home last fall has been nothing short of a godsend. The three leading custom integrators — Joe Calise, owner of Sights-N-Sounds in Seaford, N.Y., Mosey Levy, owner of BackstageAV in Brooklyn, and Todd Anthony Puma, owner of The Source Home Theater in Old Bridge Township, N.J. — sat down with CE Pro to discuss their experience in migrating from traditional Crestron systems to the new Crestron Home OS 3, which officially debuted on Sept. 2, 2019.

READ MORE >

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Showroom Strategy http://www.thesourcehometheater.com/2020/02/showroom-strategy/ Tue, 04 Feb 2020 02:01:33 +0000 http://www.thesourcehometheater.com/?p=585 This industry has gone back and forth on the value and benefit of having a dedicated showroom for ages. It used to be that you had to have a showroom to allow clients to hear different speakers, see the TV in person, and experience the awe of the home theater. Then e-commerce happened and the […]

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This industry has gone back and forth on the value and benefit of having a dedicated showroom for ages. It used to be that you had to have a showroom to allow clients to hear different speakers, see the TV in person, and experience the awe of the home theater. Then e-commerce happened and the practice of “showrooming” reared its ugly head. Clients just used our showrooms to check things out and then bought everything cheaper online. Showrooming eventually led to the practice of dealers using their own homes, using client homes and/or using manufacturer experience centers, since the investment in a retail showroom just did not make a lot of economic sense for many businesses.

I have long used the Crestron Experience centers at HQ in Rockleigh, NJ and at the D&D building in Midtown Manhattan. Those resources have been amazing and have helped me close many deals. I am also a firm believer in having a location to bring a client whenever I need, without having to schedule anything. In fact, I think having a space such as this provides two key functions.

  1. We can show clients real-world, live demonstrations of the products they will be living with
  2. We have a place to bench test products and really get our feet wet with new technologies or new product introductions before installing them in a client home

This is why I continue to use my own home to showcase not just Crestron products, but also the full range of what we can provide to a client. In fact, I am in the process of having one of our partners install a home security system, since clients ask about them a lot and we integrate with security frequently. This way, clients can see how Crestron will work with their security system and the benefits that provides. The other benefit to using my home is that they see a real-world environment, where kids are regularly using the remotes, the touchpanels, and the lighting keypads, as well as playing music and operating the door locks and thermostats. And this where I test out everything I install — from Crestron NVX to the newest Araknis routers and access points, to the new Sonos amp and port.

In fact, my friend, Mark Feinberg, owner of Home Theater Advisors (in case you didn’t know that already from reading this blog regularly), just rented an apartment on the same floor as his family apartment in his building. He took over a one bedroom and is using the living room/kitchen/dining area/bathroom as a showroom, and is using the bedroom as his office space. He loves having everything right down the hall and is excited to have a dedicated space to bring clients. Without a manufacturer experience center to take advantage of, he has been a little self-conscious about saying, “Come to my apartment to see how this all works.” He feels that being able to say, “Come to my showroom/office,” will entice more clients to check it out and he will be able to upsell more.

He is outfitting his space with a lot of technology that he currently has at home and sells regularly, such as Control4 AV control, lighting, and video distribution and Access Networks access points. He is also installing technology or brands he currently does not have in his own apartment, such as a Control4 Triad One for streaming audio; a Triad Nano custom-length speakerbar; a Samsung Frame TV; and shading (either Lutron or Hunter Douglas). He is excited to be able to show clients different scenarios.

If someone is interested in the Samsung Frame, he can show how it looks, how it integrates with Control4, and what the picture quality is like. If they want something even more discreet, he can take them down the hall to his apartment and show them the Screen Innovations Solo Pro 2 motorized acoustically transparent screen with Stealth Acoustics speakers in the wall. He can also show them the difference between Control4 streaming music in the showroom and Sonos in his apartment. Finally, he can show Somfy shades in his apartment and either Hunter Douglas or Lutron in the showroom. With this space, he will have the option to outfit them differently from his home, and the ability to give clients a full experience can only help him sell more, increase the average ticket, and grow his business.

