Cable Technology Feature Article
An Operators' Guide to Success with Home Automation, Control and Monitoring Services
By Bob Wallace, VP of Content
Assuming consumers are educated, ready and able to sign up for new home monitoring and control services from telcos and cablecos is a dangerous game that could conclude with an anticipated fertile new revenue ground turning to dust.
Consumers are still struggling to understand the often-changing ins, outs, pricing, promos, combinations, commitments and super fine print that goes with home voice/Internet and TV bundles, offered by warring service providers where they reside. And that’s for residences that still sign up for subscription-based pay-TV bundles.
Simply direct-mailing pieces to the consumer masses (spanning all demographics) pitching home monitoring and control services is a sure recipe for disaster, even with an occasional TV ad. This approach presupposes knowledge of these areas on behalf of consumers, some of which aren’t fully using their TV remotes and think triple play is baseball terminology. Given all that should have been learned from the bundled services battles, how to best proceed should be clear.
Back to School
Service providers need to pretend that potential subscribers are taking a 101 class in a completely new topic that they have zero knowledge of or experience in. Start at the beginning and keep it simple. Educate. Focus on answering question before they are asked.
Given that people are unlikely to buy what they don’t understand and/or have buyer’s remorse afterward, the smart service provider would use all the direct mail paper and instead produce an entry-level guidebook to the services for distribution to the same potential customer masses.
Call it “Home Monitoring & Control for Newbies.” The publication needs to first describe, in neutral, non-marketing or banded terms, what the services are, how they work and what they allow you to do. Your grandparents should be able to explain it to you and vice versa. Use visuals where needed but no PowerPoint-type content. Those who are savvier than beginners can skip ahead. More importantly, those that aren’t knowledgeable won’t be left behind.
Also skip industry acronyms. Guidebooks aren’t intended to lose people.
Many consumers are aware of third-party, alarm monitoring services as they have been available for decades, but with few bells and whistles, let alone remote monitoring by subscribers. If this vanilla offering is part of what you offer, emphasize differences or focus on the larger, more robust home offering. Or leave it to a long FAQ at the end.
Controlling utilities in the home – heat, AC and lighting among them – is great. Explaining how consumers can save money and simplify their lives is far more important. General benchmarks are always helpful. Case studies are gold but testimonial quotes alone lack measureable value.
Using case studies from enterprises that are well-versed in facility optimization through control should make a strong case for the operator –provided services.
Anticipate questions at the lowest level before they arise. And to be safe, add a glossary and beefy FAQ at the end of the guidebook. Continue to stay away from operator specific mentions, branding, terms and so on. Consumers need to learn about the service generally first, not the provider.
Installation, not Frustration
Next comes what the service entails. Define the installation process. Explain the components. (Use contextual pictures.) Be honest up front to avoid surprises, confusion and backfires later on. Not everyone wanted to buy TV- home services bundles that required digging up their lawns or cutting down trees (for line of sight to a satellite) to connect to. Backlash is a killer. Same for negative word of mouth.
Lay out the post order process, step by step. Consumers want to know what to expect and when. Far too much effort has been spent on the sale of TV services and far too little on post-sale anything. Don’t make the same mistakes.
And unless you are targeting tech-savvy consumers, who are only part of the masses, don’t focus on any type of self-installation approach. The do-it-yourselfers already have for the most part. Trying to offload even parts of the installation and setup process to consumers with a new and multidimensional service is asking for big trouble. If the service eventually becomes that simple, do it then.
Explain in the simplest of terms who controls what and how. Does the consumer hold the reigns or the operator, or both? Is there a remote capability for consumers from wireline and wireless devices? Clearly lay out the options while avoiding the Chinese menu phenomenon.
Be specific in what consumers can and can’t do with the service to avoid confusion and misunderstandings. If additional features are in the making, note that.
Also, in the post-order process, provide a live and skilled human to help guide subscribers through the operation of the service as was occasionally done with TV remotes. Make it comprehensive enough to be a one-and –done proposition. But, provide online help resources and live support for those with questions and issues. Buy-and-fly won’t cut it here with most any demographic.
Keeping it simple with as few variables, as little fine print and as few exceptions as possible, is paramount. Offering all inclusive packages with a monthly recurring fee would be optimal for most. Others might want a build by component/feature pricing model. Be flexible without being complicated.
Save pricing for the end of the guidebook, and brand that pricing section instead of the pages that precede it. Provide contact info for those ready to take the next step. A dedicated call center for the service, at least at the beginning, would be optimal. Staff it with skilled and equipped (empowered) helpers.
The goal is to get the service deployed with happy, informed customers. Don’t overwhelm customers with complexity, upselling, pricing variables ad such at the outset. Services evolve. Continue to educate going forward. Continuing education isn’t just for resume and the corporate employment world.
The out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality that many of those selling things have adopted leads to turnover.
Don’t wait for customers to call you out of frustration, anger or concern. Check back to see how they like the service and what they would like to see fixed and/or added going forward. Yes, this costs money, but so does losing customers and attempting to reacquire them.
Customers love to be asked how to make things better and what could expand the service. Use that feedback to determine what you offer free and what you charge for. Take that one step forward and create a customer “users” group to tighten the provider-consumer bond and to solicit all the info you need to ensure the service survives and thrives.
Know your customer. Listen and act accordingly. Silence may be golden in some cases, but with a new service rollout, it’s more likely fool’s gold.
Focus on creating and distributing the guidebook in lockstep with the launch of complementary resources and processes that can be tweaked as needed (not set in stone).
Direct marketing may work with certain demographics. Don’t assume it will, or it goes far enough, in terms of consumer education.
I’ve seen countless consumer and business service launches over the decades. I’m not alone in having witnessed successes and failures with new offerings from multiple vantage points. You learn and live and focus on best practices to avoid the worst practices.
Giving the people want they want is simpler than giving them what they want in the simplest and easiest way possible. But, let’s try. The potential payoff is well worth the guidebook-driven approach.
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