When you start a company, you have high hopes but absolutely no certainty of where it's going to lead. You can't picture what it might look like in 5 or 15 years, but you try to make sure it has everything it needs to grow big and strong. The experience has everything in common with being a parent. And if you play your cards well, suddenly you turn around and your sweet, pliant little infant of a business has become an independent teenager with a whole new set of demands. Suddenly there are new issues to confront, and new questions to answer. The "old" way you've done business may no longer apply.
That's precisely what happened to us this year as the residential side of our company has grown.
In 1999 when we started out, our first customers were dairy barns. Then came factories and warehouses, and before long we were designing new, silent fans for churches and other large spaces. In 2012 we came out with the residential Haiku, a ceiling fan whose success inspired the launching early this year of a whole new connected-home division. While we've always taken as much pride in our customer care as we do in our products, we now find ourselves with an entirely new set of customers. But they're not really a set at all, because they're all different, and therein lies the rub: How do we make sure they're all happy?
I'm not complaining -- far from it -- but things were simpler when we dealt exclusively with industrial workplaces. In America, a dairy barn is a dairy barn, and a factory is a factory is a factory -- more or less. So our conversations with the maintenance supervisor at the sock factory one week helped us in our meetings at the mattress plant the next. We learned the challenges they shared, and like a parent who confidently responds to his child's first "Why?" we had answers at the ready. And when our customers asked, "Why not add this?" we listened.
Now it's different. Not only are we dealing with an entirely different technology, but more significantly, we're dealing with individuals who have varying levels of understanding of the technology as well as varying levels of patience with it -- and whose routers have minds of their own. Because we're now in people's homes, we're facing a seemingly infinite number of layouts and connections, needs and expectations. Suddenly, it's possible for the customer who's always right to be right in thousands if not millions of different permutations. Put another way, that's a lot of feedback to digest and a lot of mouths to feed.
We've always handled customer service at our headquarters in Lexington, and will continue to, because we believe that "Cared for in America" is as important an indicator of quality as "Made in America." Now we're deciding the best way to not only answer the variety of customer questions, but gather the information customers provide and prioritize it in a systematic yet agile way, with the goal of a more perfect customer experience. That's always been our objective; we just have to find new ways to make sure we achieve it. It's a problem we created by growing, and it's a great one for any business to have.
Ideally, of course, customers would never have questions or suggestions, because we'd have anticipated every one. In a perfect world, our products would even install themselves and contact us directly if they ever feel out of sorts. Who knows, someday we may reach that point. In the meantime though, just like a parent, we'll keep doing everything we can to keep the company growing big and strong, so that it can take care of itself and its customers long after we're out of the picture.