How to Avoid AV Information Overload

One of the most disappointing things I face is spending time going over different options for someone’s new home’s entertainment and automation system and having them leave my showroom saying, “Wow! Now I’m even more confused than when I started!” (More disappointing is the, “Oh, I wish I’d come to you to do my system!” regret that comes when they can’t get the other guy/company to come back to finish or service the system.)

While I take some of the blame for this confusion—I’m the “expert” in this interaction, so minimizing confusion and imparting knowledge is a huge part of my job—many times some of it falls on the customer. This confusion is often due to a few reasons, but typically it’s because the customer wasn’t prepared, waited too long, asked the wrong questions, or never said they were lost.

Preparation Is Key
You wouldn’t spend all winter indoors and then spend all day on a Maui beach without expecting something terrible to happen. If you were smart, you’d prepare your pasty body with a base tan and apply varying degrees of sunscreen. Similarly, you should do a little prep prior to going AV shopping. There’s tons of readily available information out there. Regardless of the subject—automation, home theater, music distribution, gamma curves—you can get a nice base tan of knowledge to help you more readily understand what a knowledgeable salesperson is talking about and know if the options he’s proposing fit your needs.

Failure to plan can definitely be planning to fail, and I can’t tell you how many people contact us just days before their project is ready to begin. I mean, they didn’t just wake up one morning and poof!—their new house was mostly built or their renovation virtually completed. By waiting until the last minute, you not only risk the company not being able to schedule you in or waiting on items needing to be ordered, you put pressure on yourself similar to cramming for a final. People often come into my showroom in a whirlwind frenzy, often fresh from visiting the lighting showroom, looking at plumbing fixtures and window treatments, etc. By this point, their minds are so distracted and filled with myriads of other bits of information, they couldn’t possibly take it all in.

Triaging Questions
There may be no such thing as a dumb question (a saying I’ve come to doubt, especially considering some of the questions I’ve been asked over the years, such as, “You mean I have to have a DVD in my player in order to watch a movie?!”). But there can be a time when there are too many questions, even if they are good ones. I’ve had people—usually electrical engineers—ask things like, “What kind of tool do you use to terminate this wire?” or “What’s the sensitivity rating of this speaker?” Sure, that might be tangentially beneficial information, but it’s way down the list of questions you really should be asking. Other questions like, “How many inputs does that TV have?” or “How many watts is that?” are also usually irrelevant in modern systems. Generally start with big-picture questions like, “How could I conceal all of the electronics?” or “What are my options for surround sound/music in this room?” or “Will I be able to use my smartphone or tablet to control this?”

Ask for Help
I suck at taking driving directions. I mean, suck-diddly-uck. My wife, on the other hand, is so great, her sister calls her the Homing Pigeon. When someone is about to give me directions, I tell them, “Talk to my wife. In fact, don’t even look at me, because you’ll think I’m getting it, and I’m totally not.” If technology is not your strong suit, or the salesperson is describing something you don’t understand, tell them right then and ask if they can re-explain it or demonstrate it for you. A good salesperson should be able to break it down for you in a way that you will grok. Merely nodding and saying, “Yeah, yeah, OK, got it,” is how you end up driving miles out of the way. Trust me on that one.

With a little effort on your part, you will not only avoid being overloaded with info, but you’ll ensure you get the system that is perfect for you.