Finding A Digital Signage Service Provider – 40 Top Tips
So you’re shopping for a digital signage service provider? Finding the right team can add real value to your business — but how do you know when you’ve found them? How can you be sure the services you’re buying are what you really need or will deliver the results you want?
From planning to ongoing support, there are plenty of things to get right if you’re going to get the best out of your digital signage. If you have a basic understanding of what digital signage is and why and how it could help your business, then read on for our 40 top tips for shopping for a digital signage service provider.
Businesses around the world enjoy the efficiency and communication benefits of using digital signage, but getting results isn’t always a foregone conclusion. It’s crucial to plan properly. Picking an experienced consultancy can be vital to getting it right.
1. Relevant experience — Find out whether the provider has experience with the relevant type of project. If your venue is a large retail complex or manufacturing operation, for instance, they need to understand the particular needs and challenges of the situation.
2. Hardware experience — There are many different types of digital signage hardware to suit the particular needs of different situations. It’s essential to make sure your consultant has broad experience of all of the different types available so they know which to use and when. Otherwise, you risk them using what they’re familiar with, not what’s best for your business.
3. Their process — Digital signage is a long-term investment, so it needs careful consideration. The worst thing a consultant can do is to rush the process. Ask questions about what their process is and how they’ll get to grips with your business and your sites. If they don’t intend to take time to get to know your individual aims and challenges, they can’t possibly offer you the ideal solution and should be avoided.
4. Bespoke software development — Many businesses choose to integrate third-party software or data feeds with their digital signage. This can give them/their customers instant updates and reduce the need for staff to update information on screens manually.
If your consultancy cannot do the development required or uses off-the-peg software that makes development difficult, it will limit what you can achieve. If you select a provider that regularly develops bespoke software for digital signage, they will not only be able to do the work you need but should also be able to make additional suggestions that you may find useful.
5. Project management — If you’re only installing one or two small screens in a modern, indoor location, an installer can probably do this in an hour or two. However, if your project more complex (e.g. large screens, multiple locations, a busy or outdoor location) you’ll need a project manager.
This will ensure that all the relevant logistical issues are considered, and that everything’s done in the correct order. Ideally, you should choose a consultancy that has an in-house project manager. This will ensure that all the relevant systems and chains of command are already set up.
6. Scope of services — You don’t want to be having to look around for different digital signage contractors to serve different needs, so find out which services a consultancy does and doesn’t offer. Many agencies don’t offer post-installation services, such as content creation or technical support, which can be important for some businesses. Consider all of the capabilities you’re likely to want at some point and make sure the company you hire can provide them all.
7. How they charge — Some companies prefer to pay an all-inclusive project fee to their digital signage consultancy, others prefer to pay for advice separately. Different agencies charge in different ways, so check how they operate.
Many businesses benefit from consultancy six or twelve months after a project has been completed to help them improve their effectiveness. If this is something you are likely to want, check whether the agency can offer this sort of service.
The content you show on your digital signage will be key to whether you get a good return on investment or not. A specialist digital signage content creation agency can be the most efficient way to get it right, but it’s vital that you get the right fit for your business.
1. Content creation services — Content creation agencies usually have specialist areas, and services they offer but are less adept at. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to know which is which. Check which services an agency provides, and which it doesn’t and ask for work examples. Most digital signage content creation agencies should offer animation/motion graphics. Fewer offer videography, so if this is important to you, make sure it’s one of the agency’s specialisms.
2. Ask for samples — One of the best ways to judge a provider’s capabilities is to inspect examples of their previous work for other clients. It’s entirely reasonable to ask to see work examples of a similar nature to the work you’re asking for. If they can’t supply recent, relevant work examples, you should probably look elsewhere.
3. Optimising materials — Businesses often have videos or other pre-existing materials they’ve produced in the past that they want to use on their digital signage. It can be a good way of keeping your on-screen content fresh, and your costs down, so make sure your provider is able to optimise pre-existing materials for use with your system.
4. Creative process — There are various approaches to the creative process for digital content creation. The approach the provider takes can often determine how happy their clients are. Ask how they’ll want to be briefed on a project. Will it be a meeting to discuss your requirements, a form for you to fill in, or both? If an agency doesn’t have a clear process, take this as a warning sign that they don’t see customer satisfaction as a priority.
Even the most detailed brief can be open to interpretation. Ask if they use storyboarding for planning animation or videography that has a narrative, and how that’s charged. This will give you the opportunity to see how your brief has been interpreted and give you the chance to approve it or request changes. Without a storyboard, you could be expected to pay for the result, whether you like it or not.
5. Integrated data feeds — If your business is planning to integrate third-party software or a data feed (e.g. prices, timetables, availability) into its content, you’ll need a provider that’s got plenty of experience doing just that, as it’s a specialist field. Don’t assume that all agencies can deliver this.