How are you using your showrooms?  Are they retail stores, appointment only, your own home, or manufacturer experience centers? What are the key products and experiences that you showcase?

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5 Ways to Be the Client’s Favorite Trade on the Job http://www.thesourcehometheater.com/2020/01/5-ways-to-be-the-clients-favorite-trade-on-the-job/ Tue, 28 Jan 2020 02:01:58 +0000 http://www.thesourcehometheater.com/?p=587 It happened again last week as I was meeting with a client to go over the usage of his new system in a just-completed apartment renovation. And it happens on at least 50 percent of our projects — more likely 75 percent+ (I just haven’t tracked it) — at some point near the end of […]

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It happened again last week as I was meeting with a client to go over the usage of his new system in a just-completed apartment renovation. And it happens on at least 50 percent of our projects — more likely 75 percent+ (I just haven’t tracked it) — at some point near the end of the project, a client will say something along the lines of, “You know what Todd, yours is the only company during this whole ordeal that has been a pleasure to work with.” Almost invariably home owners are not happy with their general contractor, electrician, plumber, stone company, millworker, architect, or some combination of those trades.

I even have clients who will confide in me and ask my opinion about the work of other trades. In these cases I try to be very non-committal or positive about the other trade. I will never speak badly of someone and will try to buck them up in the client’s eyes, especially if I see that their reputation is salvageable.

So how do regularly end up in this enviable position?  After a bit of deep thought and talking to colleagues with similar experiences, I have come up with the key five factors:

1.Set clear expectations.
It is such a trite expression that is repeated constantly, but I constantly see other professionals dig themselves a hole by promising the world and not being able to deliver. I know it is a difficult line to balance in our industry — our clients want to be wowed by what we deliver and have high expectations that everything will work perfectly from day one and that the process will be a breeze. We have learned to set expectations low and over-deliver. How do we do that? Let clients know there will be a “shaking-out” period after final commissioning, and that there will be glitches. We also do the small things like always taking off our shoes or wearing booties every time we enter the home. We make sure to lend a hand if they are lifting something heavy or need something moved. And the biggest one: we show up when we say we are going to show up.

Another thing I do frequently is to add a little touch of extra programming. For example, if a client seems a little technologically inclined, I will put in some custom commands to change the soundfields so they can easily switch between 2-channel, surround, and 5-channel stereo. I know Control4 dealers who always include a “Find My Remote” button in every project. When the client sees it on the screen during the handover, they just say, “Oh, that is like LoJack for your remote — push this button and your remote will start to beep so you can find it.” Clients love it.

2. Be clean and presentable and exhibit a good attitude.
It is amazing how many business owners and install teams from other trades that I see show up near the end of a project and they look sloppy, don’t wear booties, leave dust and debris behind at the end of the day, etc. It isn’t that hard to look presentable and to treat the client’s home with respect, so there is no excuse.

Keeping a positive attitude can sometimes be more difficult, but it is critical. Some clients can be frustrating, and it can be easy to lose your cool.   You need to maintain a calm demeanor and be the calming influence in the discussion. You just have to take it sometimes. You can always “fire” the client after the first 6–12 months, but doing so during or just after the project will risk your reputation. Be nice and the client will often be nice back.  Often their frustration with other professionals or trades on the project will spill over.  If you can keep it calm, they will mellow and then will appreciate you as a sympathetic ear and you are in like gold.

