For the past 30 years, a core set of assumptions has remained the same in the security industry, despite the fact that customer expectations, economic realities, technological complexities and the availability of skillful technicians have changed.
The unchanged assumptions are that integrators “manage” and “control” the relationship with end users; manufacturers don’t have any direct relationship with end users; but the manufacturer needs to provide top-notch technical support when the integrator cannot figure something out for the end user. The underlying belief is that a shared customer experience is simply not possible.
However, the changing dynamics of the security industry are challenging these assumptions and perceptions that have prevented the industry from progressing as fast and efficiently as other technology sectors. New possibilities for a shared customer experience and new economic models that benefit everyone are emerging. The cracks in the existing model of customer support are being exposed. The proverbial dam is about to burst.
Will this be the security industry’s breaking point? Will this be the industry’s much needed “paradigm shift,” with a positive outcome for integrators, manufacturers and end users?
The following are defining elements of the security industry today. They must be recognized and understood before they can be improved:
- An incomplete, fragmented or downright broken customer care ecosystem for end users
- A lack of qualified talent in the industry, as a whole
- The need for more training
- An outdated financial model for customer support that is putting manufacturers at higher risk, while leaving integrators wandering, as if in a desert
- End user expectations that are fundamentally changing, including an increasing desire to see integrators and manufacturers work together more to solve problems
- Technologies that are becoming more complex
- A short-term focus that is hurting integrators more than they know
These dynamics are what is bringing the security industry to a seminal moment in its history: either a breaking point or a paradigm shift. Attempting to hang on to the old assumptions – the “us vs. them” mentality and the silos that prevent sharing – is unsustainable.
Fractured Customer Care Ecosystem
The amount of time that integrators spend contacting manufacturers to fix end users’ problems is increasing. At the same time, manufacturers are kept on the fringe of the customer care ecosystem.
It may surprise some end users to know that customer care is not a commonly shared activity between integrators and manufacturers. End users may think they have unlimited support from the manufacturer of their security system, but they typically do not – unless they have a maintenance contract or pay for factory support as they go.
Historical data has shown that many integrators cannot or will not sell manufacturers’ maintenance contracts to end users. The current customer care ecosystem remains built on the old assumption that services cannot be delivered jointly by the integrator and the manufacturer. The outcome is widespread complacency with less-than-ideal customer support practices that reflect poorly on integrators’ reputations and perceived value.
Lack of Qualified Personnel
It is no secret that the security industry is suffering from a lack of qualified technical personnel. It is becoming harder and harder to find skillful techs who have the know-how to set up and troubleshoot access control, managed power, and security video management.
Integrators, as a result, are drawing from a tighter pool of qualified candidates, creating more friction with the demands of end users to receive more complete customer support. It also makes it more difficult for integrators to hold on to top talent. Often, a technical person joins the company, gets trained, learns from mistakes, and becomes a valuable technical support resource. Then another integrator or a manufacturer convinces the newly-minted expert to join them, leaving the integrator that trained him without his skills and talents.
Consequently, the end user gets inconsistent technical support because of the stress on the customer care ecosystem and the failure to have maintenance agreements in place with manufacturers, who could supplement integrators’ service offerings with product-specific support. Not every technical support person is going to be trained on every technology – the training costs are simply too high, no matter the size of the integration business – so having access to manufacturers’ resources and expertise is essential for end users.
More Training Is Needed
A solution to the lack of qualified technical personnel is more training. Organizations that provide training are creating opportunities for integrators to expand their capabilities to service customers, but a disturbing trend has emerged.
Integrators are too often reluctant to invest in training their people. Understandably, they would rather have employees out on the road generating billable hours. The de facto practice has technical personnel learn on the job by calling the help line of a manufacturer while at the customer site. But every time an integrator’s technician calls the manufacturer for an end user who does not have a maintenance contract, the manufacturer and the integrator stand to lose money, potentially a significant amount.
Outdated Financial Model for Customer Support
The existing financial model for customer support is based on 20th-century assumptions about integrators continuing to be the front-line service and support provider for end users. But manufacturers cannot be expected to provide full technical support when there is no sharing of revenue to cover the cost of such a value-added service.
Most end users are willing to pay for value and, as noted, they are increasingly demanding to have direct contact with manufacturers in addition to integrators. This should translate into maintenance agreements between end users and manufacturers. The manufacturer must be allowed to sell its expertise and, in turn, share that revenue with the integrator.
End User Expectations Are Fundamentally Changing
One of the most important things that end users are increasingly demanding is the best tech support possible from the most qualified source for fixing software and hardware. Put more bluntly: End users want to talk to the factory. They may love and need their integrator, but when it comes to a problem with the product, they want to talk to the manufacturer who knows the product best.
This shift has been a long time coming and is the real fallout of the famed IT convergence. It requires bringing the most appropriate people into the customer care equation, whether from the integrator or the manufacturer. This approach to care would demonstrate true customer-centricity.
How valuable are the extra layers of support that the manufacturer of a security product can provide? Many end users are not only saying they want to have direct access to manufacturers alongside the integrator, but increasingly they are demanding it.
Technologies Continue to Become More Complex
A new level of cooperation is needed between integrators and manufacturers because of the complexities of newer technologies. Providing tech support to end users is not what it was like 20 years ago, 10 years ago, or even five years ago. The intricacies have become numerous, which is why a new customer support model is needed.
Integrators should not be expected to know everything about everything. That does not mean that they do not bring value, but when there is a problem with a product and the integrator cannot fix it, then it is time for the maintenance arrangement to kick in. It is only fair to manufacturers, integrators and, ultimately, end users, who will be able to get the support they need from the right people at the right time.
Short-Term Focus Hurts Integrators
Integrators may be afraid of having the manufacturer on site because they fear that the end user’s perception of the value of their services will be diminished. They are afraid that the end user will simply cut them out and just work with the manufacturer.
One of the ways that some integrators, driven by this fear, are reacting is by presenting inflated prices of manufacturers’ support contracts to end users, because they do not really want the manufacturer involved. Integrators who practice this method of pricing are shooting themselves in the foot. The lack of sharing is hurting the entire industry.
Time to Share
The good news is that a solution to this problem exists, and both integrators and manufacturers can adopt and use it to the benefit of all. The solution is a shared customer care experience, which will reshape the economics of the security industry by eliminating the fractured ecosystem that operates all too commonly today.
The new shared model does not eliminate or diminish the role of integrators. Instead, it adds extra layers of support that align with the current technological realities and the expectations of end users. It is a model that fairly compensates manufacturers who provide technical troubleshooting remotely or onsite on behalf of and in conjunction with integrators.
Trust is key. For the security industry to thrive over the next decade and beyond, it needs to cultivate maximum trust between integrators and manufacturers. It also needs to cultivate fairness and end user-centricity. If manufacturers and integrators are to share in the care, they must also share in the fare.
Steve Wagner is president of Open Options.