So you’ve decided on a Crestron system, the most powerful automation platform in the world. Right on. (The purpose of this post is not to extoll the benefits of Crestron over the competition – we’ve done that elsewhere). In our 15 years as a Crestron dealer, we’ve learned some valuable lessons that we think every potential Crestron buyer should know about. To be fair, as a full service (Design/Install/Program/Service) Crestron integrator, we aren’t perfect and we’ve had a few installations over the years that didn’t go quite as well as we would have liked, but in nearly every instance, those disappointments were caused by products that frankly just weren’t very good and thankfully are very few and far between. Like any company who ships hundreds of different products and is constantly releasing new, bleeding edge technology, there are bound to be a few duds. TPMC-10, MLX3, PTX3/MTX3, and the entire Prodigy line all were examples of products that despite our best efforts, we could not overcome hardware or architectural deficiencies to make as good as we would have liked.
With that mea culpa out of the way, I’m confident in saying that we are among the very best in the country in deploying Crestron systems from start to finish. We have never once used any outside programming service – everything is always implemented 100% in house. To this day, I’m floored how many integrators lack Crestron-certified master programmers on staff. What that means is that as a consumer, you are buying the products from one company and they are buying programming services from another, completely unaffiliated company. I won’t argue that the quality of the programming from many outside programmers isn’t top-notch, because in many cases, it is, but what about the service and updates that are bound to need to be implemented in any system over time? What are the odds that the outside programming company will be able to service your dealer in a reasonable amount of time or in a worst-case scenario will even be in business in the next few years? The odds of you making a request that requires programming changes and that request being implemented in a reasonable amount of time starts out low and gets worse over time when there are two companies involved. Further, what are the odds that a programming change that takes 15 minutes gets billed by an outside programmer? In almost every circumstance, unless the change is a warranty fix, the outside programmer is going to charge your dealer, who will in turn charge you.
Another facet of this to consider is what type of dealer is going to really know what products to select for you. The one who knows all the ins and outs of how the devices are programmed and any limitations that might involve or the one who only sells hardware and leaves the programming expertise to a 3rd party? Further, if your dealer uses an outside programmer, are you likely to benefit from the other systems that the dealer has implemented recently that are similar in scale and function as yours that use very similar programming and thus should result in a lower overall programming cost?
Even of those dealers who have seen the light and have hired a Crestron certified master programmer, how many of those are ownership or equity partners in the business? Crestron programmers are in very high demand in the luxury residential market, the commercial market, the education market, in government and defense and as a result are the highest paid salaried employees in any AV integration business. Ask yourself, who is more likely to be around in 5 years, an ownership-level programmer or an employee programmer?
As the most powerful automation system on the planet, Crestron systems are not “easy” in a design or implementation sense, and great back-end power should yield the most intuitive user experience but this only occurs in the right hands. That’s why nearly everybody knows of a relative or a friend who has a “bad” Crestron system. Of course, there’s no such thing as a bad Crestron system. Those systems are in nearly every case due to an inexperienced/incapable dealer or programmer but because the end user is judging the entire system from hardware to design to implementation to programming as one cohesive whole, as of course they should, they are unable to blame one specific part as the point of failure, so they say “Crestron systems are terrible”. It’s an unfortunate by-product of the nature of such a powerful system. No less than 25% of our clients are what we call “takeover” clients – somebody who has had a bad experience with another dealer and just wants the best to come in and fix what’s wrong, many times with little or no hardware changes. So much time and money can be saved by making the right choice in the very beginning, which is the purpose of this post.
To sum up, in our extensive experience, we have the following recommendations to anybody who is considering a Crestron system:
- Volume of experience matters – choose an integrator who has experience over time, but also somebody who does the type of system you are considering on a regular basis
- Choose a vertically-integrated integrator, a firm who can design, sell, program, and service your system. You are purchasing a “system” and starting a relationship. This is not a one-time purchase.
- Make sure your system will be programmed by a Crestron certified master programmer and ask if that programmer is an equity level partner/owner or just an employee
- Ask how many systems of similar size your integrator has completed and also how many over the last year; don’t be afraid to ask for the contact information of those clients
- Ask to see the latest User Experience that dealer is offering and put it through its paces. Is it more or less intuitive than the lesser-priced non-customizable systems available out there?
- When comparing integrators, ask yourself, who is most likely to design, install and program the best system for me now and who is likely to be in the best position to service me in 2 years? 5 years?
- Try to add up your likely costs not just initially but over the length of time you own the system (total cost of ownership). Is it possible that the least expensive system from the least experienced integrator may actually cost you MORE over the long run?
- For large systems, don’t hesitate to request the name of the local manufacturer rep to see if there have been any instances of dissatisfied customers reported to them. Keep in mind it’s likely that the rep may not have heard anything positive about the highest performing companies, but that likely means that they are doing their job well and their clients are happy.