What Is Your Handshake Worth?
published onOctober 29, 2014

Let me paint the picture: It’s 1923, the middle of prohibition, and Enoch Thompson is in the middle of a Mob war. While bunked up in hiding, he makes a deal with a young Al Capone to assist with the dilemma in which Mr. Thompson found himself. At a point where Capone appears to be going against the agreed-upon terms Enoch asks Capone: “What is a handshake with you supposed to be worth?”

As an avid film buff, I often find myself hanging on to quotes from shows and movies. This scene from episode 12 of Boardwalk Empire got me thinking about today’s business world, and I can’t seem to shake my thoughts.

It seems as if a day does not pass where I don’t have an argument with some big company in attempt to get them to do their job or deliver on a promise. Call me crazy, but if I pay for an item or service I expect it to work properly. As a consumer, I shouldn’t need a law degree to decipher the fine print that, ultimately, comes down to this: “You are buying a bag of hot air. It may or may not work. Either way our business is not responsible, nor do we care.” At least, that’s my interpretation and it’s exactly how most of these companies act.

Are you wondering why I’ve decided to rant on my blog? You might be wondering why I’m so frustrated. And you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with audio visual systems installation. Well, it does, and I’ll tell you exactly why, if you hang in there while I share one more personal story.

A few months ago I purchased a new bedroom set for my two little girls from a discount furniture store. Trying to save money, I got exactly what I paid for. One of the beds broke after just two months.

The rail cracked down the center, rendering it useless… and dangerous. It happened while my 20-pound four-year-old was climbing into bed. I was upset, but I figured it wasn’t a big deal. First, she wasn’t hurt, and, second, it should have been covered under the warranty. The company would just replace it…. WRONG!

Even if the warranty didn’t cover it, I had taken out the insurance policy on the bed. I was covered, right? WRONG again! That policy apparently only covers “accidental” damage. Well, I can tell you that I didn’t body slam Hulk Hogan into my daughter’s bed (sorry for the weird image)! I just let my 4-year-old sleep in it. I spent hours with the furniture store rep on the phone arguing these points. The end result? We had to go out and buy a new bed.

Am I the only one sick of dealing with big business? Am I the only business owner that cares about the product and service that I sell? Does a handshake mean anything anymore? How about your word?

Call me crazy, but I built my business on my reputation and that reputation means everything to me. I suppose, even though I’m not that old, I come from the old-school business train of thought. To quote the late drug lord Tony Scarface Montana, “All I got in this world are my BALLS and my WORD and I don’t break neither for nobody!” Please excuse the graphic language but, personally, I always prefer hearing explicit but honest words instead of cunning words flowing off the tip of a silver tongue.

Now, I do not want to say that every corporation doesn’t care. I’ve just had too many bad experiences recently and it seems to point to a trend in customer service, especially with monster corporations that do high-volume sales.

Two major factors play into poor customer service: only caring about the bottom line and poor management.

The first factor comes into play quite often when a business has a monopoly, or is so big that they might as well have a monopoly because no one thinks about the other places they could shop or brands they could buy. I’ll refrain from pointing out the names of specific businesses, but New Yorkers experience this in a few areas, where they have little-to-no choice of what service to purchase or who to purchase it from.

How about the other factor, poor management? I say this as a business owner who has done my fair share of hiring and firing: good help is hard to find. Today’s generation of workers (there I go, sounding old again) want to get paid more money for doing less work. Most people are spoiled.

Let’s go back in time to when Americans had a work ethic. My grandfather came to this country without a nickel in his pocket. He refused welfare and worked three jobs. He was able to enjoy retirement and died with money to spare. How many people today can say they are in a position to do that? Not many. Most do not work hard, but they spend all their money and then expect to get paid more than they deserve.

Too many managers and employers just give up. Instead of pushing to hire better people or train our current employees to be better, employers are eventually forced to accept what is in front of us. Instead of managing efficiencies, the game becomes managing how much garbage you can live with and still maintain some level of efficiency.

So maybe the problem isn’t exactly bad management. Management has just given up due to the poor work ethic so prevalent in this country. And again, I’m not saying every company is like this. But there are too many for my taste right now.

I’m going to go off-topic for a minute here. Or actually, back on topic to a common situation in the AV industry. The biggest battle I’ve fought so far as an AV integrator is the argument of LCD or plasma screens. Customers may ask for my advice, but after I make a recommendation, they tell me the salesperson at the big box electronics store said, “LCD is better.”

Ugh. Here we go again. That big box store is full of hired help who believes the common myths and never actually researches or tests anything. They’re not audio video experts, and they aren’t expected to be. Which would be okay, except that they have no passion for the work they do. They have no training about the equipment they sell and they don’t care. They get paid either way and when they give a customer bad advice, it’s not their own money they’re wasting. The job is just a paycheck or, worse, a stepping stone to another job with better pay.

By the way, just a side bar, the answer to the question is: It depends on the situation. In a shorter, darker room, where you’re looking for more natural colors, choose plasma. Brighter room, energy savings, faster refresh rate….then LCD is the right choice.

Okay, enough ranting. I promised to tie it all together for you. What does this have to do with AV and your choice of an audio video systems dealer and integrator?

I’m going to give it to you straight: You know that Mom and Pop store you went to for advice on what to buy? How about actually buying the product from them, too?

Too many people decide to go to that consumer electronics store to buy their TV screen for a commercial application, thinking they’ll save a few bucks. But what happens when something goes wrong? That’s when they hear that dreaded phrase, the one that discount furniture store said to me more times than I can count: “I’m sorry, sir.” I don’t even like typing it, and I definitely don’t say it to my customers, unless the next sentence is, “I’m going to make this right. I’m going to dispatch a crew now.” (Or sometimes I’m logging in remotely to their system to troubleshoot before I even hang up the phone.)

We all learned as children that sorry does not fix the situation! Most small business owners I know will work to make things right. Why? We want to keep our customers satisfied so they keep coming back to us. We know we can’t compete with the larger stores on price. But our business is our life, our livelihood and our passion. Staying in business means keeping customers happy. Plus, it’s the right thing to do. It’s as simple as that.

Is the few dollars you save with a box store really worth it? Why are so many of us attracted to the big corporate companies? There aren’t always other options, but in most cases there are.

It comes down to this: The little guys want your business. They will not let you down. Their handshake means something.