Five Ways to Help Monetize Systems Integration Service Calls

May 21

Written by: Todd Anthony Puma
5/21/2013 4:43 PM  RssIcon

One of the challenges of doing many, smaller projects is that service calls can become a large drain on profitability. Even with fewer, larger jobs, the more complex a job gets, the more visits are required to service it.

Just a few months ago, we installed a small six-zone NuVo music system and a few URC remotes for a client. At the time, it was a straightforward job, but it already begun draining the profits we made. First, the clients pushed one zone too hard and blew one of the amps on the music system, requiring two return visits (one to diagnose the program and one to install the replacement part). We also have returned a couple of times due to RF interference with the remote base station.

To help maintain profits when service calls arise, we have clearly set expectations upfront and early on in the process with our customers. They know when they will incur a service fee and when they won’t. That way, there is less likely to be pushback or consternation when we bill a client for a call. We have put a five-prong strategy in place to make sure communications are clear and expectations are appropriately managed.

Free Follow-up Call: Our first service call/troubleshooting/additional training is included in the initial installation.

System Sign-Off:
After our free follow-up, we have the client sign-off that their system is working as expected and have them initial a line item for each key part of the system. We also have them sign-off that they have received adequate training and feel comfortable using everything.

30-Day Service Guarantee: Within the first 30 days of the install, if it is an issue we caused or could foresee—like incorrect programming of a device, poor audio quality from a speaker or source, or initial RF interference—we will return at no cost for 30 days. After 30 days, all of the bugs should be worked out.

Exceptions to the Rule: We also stipulate that any issues caused by third parties (the cable company or their box, computer technicians, security firms) or by the client themselves, will incur our regular service call fee. Once clients understand that after 30 days any service call is going to incur a fee, I’ve found that they are less likely to be upset or put-off by the charge.

Post 30-Days: All service calls will incur our normal service fee. We are sometimes flexible and will adjust the length of this window for large, more complex jobs, as is the nature of the work. We collectively set a time frame and stick to it.

One of the biggest causes of service calls in mid-range systems is RF interference with the remotes. We know that RF interference is the bane of any mid-range system and that at any point after the install, it can come up and bite us. Clients don’t always understand that RF interference is not our fault, so clarifying that up front is critical. They are clearly informed that once they have signed off on the operation of everything, any future calls beyond the 30 days or due to interference with the remotes will incur service fees.

Since instituting these procedures and policies, we have greatly improved client communication and understanding, reduced client frustration, improved our profitability, and made profits more predictable. Our clients are grateful for our attention to detail and the advanced knowledge of what might occur and what the fee will be. We have satisfied clients and higher profits.

+Todd Anthony Puma is president of The Source Home Theater Installation in New York City. 



5 comment(s) so far...


Re: Five Ways to Help Monetize Systems Integration Service Calls

Good post, and you're right, it's the smaller, seemingly simple systems that can eat you alive. It's simple, you can bill for more design, engineering and troubleshooting in very large jobs. Small jobs don't have as much room for error.

RF interference that causes intermittent control operation is definitely a growing problem. The number of installers who have been caught in the “move to 37 locations, change the RF channel and remove the base station antenna” dance is long and distinguished, indeed.

One problem is that there are more components emitting interference causing RF radiation now than 4 or 5 years ago. Almost all devices are chock full of microprocessors and antennas. Amps are going digital, replete with high speed, digital switching power supplies (often poorly shielded, imports). WiFi is everywhere too. Many more cables transmit high speed, digital signals and can radiate RF noise.

Potential for disaster is everywhere. Especially difficult is the intermittent operation variety that seems to be the hallmark of RF interference.

The upshot is that we're asking remotes to operate in a sea of RF, and they're drowning instead. On occasion, we've even taken a step back and gone the IR repeater route. Sure, that's going back a decade, and they have challenges, too.

On the other hand, when your techs spend 4 hours and 2 or 3 trips troubleshooting an intermittent operation problem that's got your customer pulling their hair out, maybe it's time for a new direction.

You're spot on. Set the expectation and charge for service calls. Some customers may protest, but if those protests fall on deaf ears because you're out of business, the next integrator that comes calling will likely charge them even more.

By Steve Faber on   5/22/2013 6:55 PM

Re: Five Ways to Help Monetize Systems Integration Service Calls

Thanks Todd, your article on "Five Ways to Help Monetize Systems Integration Service Calls" is very good and we will implement our own interpretation of this in our company. Indeed, I will endeavour to "spread the word" as all too often we have seen our colleagues suffer enormous strain from not knowing where to draw the line in the sand.

By Frank Di Bartolo on   5/22/2013 8:13 PM

Re: Five Ways to Help Monetize Systems Integration Service Calls

I agree with Todd's article and Steve Faber's comments. All too often I (and my colleagues) have almost bled to death from the thousands of cuts inflicted (minor & intermittent service calls) because either we or our staff have not explained where the line in the sand is.

By Frank Di Bartolo on   5/22/2013 8:17 PM

Re: Five Ways to Help Monetize Systems Integration Service Calls

Very well said. Thanks for sharing your insight. I particularly agree with the importance establishing a level of expectation up front. It's impossible to know at the outset when a "simple job" on paper is going to turn into a real morass. If and when that occurs, it's often too late to have a conversation about expectations.
Small jobs and big jobs do warrant different handling. But the larger point still stands.

I also think having this conversation with clients would dove-tail nicely into a discussion of Extended Service Plans. Although that's a topic for another day.

By Jason Griffing on   5/22/2013 10:37 PM

Re: Five Ways to Help Monetize Systems Integration Service Calls

Finally well said,we always have a good sell and then every thing you made goes back to the client,why?.......
The client needs to be educated by TODD'S 5 POINTS.

By Asif Latif on   5/25/2013 8:31 AM

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