3. Change order is a dirty word.
From almost day one on a project, clients hear the words “change order” and they have a visceral reaction to it. They see it as nickel and diming, and I have seen many get visibly upset. I realize that we also have to be fiscally responsible as business owners and can’t give away the store. First of all, if it is our fault and we forgot to spec something in that was necessary — maybe we miscalculated how many network ports we need or power outlets in the rack — then we eat it. When it is something client-directed, if the ask is minimal, I can usually offset it elsewhere and will do so — I almost always spec in 2-4 more access points than I think we will need, just in case the wireless environment is worse than expected (we are in NYC and deal with a lot of noise as well as a lot of difficult construction materials, and can usually get a little extra wiggle room there, and also with extra InfinitEX gateways). And TVs almost always come down in price between the start of a project and the end. But it is case by case and will depend on the overall size and budget of the project, what our workload is (are we losing out on other revenue if my team spends an extra half day or day on site), what we have in inventory we can use, and if we can apply any manufacturer rebates to the project to create some wiggle room.

If all else fails and we need to charge for something, I always try to position it as an upgrade. I will say, “We can definitely upgrade that dimmer to a keypad” or “No problem upgrading from a 55-inch TV to a 75-inc model, I’ll put a proposal together for you right away.” If it is perceived as an upgrade and not a change order, it is much more likely to be accepted. If it is purely a labor issue, like moving a speaker location or a TV location or some light programming, we can usually just work that in when a team is on-site anyway, so I will typically not charge for that. A little bit can go a long way in terms of gaining client respect.

4. Don’t blame others.
I know it is easy when something goes to wrong to place the blame on others. And it is even easier to commiserate with the client when they are complaining about another professional or trade on the project. Do not give in. If something went wrong with another trade — maybe a drywaller put a screw through your wire or a the electrician cut a cable — work with the other trade or the general contractor first. Just like not nickel and diming the client, working with the other trades to get these issues fixed and done right is something the client will appreciate. If you find something was damaged, just tell the client you are going to investigate it and talk to the GC before you make any judgements. Then just get it fixed if you can. You’d be amazed how excited clients are when a problem is just solved and no one is pointing fingers

5. Make it personal.
One acronym I have carried with me for years is CARE: Contact, Ask questions, Recommend, Encourage. This has been my mantra in all of my customer interactions.

The first two are pretty obvious — make personal Contact in person or over the phone. Then Ask qualifying and lifestyle questions. Now that you have a feel for what their needs are, make Recommendations based on your knowledge and Encourage the customer to provide feedback on the Recommendations so you can fine-tune. Active listening is key — don’t just spout out your standard setup, listen to the client’s needs, and parrot them back to them. “So I hear that you listen to a lot of classical music and clarity of the instruments is key to you” or “So you have young children, and being sure of their safety and having the ability to monitor them when home or at work is critical.”

There you have it — my five long-winded keys to being your client’s favorite person ever!

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Searching for Streaming Audio Solutions http://www.thesourcehometheater.com/2020/01/searching-for-streaming-audio-solutions/ Tue, 14 Jan 2020 02:01:55 +0000 http://www.thesourcehometheater.com/?p=586 Just like most of you, we are constantly re-evaluating the products we sell and support. We’ll go for a long time with a solution and then things change either with the product, the company, or with our product mix and clientele. Just the other day, I was on the phone with my friend Mark Feinberg, […]

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Just like most of you, we are constantly re-evaluating the products we sell and support. We’ll go for a long time with a solution and then things change either with the product, the company, or with our product mix and clientele.

Just the other day, I was on the phone with my friend Mark Feinberg, who owns Home Theater Advisors. We are always bouncing ideas off of each other, and we frequently discuss what is working for us and what isn’t. Mark was a little frustrated with a tech support experience he had with Sonos recently. While the product is typically pretty solid and doesn’t require that many service calls, one thing we both agree with is that, when you do need support, that support, and the experience in getting it, isn’t very good.