6. Operating basis — When shopping for a digital signage content creation agency, consider how much work you will be asking them to do. If you’re only looking for them to do small one-off projects, will they charge you a premium to do that? A smaller agency may be more suited to piecemeal, project work. Larger agencies will probably ask for an ongoing retainer. For that, you’ll get a steady flow of content and better rates – especially if junior staff can do the simpler work.
However large the agency is, get to know the team and how it operates. Find out what experience their designers have, and who’ll be doing what on any briefs you give them.
7. In-house creatives — There can be a big difference between content that looks great, and that engages people. The most successful content usually has an experienced creative involved to generate ideas that will get a message across succinctly and memorably.
Check if the content creation agency has its own creative in-house and what sort of projects you could expect them to be involved in. Would you have to request their services specially and pay a premium, or could this be included in a retainer? If they’ll outsource this work, ask them who to and ask for work examples to get a feel for the style of work they produce.
If you’re creating a large amount of content for your digital signage screens, managing it can become a full-time job. Many businesses choose to outsource this work to a specialist, but there are many things to consider before hiring one.
1. Software system — Most digital signage content managers will have one or two software systems that they know intimately. Check with providers which system they prefer before buying a CMS license. Ask why they use it too. What features does it offer – e.g. screen synchronisation, user management? If they’re happy to use any software, this could be a warning sign. It suggests they won’t have an in-depth knowledge of any system and would struggle to use more advanced functionality.
2. Charging model — A good content manager will do more than simply change what appears on which screen and when. They’ll learn about your business, and the different sites you have. They’ll make suggestions on how to make your content as engaging and memorable as possible through scheduling and using different software features. As such, it’s important to understand what model they use for charging, and what services you’ll get as part of that fee.
3. Functionality — The functionality a provider can deliver will vary according to which software they use. Find out in advance what functionality they can deliver, and whether there’s anything crucial they can’t deliver. Many digital signage software systems charge a premium for advanced functionality, so check this when speaking to a content manager and especially before paying for a software license.
4. Onboarding process — When you start working with a digital signage content manager, there’ll inevitably be a handover period. Ask what information and content they’d want from you, when and how. Can you expect site visits, for example, as part of the onboarding process? This is especially important for large sites since the content manager will be more likely to offer suggestions for improvements if they know the site and how people flow around it.
5. Account management — The better your relationship with your content manager is, the better the output of their work is likely to be. Find out how they manage their accounts, and ask plenty of questions. For example, how often will you have meetings? How will they update you? What sort of KPIs do they suggest? Do they make suggestions for improvement to their clients? If so, is it done as matter of course or only upon request?
6. Interdepartmental working — If you’ll use more than one service at a digital signage agency – including content management – find out how often the various departments work together. Many consultancies promise an interconnected approach, but deliver silo-working in reality.
Ask if all the different departments work in the same building or apart? Will different teams attend the same account management meetings? What steps will they take to encourage information sharing and collaboration? These are important to ensure you get a cohesive service.
7. Deadlines — If you need your content manager to work to very specific deadlines or to deliver work in a short timeframe, it’s important to get this agreed upfront (ideally in writing). If you want response times in minutes rather than hours, you may be charged a premium for this and some companies simply may not offer it. Conversely, if you are unlikely to have time-sensitive projects, you could try to negotiate a lower rate accordingly.
The software you use can have a big impact on the results you get from your digital signage. Different functionality can make a big difference to what appears on screen, when and how. As such, it’s well worth taking time to ensure that you’re getting software that will meet all of your short and long term needs.
1. Ease of use — Think about who’ll be using the software, and how tech-savvy they are. If staff struggle to use the software, chances are that they’ll avoid it and you won’t get an ongoing stream of fresh content. However, choose a system that’s too simple and you could limit what can be achieved on screen because it doesn’t have any advanced features.
Unless your needs are very simple, you should aim for an intuitive system with advanced features, and use training to help users get to grips with it.
2. Security — Losing control of what appears on your digital signage screens is a terrifying prospect, but it’s also largely avoidable. When shopping for digital signage software, check where the system is hosted. If you’re UK-based, it should ideally be hosted in the UK, since hosting out of the country could have legal and compliance implications. You also need to know what security procedures are carried out to protect it and how often they’re carried out.
3. Reliability — Even the best software systems go down occasionally, but obviously you want that to be a rare occurrence with your CMS (content management system), or your operational efficiency could be affected. Find out what percentage of up-time they’ve had over the past five years. You should also check what happens if your WiFi signal is temporarily lost or if there’s a hardware system crash. Does the software have any auto-recovery features to reduce the impact of an issue?
4. Licensing — Many software providers boast low fees but on closer inspection charge a premium for additional users or for certain functionality. Many businesses subsequently find their on-screen capabilities are hampered by the subscription package they can afford. The simpler the licensing model is, the easier it is to budget for it and understand what capabilities you have.
5. Advanced Features — Different digital signage software systems have different functionality. Make a list of the features you definitely need and what would be ‘nice to have.
Always check what advanced features are available. There may be capabilities you wouldn’t have thought of that would be beneficial to your business. For example, screen synchronisation, auto-shutdown to save energy or screen life, and content expiry to aid library management/scheduling.
