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The following article originally appeared in Wide Screen Review (WSR) magazine and is being republished courtesy of the author, Terry Paullin.

Readers with a strand or two of grey hair will recall a time, somewhere in the late 80's I think, when Quality meant something in America. We heard terms like "zero defects", "Six Sigma", TQM (total quality management), and companies, trying to do the right thing by customers, formed things called "Quality Circles" and the like to get employees invested in the notion. The Ring Leader of the movement in the U.S. was a fellow named W. Edwards Deming and when his preaching's eventually fell out of favor (short-fused management found it too hard to bend the culture) he took his message to Japan where they used it to capture the Auto Industry, apparently forever ............

It wasn't an altruistic movement. The thinking was that consumers put a premium on quality and if they could discern a difference amongst vendors for a particular class of product they would opt for the higher "Q" even at a slightly higher price in the belief that it represented a better value, long term.

In those days, the holistic definition of "Quality" was employed, i.e. much more than the materials and construction process with which a product is put together. It was a term meant to encompass the entire customer experience for the life of the product, from how a company answers the phone (promptness and true intent to help), to availability of spare parts, administrative accuracy, usability of manuals, friendliness of return policies and a dozen other actions designed to make clients feel good about their association with the company. As our current daily lives attest, with rare exception, any notion of that philosophy has been banished from corporate lexicons.

Bad call, I think. It seemed to work, where management was serious about implementation. Motorola became known for 100% reliable semiconductors, all the guys I knew bought Craftsman tools from Sears because they would take back abused items with no questions asked. Myth or no, there was the Maytag repairman. A few companies managed to "brand" quality. In the high-tech world I lived in, no one would fault a decision to buy IBM computers (at a premium) due to reliability and support standards. At my own company, when we encountered a sticky support issue, we simply asked the question, "What would Nordstrom do?". Even today, I wouldn't think of buying tires from anyone but Les Schwab because of how I'm treated when I roll in. If you are lucky, you have one or two examples you can relate to.

What does any of this have to do with Home Theatre? ... glad you asked.

I recently did a Theatre for a high profile client in San Francisco. If you subscribe to this magazine, his name is somewhere in your home.

The Theatre was fairly complex (starting with 14 speakers), but no matter the complexity, when you think you're done, you're not. It's always something. Show me an installer who claims you project will go without a hitch and I'll show you a guy who is either lying or attempting his first theatre. The difference between installers is largely the speed and adeptness with which they deal with whatever adversity arises. So here's point #1. Our ability to minimize installation "issues" is very much dependent on which brands we elect to put in our clients homes in the first place. In my own warranty statement, I make the point " ... we rarely see (down times) largely because reliability and support is a factor in our selection". Back to my S.F. theatre.

Turns out, there were two significant "issues" that had to be addressed post initial install. One had to do with a masking screen that had a slight rattle when copious amounts of bass (two 15's and an 18) were played at reference levels. At the right (?) resonance, the plastic end caps of the masking screen rattled a bit in the tracks. Annoying vibrations are not uncommon, but usually associated with wall sconces or otherwise loosely attached trinkets in the room. With enough testing, they can usually all be eliminated.

The second issue was more severe. Let's call it an image alignment problem with a, ... uh, projector accessory. Here's how the respective companies behaved, when appraised of the problems. I'm hoping there is a valuable lesson here for other installers (when selecting suppliers), would-be DYIers, and anyone trying to gain favor with the custom installation segment of our business.

Company "A" (I'll identify them as the Da-Lite Screen Company because they deserve recognition due to their exemplary example) took the data, called me the next day to tell me the engineering team was working on a solution, called two days later to tell me a replacement screen was being overnighted and offered to reimburse for the additional labor to swap out the screen.

Company "B" , after reading me the manual like I had flunked English, said that since they were going to be going to a trade show the next week anyway, they would agree to visit the site with me. Upon doing just that, the company exec. went down the same troubleshooting path I did, reaching the same conclusion I did - "Seems like it ought to work" (but obviously it didn't). Promising to get back to me, it was deep into the next week after multiple E-mails that I was informed "there must be something wrong with the way you've installed the screen".

Folks, I've installed more than a hundred masking screens, all laser aligned with the projector lens, and I had demonstrated as much the night the factory guy was there. It's at this point I realized I had to roll up my sleeves and either re-engineer the product or swap it out for an entirely different solution (on my own nickel), and then sell the logic of it all to the client, who inevitably will be a little ticked that plan B wasn't plan A in the first place. I choose the former.

So here's the REAL thing..........

Regarding Company A. Will I pledge undying loyalty to the company that supported me in the best imaginably way when I really needed it? Of course I will (but due to previous behavior I was already there with them anyway).

Regarding Company B. Will I ever use or recommend their product in an new project? What do you think.

I believe the consequence of going the extra mile when it comes to ALL manner of customer support (think phone trees) would come back several fold (versus cost to provide) to those companies who choose to provide it.

Deming was correct to caution "It has to be ingrained in the corporate culture". Look closely at the culture folks, before you reach for the checkbook. It should be as easy as placing a call to "Support".

Posted by Terry Paullin, December 6, 2011 7:33 AM

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About Terry Paullin

After 25+ years as a Silicon Valley Executive, most recently as President and C.O.O. of Crosscheck, Mr. Paullin decided to follow his passion to the emerging Home Theatre industry. In 1994 he formed Front Row Cinema to design, build and calibrate Home Theaters for private residences. Nearly 600 theaters later, he remains engaged in the Industry in the following ways.

Builds dedicated (single purpose) Home Theaters and "Theatre Environments" (rooms used for other purposes as well).

Teaches Imaging Science and other courses for the Imaging Science Foundation. Mr. Paullin has taught CEDIA accredited classes to the installation community at both AVAD and ADI.

Consults to Industry on the topic of Imaging Science (Pioneer, Optima, In-Focus and several others under non-disclosure). Mr. Paullin has served on the Board of two companies and the Advisory committee of two others.

Has written articles/product reviews for major industry publications, including Widescreen Review, The Perfect Vision, The Ultimate Guide to A/V, WIRED magazine and CEPro and has maintained a monthly column (One Installer's Opinion) in Widescreen Review for the past eight years.

Mr. Paullin has a B.S.E.E. degree from Long Beach State University and performs ISF monitor calibrations for private individuals.

Mr. Paullin also maintains 3 theaters in his home for testing, comparison, performance verification, and reference viewing.