|Posted on March 19, 2010 at 5:50 PM|
During those glorious, high-rolling days of the early and mid-2000s, before the economy blew up like the Death Star (and I mean the cool, digitally re-edited version of the Death Star, with that giant, fiery ring), one of the things that customers were willing to pay for was service. You could tell someone, “Sir, I’m not trying to be the cheapest in town; I’m trying to be the best.” And they would get a gleam of appreciation in their eye, slip that piece of straw into the corner of their mouth, nod and then shake your hand and say, “Son, you sound like the kind of man I want to do business with. You’ve got the job.” It was like a moment out of Shane.
Great service was really the stock and trade of many custom installation firms. Let’s be totally honest; at the end of the day, we’re not selling black boxes, which are WAY more alike than they are different. We’re selling dreams and a lifestyle, and part of that dreamy-lifestyle is me being there when you have a problem. If we were all in the black box selling business, well, we’d be OUT of the black box selling business now.
One thing that seems to repeatedly come up is service after the sale. Not actually servicing the customer, but charging the customer for that service. If something breaks in the system, what is a fair amount of time – on both sides of the sale – where the client can expect the installer to return and fix it for free? And I'm not talking about "Holy crap! My plasma fell off the wall! You're paying for this!" kinds of service. I mean the regular, day in and out service calls that crop of every day.
I recently had a customer call when one of their touchscreens stopped working. I sent a tech to their home, he checked the connections, swapped out panels to insure that it was indeed bad, returned to the store, got a return authorization, we shipped it off and then returned to reinstall the repaired panel. When he got my invoice (what I felt was an incredibly fair, I-am-taking-care-of-you, $90) he called to complain. “You know, this hasn’t even been installed for a year yet. I kind of feel like you owe me this.”
So, at what point do you stop “owing” the customer free service calls? I know there is no flat answer here; someone who spends half-million dollars is probably (rightfully) entitled to expect more comp service than someone who buys a $99
DVD Blu-ray player. But what’s fair for both parties? A single follow-up within a month? One single follow-up with no time limit? This customer didn’t put any value in the time we spent driving to his house, the expertise to diagnose and service the problem, the shipping charges and then driving back out to reinstall it. All he understood was that the actual repair was covered by the manufacturer’s warranty so there shouldn’t be any charge.
And what if the mistake is clearly the client’s doing? Say you *just* installed something and they call to say it isn’t working. And it turns out they pressed the Tape 2 Monitor, or hard powered off their amplifier or put their batteries in backwards, or their cable box (and what isit with cable boxes? I’m personally on my 5th one) locked up?
These days, people still want the high-dollar service, butn ow they also
want expect you to match Wal-Mart’s price. (“Wait. Not Wal-Mart. I actually found it cheaper at crazy.als.avbarn.biz. He’s out of stock, and not even an authorized dealer, but will you match his price?") That coupled with the general cautious/value spending that’s going on is making it increasingly difficult to toss-in service.
UPDATED MARCH 29:
This post was picked up by my friend/new-employer Jeremy Glowacki over at Residential Systems and several installers weighed in on it with comments on LinkedIn. You can follow that discussion by clicking here.... The crux is that service terms need to be explicitly detailed in the contract and everyone would like to stick the manufacturer with these bills.