In this instance, he was having an issue with using a Playbar and Sonos Amp for surround sound. He had both wired to the network switch, but the Amp wasn’t outputting audio. Tier 1 tech support told him that the Amp and Playbar had to be within 10-20 feet of each other because they could only work in surround sound mode wirelessly communicating over 5 GHz. That just didn’t sound right, as he had similar projects work in the past. So he asked to be escalated to Tier II tech support. That’s when he was reminded that Tier II requires you to schedule a call with them — usually days later. So he had to leave the client without surround sound AND schedule a return visit to solve the problem. The actual issue was resolved, but having to come back in order to talk to Tier II support is just a deal (and profit) killer. For the dealer channel, we should have immediate access to Tier II support.

My current concern with Sonos is the lack of third-party integration. I love that Sonos has pretty much every streaming service under the sun and once set up and working is ultra-reliable. But the end-user experience when integrated into a control system is sub-par. Even with the Crestron partnership and the pop out to the native Sonos app, it still is not as smooth and integrated as I and our clients would like.

So Mark and I started talking about what other options we have. Mark tried HEOS a year or so ago, but was underwhelmed by the drivers for Control4. I am thinking of giving them a shot. I’ll bring in a couple of players and integrate them into my test system to see how things go. I know support at Marantz is great, so I feel confident that it is for HEOS as well. Plus we already sell Marantz AVRs, so having HEOS built into the AVR is a huge benefit, especially being able to use HEOS to stream any audio from the AVR (including video audio) to any HEOS zone.

Mark is ordering a Triad One Amp and a Triad Nano soundbar for his office to play around more with Control4 audio in a multi-room environment (he already has his EA5 going into his AVR for a single zone of Control4 audio). He has been very happy with the Control4 solution. All he is really waiting on to make the switch to lead with Control4 audio is a stand-alone, powered speaker, like the HEOS1 or Sonos One. Plus he’ll have native integration with excellent search and 2-way feedback (exactly what I am looking for as well).

So here’s the big question for all of you, and we really want to hear your opinion and get your thoughts. Please consider the following questions and tweet your responses.

  1. What multiroom audio solution do you use?
  2. Why is that the right solution for you?
  3. How well does it integrate? Any drawbacks?
  4. How is tech support?

Let’s start a discussion! Make sure to include @ResiSys and @ToddAnthonyPuma in your tweets so we see them.

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Rewarding Clients for Rewarding You http://www.thesourcehometheater.com/2020/01/rewarding-clients-for-rewarding-you/ Tue, 07 Jan 2020 02:01:30 +0000 http://www.thesourcehometheater.com/?p=584 Looks like this is the week of talking about client referrals and rewards. I had come up with my blog idea over the holidays and then was so surprised to see that our good friend Henry Clifford had a very similar idea last Thursday! The great news is that I think our pieces go hand in […]

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Looks like this is the week of talking about client referrals and rewards. I had come up with my blog idea over the holidays and then was so surprised to see that our good friend Henry Clifford had a very similar idea last Thursday! The great news is that I think our pieces go hand in hand.

Over the holidays I was thinking about how to reward our best clients. Then I got to thinking about what “best clients” means. Are they the ones with the largest projects? The easiest to work with? The most understanding when things occasionally go sideways? I concluded that the best clients are those that help us grow our business. They are so happy with our work, our interactions, and the finished product that they rave to the friends and colleagues and generate referrals and additional work. I also wanted to have something to give to clients who allow us to come back with a professional photographer after all of the interior design is complete. Just like we do with the architects and designers we work closely with, we want show our appreciation, particularly around the holidays. So the big question then became, “How do we reward those clients?”

Like Henry, I wanted something tangible that the clients would appreciate. I also realize that a token of our appreciation is not what is going to keep the referrals flowing, but is instead just that – a token of our appreciation. As such, I have tried to make the gift/reward more personalized and relevant to their home.

I like to provide them something that adds value to them, and often I am able to provide something that adds value to us, too. For legacy clients who may not have the hardware to allow remote support, I will often come for an annual sit visit and bring an OvrC hub or Wattbox. While the client doesn’t necessarily know what these are, when I explain that we can now often reboot and fix issues remotely, they are thrilled. For other clients, I will add in a lamp dimmer, particularly if they do not already have smart lighting, giving them a taste of home automation. Still others I help expand their whole home audio with a Sonos sub for a secondary TV or a Sonos One for the bathroom.

