I bought a new car recently and it got me thinking about the future of pro AV.
First, consider this piece from The New York Times: “Technology Problems Top a List of Car Complaints.” Basically, all the new technology going into cars is cool and all, but it’s still technology. Ever have any issue with the cool new technology you bought for your home? For your board room? Re-booting everything has become a part of life.
So I’m buying my car. It’s fairly no-frills, though it does come with a backup camera, which, with two new teenage drivers, seems like a nice feature. We’re settling up in the finance department at the end of a long buying process and I get the extended warranty pitch. Now, as a personal rule, I don’t buy extended warranties for most things. Clearly, there are many like me, because the car financier doesn’t push and nods politely. Then, in sort of a confidential aside, she says something like:
“I understand. And with this car, it’s probably not a big deal. But these days, with all the new technology going into cars, like parking assist and collision avoidance, we really recommend extended warranties, because there’s so much more that can go wrong.”
And at that moment, when my first reaction would usually be to sneer, “Of course you recommend extended warranties,” I actually felt like I was having an honest moment with someone in car sales (?!).
Yes, my new car is as base a model as I could buy, but it still has that backup camera and a touch screen. And I have this nagging suspicion that one of those is going to malfunction, or freeze up, or otherwise require a trip to the repair shop before, say, the engine (knock on wood). Yes indeed, I can see a time when I buy an extended warranty/service package for a car so chock-full of tiny computers that the likelihood I’d actually need it will be exponentially higher.
In AV, “service” is sort of an amorphous term. When we talk about AV service sales catching up with AV product sales, we’re talking about design and integration service in addition to what everyone needs to be incorporating these days: namely managed or other aftermarket service/contracts. Increasingly, it’s the service that AV companies can provide that will prove their ongoing value.
Design and integration have been like bread and butter during the impressive growth of this industry. AV pros are expert at taking disparate parts and turning them into a unified experience. And let’s face it: That’s not easy. But could the service focus need shifting?
You hear a lot these days about systems that don’t have as many disparate parts; i.e. “plug-and-play” systems that people can drop into rooms with no-muss, no-fuss. Such a paradigm doesn’t work across all multi-component AV systems, but, for example, collaboration systems seem to be going this route. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that collaboration systems become more integrated; more off-the-shelf — you buy one and drive it right off the lot. They’re still going to evolve technologically. Even an AV system that is, for lack of a better term, “plug-and-play” will become more intricate and complex — thereby useful — though the user may never see that complexity. That is…
… Until some feature he/she can’t see stops working. And as long as you sold them that system, you need to be the one they call — under an extended contract — to make it work. Sure, when that cool new (hypothetical) feature on the collaboration “hub” that recognizes you when you enter the room and says, “Hi Brad. Ready for your meeting to start?” stops working, some customers may just do without it. I suspect that if my new backup camera goes on the fritz, I’ll just look over my shoulder when I back up — until it drives me crazy that my kid keeps backing into garbage cans or something.
Which is the long way of saying, simply, that when it comes to modern technology, service is king. There’s a reason smartphone repair shops are flourishing. It doesn’t matter if customers can buy an all-in-one touchscreen conferencing system. They still need a handy 800 number to call when things aren’t quite right. Make sure it’s yours.