Tech Advisor: The Answer to the Question is the Ever-Annoying, ‘It Depends’
It’s 2020, and we’ve come a long way since the advent of smart home control systems so expensive that only the very wealthy could afford them. We live in a world chock full of choices (maybe too many!). Consumers are often confused by the array of shiny objects available to make their lives easier, leading some of them to seek out the services of home technology professionals like my company, Livewire. We cater to these harried consumers by collaborating with them to pick the best solution. Our presentations are oriented around showing choices using a “Door #1, Door #2” analogy. By stepping back and assuming the role of trusted advisor, we avoid being labeled as trying to “sell” something.
I’ve always found that the best professionals seem to answer questions with another question. Ever try getting your lawyer to actually tell you what to do? All of the good ones give options, then step back and let you decide. Home technology is no different. The second we move into advice-giving mode is the moment we lose control of the sale. By staying on the same side of the table with the client, shoulder to shoulder, we stay involved in the process because we’re building the most important element in any relationship – trust.
Here are the options we present whenever trying to help a client decide whether or not a control system makes sense for them.
Door #1 – One App to Rule Them All
We explain to the client that just like a universal remote, home technology can be controlled through a single user experience. Manufacturers like Crestron, Savant, Control4, Elan, and others offer solutions able to control audio, video, security, lighting control, video surveillance, HVAC, and more through a single app. These companies generally manufacture not only the control system software but many of the subsystem components as well. These subsystems may or may not be best in class and sometimes are a function of the control system company needing to diversify revenue streams.
- Large homes or estates
- Clients who are passionate about technology and willing to tolerate periodic tech SNAFUs
- Can be simple
- Subsystems like HVAC, security, and lighting can talk to each other
- Remote management and support is simpler with a single-vendor approach
- One wringable neck when the system needs support
- Systems often have a single point of failure with no redundancy or failover capability
- May be missing deeper functionality, which might annoy more technical users
- Easy to complicate with poor system design and programming
Door #2 – Separate Apps
Picking the best lighting control system, best multiroom audio system, etc. decouples the buyer from feeling like they’re beholden to any single manufacturer.
- Clients who don’t mind hopping around between apps
- Any size home depending on client preference
- Offers up maximum choice to client
- Can be much less expensive than a traditional control system approach
- No single point of failure
- Subsystems stand on their own and aren’t impacted by failure of another
- Switching between apps can be confusing for clients
- Systems don’t talk to each other
- Updating and servicing can be confusing to track and monitor
Door #3 – Hybrid Approach
We’ll make tweaks to our control system offering by substituting in best-in-class subsystems while preserving the control layer (such as Control4 working with a Lutron lighting control system). This can enable a good blend of Doors 1 and 2. Just because a control system company makes everything, it doesn’t always mean putting all our eggs in one basket is a good idea from a reliability or functionality perspective.
- Clients who don’t care about how the system works; they just want it to work.
- Door #1 customers who had a bad experience in another home.
- Offers a compromise between the first two system approaches (Doors 1 and 2).
- Allows best-in-show subsystems to live in the home and communicate with each other
- Individual third-party components may occasionally experience connectivity issues with parent control systems
- Potential for finger pointing when issues arise (particularly with customer-provided gear)
Door #4 – Siloed Control
Sometimes universal remotes in each room are all that’s needed. When we review this option with the client, it allows them to let their guard down. We try to read body language as best we can, and during this part of the conversation we’ll usually see crossed arms unfolded with folks leaning forward and engaging more as they start to understand we’re really serious about partnering with them.
Door #5 – No Control at All
We often call this the “two cans and a string” approach. We go out of our way to explain that control should only come into play if it’s going to help remove friction. We talk about this approach to really hit home the message that the client is in the driver’s seat, not us. It’s been well documented that consumers contemplating any kind of home improvement work will seek to understand all their options, including those they have no intention of choosing. Even if it means they don’t hire us to work with them, we want them informed and comfortable. As a result, we find that Door #5 serves to either qualify them into one of the other approaches or self-select out of our process. We find it’s a great way to avoid wasting their time and ours.
For us, the answer to the question “Should I Install A Control System?” is the ever-annoying “It depends.” We’ll keep refining our customer interactions as technology evolves, always keeping simplicity and trust-building at the forefront.