Not only are the clients happy and we’ve added great value, but it also gets us back in the home and — more than once — it has led to additional work.

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Electronic House: Speaker Solution Goes Outside the Box, Sort Of http://www.thesourcehometheater.com/2019/11/electronic-house-speaker-solution-goes-outside-the-box-sort-of/ Wed, 13 Nov 2019 02:20:34 +0000 http://www.thesourcehometheater.com/?p=573 Usually the hook on installing in-wall loudspeakers is that they are hardly noticeable, unobtrusive and interior design-friendly because of their ability to blend in so well with the surrounding wall.

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Usually the hook on installing in-wall loudspeakers is that they are hardly noticeable, unobtrusive and interior design-friendly because of their ability to blend in so well with the surrounding wall.

In this case, the in-wall loudspeaker installation was done with a twist, rather somewhat calling attention to its design more than usual. It was a bit of a risky design move on the part of New York City-based custom electronics firm The Source Home Theater, but one that left both the homeowner and electronics pro very satisfied in the end.

It also illustrated the problem-solving and creativity that a pro can deliver to an intricate A/V installation.

For this home theater room, the project was actually a repair for a TriBeCa-neighborhood home whose lower level took a hit from Hurricane Sandy. Floorstanding loudspeakers, which served up the room’s front-channel audio previously, were damaged and this time around the owner wanted to make sure the speakers weren’t going to be placed on ground level.

“After the Sandy experience, everybody’s now kind of planning ahead like it’s going to happen again,” says The Source principal Todd Anthony Puma, whose company has dealt with a range of post-Sandy electronics issues.

So in considering both performance and aesthetic attributes, as well as potential future-proofing, Puma and lead installer Jason Johnson worked up an in-wall speaker solution for the front left and right channels (an in-ceiling speaker was installed previously and maintained as the center channel, so it would not interfere with the A/V cabinet below the 144-inch Screen Innovations screen). But then the problem became the lack of space inside the wall to properly accommodate the in-wall Paradigm Signature series models.

“We only had a couple of inches in the wall, so if the speaker was all the way in it would touch concrete and cause unwanted vibrations … and it would get damaged anyway,” Puma says.

The unique compromise was basically to pull the speaker out slightly, which The Source achieved in a savvy way by creating its own backboxes for the speakers as well as a bit of framing to fit into the extra space formed between the baffle and the wall. It was only a matter of inches, but it provided the solution and offered an interesting aesthetic element that the homeowner appreciated.

Johnson mocked up a couple of samples of the custom frame work, which led to the combination of making a backbox from bamboo to surround the loudspeaker inside the wall and mahogany frame for outside the wall. Puma says he went with bamboo because of its flexible and water-resilient attributes, and mahogany because of its looks and sonics. “I’m a guitar player and I think like one,” he says. “I thought if guitar players like the sound resonances of all these companies that make guitars out of mahogany, why wouldn’t we want to use that too?”

Now the uniquely placed in-wall speakers do not actually touch the wall, thereby reducing potential vibrations, but a visual byproduct was formed because The Source cut the wooden framing so it would be smoothly flush with the projection screen frame. The homeowner then painted the mahogany gray to match the wall.

“She was wary at first, and couldn’t understand the theory behind what we were doing (she has in-wall speakers throughout her home), but she said it turned out better than what she expected,” Puma says. “She went from not believing to turning into a huge fan.”