6. User support — Check what user support you’ll get from your software provider. Do they provide training? If so, is this part of the setup or ongoing? Will it be a personalised training session, or just training videos, written instructions/guides? Will you be able to ask advisors for help via chat messaging? The companies that get the most value from their CMS are generally those who know it intimately and feel comfortable using all the features. Good training and support is critical in achieving this.
7. Third-party data — If you want to integrate information from data feeds or contained within third-party software (e.g. prices, timetables, product/service availability) into your on-screen content, you’ll need software that allows you to do that. Many software packages are difficult/expensive to manipulate, so check this prior to purchase.
8. Customisation — Every business is different. Large businesses will have structures they need to work within and staff will have different levels of responsibility. If you have a large/complex organisation, check what level of customisation a software package offers you – for example, restricting user permissions to control who can see and/or publish materials – to ensure it’s compatible with your needs.
9. Screen layout — Most digital signage software packages will have a library of pre-made screen layouts to pick from, but it can be difficult to customise these if they don’t quite suit your needs. Check what pre-made layouts are available and if the screen layouts can be adjusted and/or if you can create your own? You don’t want to find yourself restricted by the layouts you have available and/or trying to create complex layouts yourself.
Once your digital signage is installed and you’re using the content management software regularly, you’ll probably realise quite how intricate the systems are. As such, it’s good to have experts on hand to advise you and help with any technical issues. Getting the right support provider and package can make a big difference to how successful your digital signage is – either becoming an invaluable business tool or an expensive wall ornament.
1. Operating hours — If your business operates outside standard business hours and you experience an issue with your digital signage, you won’t want to wait for Monday morning to get it sorted out. Check what level of assistance is available at different times of the day/week. That way, you can make sure the support service is compatible with what you’ll want.
Some digital signage support companies offer to extend their operating hours for an additional fee. If you’ve found a great support company but the operating hours don’t match up, it’s worth checking if this is an option.
2. Type of assistance — Look at ten different digital signage support companies, and you’ll probably see they offer ten different support packages at ten different prices. Check what’s included or excluded from any support package you’re considering to ensure that all your key needs will be met.
Some providers have a variety of packages to meet different clients’ needs. Others can help you build bespoke support packages. Check if this is possible, as it’ll mean you pay only for the support you’re likely to need and nothing you won’t.
When vetting a potential provider, check if they provide software user support. This will help your team to get to grips with all different functions and features, and mean you get maximum value for money from your software.
3. Response times — Consider how much of an issue it would be for your business if your most prominent/important screens failed. What are the support provider’s standard response times for responding to initial enquiries and/or making site visits? If that timescale is too long, you may want to look elsewhere. Alternatively, ask if you can pay a premium to get a shorter, guaranteed response time.
4. Remote access — Make sure your package offers remote support. If helpdesk operatives are able to access and monitor your screens remotely, this will make delivering support faster and more efficient. It will also avoid the need for expensive engineer call-outs too.
5. Managing enquiries — When a technical problem occurs, it can often be related to an issue unrelated to your digital signage system – e.g. internet access. If a third-party supplier is involved, this can mean delays between reporting the issue and it being fixed– despite your support provider’s best efforts. This being the case, your support provider needs a system to accurately manage/track your request tickets.
Similarly, if you have a large digital signage estate, you may experience multiple issues at once, which need to be managed properly to ensure none ‘fall between the cracks’.
Ask what method they use for managing enquiries and issues? Do they use a ticketing system, and if so, how do they prioritise the tickets? If you have special priority areas/screens, ask if you can prioritise these above standard tickets. There maybe an extra charge for this.
6. Hardware — Some large digital signage estates can become unwieldy with many different types, sizes, and ages of screen and media players.
If you’re using tablet computers as interactive screens, or laptops as media players within your estate, check what support you could expect for these. Would it be remote assistance only?
You should also check if your digital signage support provider will support hardware that they’ve not supplied, or that is out of warranty.
7. Dealing with calls — Many support providers record support tickets then outsource the issue resolution to a third party to keep their costs down. Whilst this can be a saving that’s passed on to you, it can also result in a disconnect between call centres, technicians working remotely, and on-site engineers. If the call centre is overseas, it can also mean delays with responses due to different time zones.
8. Software systems — Most providers that offer software user support will only work with certain systems. If you’re intending to use this sort of service, you’ll need to find out whether they’ll support the content management system you’re using – or intending to use. Or if you’ve not purchased a software license yet, find out what system/s they’ll support and why.
9. Accreditations — One digital signage support provider can look much like another so it’s essential to check they have accreditations from a recognised source. You should be expecting to see Cyber Essentials at the very least, as this will ensure they have the necessary knowledge and processes regarding cyber security. Another good accreditation to look for is ITIL, which relates to IT service management best practices.
If you’re shopping for a digital signage service provider, get in touch with Saturn. We can give you a free consultation and advice on your business’s situation, and will probably be able to satisfy all your digital signage needs in-house.
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