While sound masking solutions are an important aspect of AV systems, they can often go overlooked.
Sound masking provides the kind of noise mitigation necessary in office spaces, specifically as so many organizations have moved to open office plans. These solutions provide similar benefits in healthcare spaces, and are being increasingly utilized in hospitality environments as well.
“There are two reasons I know people to do sound masking,” says Loren Sposito, senior account manager at AVI Systems. “Number one is to help on focus. If we minimize the amount of distractions in the office space it helps people’s ability to focus so they’re not distracted by conversations around them. The other reason is speech privacy.”
While the ROI isn’t the simplest to calculate, studies have shown that sound masking solutions offer the kind of increased productivity that organizations covet.
“The science has proven that when workers in a work environment are distracted, it takes them 25 minutes to return to normal production levels,” says Frank McCormack, vice president of sales for Lencore.
“Numbers associated with that show a return on investment of anywhere from three percent to up to fifty percent. The payback for typical sound masking takes a few months versus years in terms of the dollars spent up front.”
We wanted to learn about how integrators implement sound masking solutions. Are integrators aware of the different capabilities of these solutions? Are clients aware of the benefits of sound masking systems in different environments?
What barriers are keeping more sound masking equipment from being sold?So, we conducted a survey of Commercial Integrator’s audience to find out more.
Integrator Familiarity with Sound Masking
The first thing to learn is how familiar integrators are with sound masking solutions, and how familiar their customers are. For the most part, integrators feel comfortable with sound masking technology and where to implement it. However, not as many integrators feel knowledgeable about the different product offerings.
When we asked if respondents were familiar with sound masking as a technology, only 4.8% of respondents answered no. 81.4% answered that they are familiar, while 13.8% said they were somewhat familiar with sound masking.
We asked if respondents were knowledgeable about what kinds of work environments would benefit from sound masking. In this case, only 1.4% of respondents said no. 70.3% of respondents said yes, while 28.3% said they were somewhat knowledgeable about what kinds of work environments would benefit from sound masking.
We dug deeper to ask if respondents had knowledge of the different sound masking products available on the market. In this case, 10.9% of respondents said they were not knowledgeable about the different products. 39.9% said they were somewhat knowledgeable with the different products, and 49.3% said they were knowledgeable about the different products.
“The space itself is going to dictate the type of system and the actual products you’re going to use,” says McCormack. “Depending on the space plan, such as open office environments, call centers, healthcare facilities and the construct of open or acoustical or drywall ceilings, will determine the speaker type and layout. You could have one area with a decorative, direct firing speaker and another area with an in-plenum system.”
“Certainly, corporate is a big area [for sound masking],” says Sposito. “Another place I’m seeing it more is hospitality. How much we all love our hotel rooms and how they’re so quiet. Then hospital rooms – think of all the extraneous noises outside the room. Trying to mask or minimize some of that noise. That’s more of a patient experience thing. It’s not about productivity, it’s about comfort.”
Integrators need to better understand the benefits to the space in order to tailor the right system to the right client. As we’ll see in a moment, that ability to explain the importance of sound masking to clients is crucial.
Client Familiarity with Sound Masking
It’s great that integrators have a good understanding of sound masking technology. When it comes to products being offered, and the benefits of different products in different spaces, integrators are going to want to learn more. Not for themselves, but for the clients they’re selling systems to.
We asked our integrator audience how many projects they’ve worked on in the past year that have included sound masking. Only 18.8% of respondents said they worked on no projects involving sound masking. The majority of respondents, 53.6%, have worked on one to five projects involving sound masking. The remaining 27.5% of respondents have worked on six or more.
We went on to ask, of those projects, whether the integrators recommended sound masking or worked on sound masking at the customers’ request. 66.7% of respondents said they recommended sound masking, while 33.3% said they worked on sound masking at the customer’s request.
Finally, we asked integrators what would make them install more sound masking projects. The overwhelming majority of respondents, 63.8%, answered “If more customers seemed interested.” McCormack explained however that “many end users don’t know that there is a solution to their noise problem. As a manufacturer, we try to create awareness but an integrator could add a lot of value to their clients by bringing them the answer, and charge for it.”
Customers clearly are not the main proponent of implementing sound masking systems according to our respondents. Customers requested sound masking on only one-third of projects, with integrators recommending sound masking on the remaining two-thirds of projects. In addition to that, the largest barrier to installing more sound masking projects is that customers don’t seem interested.
“Oftentimes people might have some double duty things,” says Sposito. “A lot of sound masking now can do multiple applications. You can have sound masking tied to your paging system. You can use it as background music. You can have it tied to the emergency management system. Now it has to have certain requirements to do it, but there are things that can make that conversation about doing it now versus later potentially valuable to them. It might mean they don’t have to double up on certain things they were considering doing.”
When it comes down to it, the biggest benefit for integrators to sell more sound masking solutions is education. Educating themselves on the right products to use, and the right way to use the products in different environments. Then making sure customers are educated and understand the benefits of implementing these solutions.
“The manufacturer sites will oftentimes give you nice short videos about sound masking and why. That’s the thing, why are you doing it,” says Sposito. “Occasionally, I’ll run into folks who think that sound masking helps quiet the space, when it is actually doing the opposite. It’s introducing noise into the space so we can’t articulate what other people are saying when working in the space.
“It’s about productivity and trying to stay focused,” he says. “I’ve had larger, worldwide companies that every space they do has sound masking because they know the value of the productivity versus not having it.”
Educate customers on the necessity of that productivity. Explain to them how sound masking solutions raise the ambient background noise to cover unwanted speech and make it unintelligible, so the accounting department isn’t distracted by phone calls coming from the sales department. Joe Smith doesn’t have his productivity curtailed as he overhears two coworkers talking about the big football game this weekend.
Lean on manufacturers to teach you about different products, which environments they fit into, and what they’ll do. Pass that knowledge on to your clients to convince them of the benefits of the system. Create unique systems that work specifically in the customer’s workflow based on your knowledge of the products. Some manufacturers will even help design the system.
“One of the things that we do that is somewhat unique is a full-blown design and bill of materials for the integrator. They simply get us the floor plans and we’ll make sure that we give them a design based on the space or the details of the space. They have an understanding up front, we do the work, we have a tech support that answers any questions that arise.”
Sound masking should very well be a necessity in workspaces, healthcare environments, and even hospitality. It raises privacy and increases productivity. It provides comfort to those utilizing the space. The biggest barrier to implementing more sound masking solutions isn’t the technology – it’s explaining that technology to clients so they understand the benefit as well.