System Design and Installation
The Source Home Theater
New York, NY

Equipment
Loudspeakers: Paradigm
Subwoofer: SVS
Projector: JVC
Screen: Screen Innovations
A/V amplification and processing: Anthem
Blu-ray: Marantz
Control: Crestron

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Integrator Weighs Up The Pros and Cons of Amazon Alexa as Failure Rates Climb http://www.thesourcehometheater.com/2019/11/integrator-weighs-up-the-pros-and-cons-of-amazon-alexa-as-failure-rates-climb/ Tue, 12 Nov 2019 02:20:52 +0000 http://www.thesourcehometheater.com/?p=576 2016 was undoubtedly a big year for all things voice command, the star of the show being Amazon Alexa, which is now compatible with a plethora of home automation devices, many of which launched at CEDIA 2016. In fact, with Alexa voice activation integration announcements being announced left, right and centre, Amazon became one of the show’s main talking points.

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2016 was undoubtedly a big year for all things voice command, the star of the show being Amazon Alexa, which is now compatible with a plethora of home automation devices, many of which launched at CEDIA 2016. In fact, with Alexa voice activation integration announcements being announced left, right and centre, Amazon became one of the show’s main talking points.

But with this momentum comes inevitable teething problems. CE Pro Europe talks to Todd Anthony Puma of top US integration company, The Source Home Theater Installation & Design to uncover issues installers are having as a direct result of the popularity of voice command.

What are your thoughts on voice control, in particular the Amazon Alexa platform?
Voice control is a great addition to the user interface toolbox. Just as we always recommend that clients have a handheld remote in the home and do not rely entirely on touchpanels, we also are strongly recommending that clients do not rely entirely on voice control. There needs to be another user interface in the home: touch panels, mobile devices, remotes, etc. At this point, voice control is cool and fun, but is not reliable or robust enough to handle the every day workload.

While we don’t have any direct experience with Google Home at this point, our expectation is that the upsides and risks will be very similar to Echo/Alexa.

“We are strongly recommending that clients do not rely entirely on voice control”

Do you see an upside of voice control becoming so popular?
Absolutely. It is opening up discussions with clients new and old. Existing clients are reaching out to us to integrate Alexa into their existing control system. This gives us an opportunity to interact with this client again, on their request and without it being a ‘service call.’ They are getting a cool new toy, so they are in an upbeat mood and amenable to other, new innovations and services we can provide.

For new clients, it is another reason for them to want to use an integrator and not do something on their own. While setting up an Alexa device is pretty easy, it can be intimidating to some people and it does require quite a bit of after sales service to keep it functioning.

“We have found accuracy to be approximately 50-75%, meaning most commands have to be repeated at least once”

What challenges does Alexa present for the integrator?
At this point the biggest challenge is reliability. We don’t see Alexa as a threat. However we do explicitly tell our clients, multiple times during the set up, that this is a very new technology and as such may not be reliable and may require multiple visits in the future if it falls offline or does not work properly. It is not hardware-designed for our industry and therefore is not as reliable as the systems we are accustomed to installing.

“It is not hardware-designed for our industry and therefore is not as reliable as the systems we are accustomed to installing”

What have your professional experiences with Alexa been like?
We have set up Alexa both in our own homes as well as in a couple of homes for very tech-savvy clients. It has been a challenge to say the least. The integration with control systems leads to a much higher failure rate on individual commands. We have found accuracy to be approximately 50-75%, meaning most commands have to be repeated at least once. We have had several issues where we have lost complete communication between Alexa and the control system, requiring a service call to reset the Alexa (sometimes a few times) and re-acquire all of the control system commands.

But, when it works, it is pretty amazing. Clients love showing it off to their friends, even more so than the base control system they have or the touch panel they paid over $1,000 for.

“[Alexa] is opening up discussions with clients new and old. Existing clients are reaching out to us to integrate Alexa into their existing control system”

What do other integrators say about it?
Most are cautiously optimistic – mainly for the reasons stated. It will be a long time before voice control replaces the need for other user interfaces (if ever). But the reliability and increase in service calls is a major concern, not to the mention the bad taste it can leave in a client’s mouth if they spend money for us to set it up and it doesn’t work as they expect, or worse, it loses communication with the control system and stops working with the home automation system entirely.

