December 19, 2012
| by EH Staff
by Chris Chiarella
Apart from finding a spouse, choosing the right home integrator (aka installer, custom electronics pro, electronics systems contractor) might be one of the most important relationship decisions we ever have to make. We’re not just purchasing components, we could be entering into a long-term relationship. Then again, it is a serious investment, with workers occupying our inner sanctum, and fervent dreams of push-button ease and high-definition glory.
So we need to go in with our eyes wide open, understanding the essential topics that must be broached, ones that can enlighten and empower us when we’re ready to close the deal.
To help guide our readers in their future projects, we have hereby attempted to narrow down this list of questions that cut to the chase, formulated to elicit the answers homeowners need to make informed choices.
1. What are the integrators’ training and certifications?
The technology of electronic home integration has never been more sophisticated, and not all of the professionals out there are fully qualified for the projects they take on. Some potential clients are lured only by the lowest bid and don’t take the time to ensure that the people working on their home have undergone the necessary training for the job. They just take it on faith that the work will be done correctly, which can be a costly assumption in the long run. A well-trained installer is proud of his credentials and won’t hesitate to share them!
2. Does the integrator have references, specifically on projects of similar size and scope?
References are the lifeblood of the home integrator. A job well-done for a happy homeowner is the ultimate “win,” and so the thumbs-up from a previous customer—one not unlike yourself—is a great way for the client to establish a comfort level by proving that the integrator has successfully completed similar projects. Again, this information should be freely offered, so don’t be afraid to ask.
3. Do they have photographs of completed projects?
Word of mouth is one thing, but a picture is worth a thousand of ‘em, right? Apart from the beauty of the finished product, a photograph conveys important sub-text: The homeowner thought enough of the work—and the company behind it—to allow them back to take photos, and everyone can preen over the results. But strictly on face value, photographs will show the quality of work and attention to detail that the integrator puts into his projects.
4. How long has the integrator has been in business?
A well-established integrator simply has more hands-on experience, has encountered more challenges and has therefore figured out more solutions. A difficult customer might be the biggest challenge of all, so you can surely appreciate the skills of a pro who has turned numerous frowns upside-down. Successful years/decades past also suggest that he will be more likely to still be around in the future to service the client’s needs.
How many similarly-sized projects has the integrator done in the past?
If this is the first time an integrator has done, say, an end-to-end whole-home project, he is far less likely to have a successful outcome as opposed to one who routinely performs those types of jobs. It’s not solely a matter of experience, but specifically experience that matches your needs.
5. Does the integrator have a showroom location or office that the client is able to visit?
A modern, welcoming showroom is an indication of how stable the organization is. A competitor operating a smaller, home-based installation business might lack the resources to execute larger projects, or to be there to maintain his previously installed systems in the future.
6. What is the experience level of the company’s installers and technicians?
Even the best techs—the men on the front lines pf the job—have all had to overcome at least some minor (in some cases major) obstacles while installing a system. A seasoned installer/technician brings those experiences with him to subsequent jobs and knows how to best deal with most surprises as they occur. If you’ll pardon the cliché, there really is no substitute for experience.
Check out these great professionally installed Home of the Year winners.
7. What is the support system behind the salesperson?
An African proverb states that “It takes a village to raise a child.” In the consumer electronics world, it takes a dedicated team to see a job through from the contract to the popping of champagne corks and the watching of the first movie. The right salesperson should have all the answers you need and inspire confidence in your purchase, but ultimately the work is only going to be as good as the weakest link in the chain, so get to know them all: the designers, electricians, A/V experts and so on.
8. What is the warranty period on materials and workmanship and how is service is expedited?
No one wants to imagine that any part of their fancy new custom installation will fail, but preparing for the worst case scenario today might spare you some fretful hours tomorrow. How long should you expect the dealer to stand behind his work? What is the procedure should the need for a service call arise? And the promptness of a repair/replacement visit is one of the distinguishing factors between a good integrator and a great one.
9. Does the integrator offer extended service agreements and/or system maintenance contracts?
Find out how long the standard protection lasts on your new home system, and then ask if extended coverage is available either through the dealer or the manufacturer. System maintenance contracts are also worth investigating, a sort of “umbrella policy” against a multitude of potential misfortunes. Again, here’s hoping you never need to take advantage of it, but a small investment now can bring priceless peace of mind down the road.
10. Does the integrator have a project manager who will be responsible for overseeing all aspects of the project?
Having a single contact, a “point man” to oversee the project and all of the stakeholders involved, will drastically reduce any confusion during the execution of the installation. Have a question? A complaint? A new idea? Find out who your go-to-guy is, then program his number in your phone.
11. Who are the vendor partners that the integrator works with and how long has the integrator been a dealer of those proposed vendors?
We can infer a certain confidence from the brands and products that an integrator provides, as they are typically well-researched and backed by solid guarantees and reliable service from the manufacturer. And because the level of support that a vendor/manufacturer provides to the integrator will directly impact the integrator’s ability to support the client, assurances of a strong working relationship “behind the scenes” can go a long way to maintaining total customer satisfaction.
12. How long will it take to fully complete the job?
While a finished product on the scale of The Sistine Chapel would be swell, hopefully no one will be writing a book entitled The Agony and the Ecstasy based upon your home integration experience. Everyone who has ever undertaken a large home project has wondered, “When will they be done and out of here?” This is your turf, so you have every right to be involved in setting the deadlines and enforcing them. Go in with a reasonable timeline in mind, but be prepared to adjust those expectations: Exceptional electronic home systems, much like a certain Italian capital, aren’t built in a day.
Special thanks to Brian Perreault of Barrett’s Technology Solutions for his generous wisdom.
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