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Having the Tough Conversations http://www.thesourcehometheater.com/2019/08/having-the-tough-conversations/ Fri, 16 Aug 2019 03:50:35 +0000 http://www.thesourcehometheater.com/?p=531 How do you make customers realize the value and necessity of subscribing to your service plans?

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My good friend Mark Feinberg, owner of Home Theater Advisors (HTA), and I talk several times a week. Sometimes it is about our families, what we did for the weekend, etc. Most of the time it is about our businesses and our industry as a whole. We bounce ideas off of each other constantly — whether it is how to handle a tricky technical situation, talk about the newest technology and how to implement it, or how to handle a challenging customer interaction. Today we were talking about a situation Mark ran into recently when a customer, who declined a paid 24/7/365 support plan, was charged for providing remote support.

First, some background. Home Theater Advisors is small shop (owner and two installers) and specializes in what they consider the “middle-market” — their projects range in size from $5000 single-room solutions to about $75,000 for a fully fitted NYC townhouse. They sell a lot of Sonos, Control4, Araknis, and Eero.

About six months ago, Home Theater Advisors installed an AV system for a client with the following:

  • Surround sound system in one room with a Control4 universal remote solution
  • All control via Serial or IR (see network bullet below)
  • Two additional rooms with Samsung Frame TVs using the original FiOS remote
  • Sonos throughout the home, with the two Frame TVs connected via ARC to the Sonos AMPs for those rooms
  • Network provided by FiOS — client wanted to “see how it works” before upgrading to a professional-grade system
  • Wattbox and OvrC Pro for remote support

As we both always do, Mark explained to the client throughout the process that there will often be some glitches in the first week or two of heavy usage and that HTA would take care of any issues for the first 60 days. He also presented the 24/7/365 support offerings (powered by Parasol), including free remote support. The plan documentation (a very easy-to-digest one-sheeter) also clearly states that those not on a support plan will pay for service calls and remote support.

Within the first few days of installation there were some tweaks the client wanted done to the surround system, including custom soundfield programming, and some tweaks to the calibration to make dialog even more prominent. The client also emailed with some questions about the system that he had forgotten during the handover process and HTA answered them quickly. When responding on Monday to a small issue that came in over the weekend, Mark reminded the client about the 24/7 support offerings, as the client had not yet signed up and had not actively declined. The client took offense to being sold a support plan for his $30,000 system (he liked to throw that number around a lot) that was still being tweaked. Mark apologized for any offense he took, and agreed the optics of discussing the support plan while providing warrantied support could be misconstrued.

Fast forward five months later and the client is having issues with the Sonos and ARC. The client emailed to describe the problem. Mark did the research and sent the client a few ideas and links, with the ultimate solution being to re-program the FiOS remote for the Frame TV as it seems the FiOS remote is no longer controlling volume. The solution worked and Mark sent a bill for the remote support. Again, the client took offense and during a phone call to discuss, cannot believe he is being “nickel-and-dimed after spending $30,000.” Mark did as I would do, and he waived the fee and sent the client a zeroed-out invoice.

He also reiterated to the client that future remote support is billable time and resent the information on support plans.

So what are the lessons Mark and I learned from this after rehashing it together? We came up with three key takeaways

  • Continue to always sell support plans, even when client does not seem interested. On every support call, reiterate that faster support is available with a dedicated line and personnel for those on support plans. Mark has added a line to his email signature that says, “Never wait for tech support with our 24/7/365 support plans” and has a link to his website to sign up.
  • Have printed material. Give clients one-sheeters or handouts spelling out what they get with and without a paid support plan. Be very clear about the costs associated for service without a plan—both in writing and verbally—before, during, and after the project installation.
  • Have a middle man if you can. Do not provide direct access to the company owner. When clients know they are talking to the owner, they will always push for more. Many of our clients are business owners or senior executives themselves and know how important good customer service is. They will maximize that knowledge to their advantage. If they are speaking with someone else they are less likely to push as hard. That middle man can be your lead tech who takes all service calls (and is paid accordingly), your office manager, sales person, service manager, or even your spouse. My wife is also the office manager for The Source. She takes all of these calls. Even better, she uses her maiden name professionally so clients do not realize she is my wife, making it easier for her to be firm and not have them press her as hard as they would if they knew she was my wife.
    Unfortunately Mark’s company does not have the infrastructure for this, so he is still first line of defense for those not on a support plan

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Setting and Meeting Expectations http://www.thesourcehometheater.com/2019/08/setting-and-meeting-expectations/ Mon, 05 Aug 2019 03:50:38 +0000 http://www.thesourcehometheater.com/?p=532 Communication is key in client relations.

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My good friend’s wife works in HR at a Wall Street investment bank. We were talking recently about how such a large percentage of the compensation on Wall Street is in bonuses and how hard that must be for the bankers to plan for. She said something that hit home — they should never be surprised because it is all about setting expectations. They make sure that throughout the year the bankers know where they stand in terms of performance. They should never be told something at an end-of-year review (when they are also given their bonus number) that they didn’t know was coming. Communication is key.

We need to do the same thing with our customers. We need to make sure we are setting expectations throughout the process — from the first consult, through every site meeting, and into handover. I remember being at a Crestron training years ago and Eric Roach said to me, “Always set realistic expectations.” That said, you need to be careful that you don’t undersell and seem negative, but you need to be realistic as well.

If the client has dreams of controlling everything in their home with Amazon Alexa being the primary interface, it is important to let them know that Alexa is far from perfect, commands will need be repeated, and you will find yourself shouting at it. And don’t forget something that has tripped me up many times — the “I’ll give it a shot and see how it works for you” method. That can get you into a lot of trouble because the client doesn’t remember that you said it is iffy — they just remember that they are going to get their smart coffee maker to make coffee in the morning when they activate their wake-up scene in the bedroom. Even if you get it to work the first time, it may not work later because either a third API changes (see Google and “Works with Nest”) or even an update from your control system may cause an incompatibility.

Not only do we need to make sure the expectations are set, but any and all foreseeable (and some not foreseeable) issues need to be put in writing and communicated to the client. We always warn clients that firmware updates from third party devices — everything from TVs to AVRs to thermostats to AppleTVs — can break or limit integration. There will usually be a solution, but it may require a service call. Remember: document, document, document. Every conversation, every decision. Provide daily project updates when on site with all changes or decisions that have been agreed to. Moving the TV over three inches to account for the light switch? Put it in writing in your daily or weekly update to the client.

And not only is it that things change both during the project and with third-party integrations, but things can change with product we sell as well. From day one, we emphasize our support plans and the fact that there will be hiccups, downtime, and service calls. We are working with disparate technologies, not plumbing. Things are very delicate, are subject to interactions with dozens or more of other devices, and need some TLC. The relationship with a home tech pro is long term, not set-it-and-forget-it.

We Find it very useful to have analogies to put things into perspective. Some great comparisons include cars — they need regular service and maintenance; computers — need frequent software updates and security patches, as well as replacement; and even fashion — they are not wearing the same clothes they wore 20 years ago. Even if they are still functional, they aren’t up to date.

The best way to know how to explain all of this to a client is to put yourself in their shoes, which leads me to the second thing Eric said to me: “Always eat the groceries.” This means you shouldn’t just buy the equipment and install it for your clients; you should also install it in your own home and live with it. Understand all of the quirks and all of the work-arounds, and even the added bonuses and interesting ways you find to use it. Give your techs and sales team an allowance to put gear into their own home so they can speak to clients from a point of knowledge and they can troubleshoot more effectively.

If you eat the groceries, you will know what expectations to set and you will be able to consistently meet those expectations, resulting in successful projects and happy clients.

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