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 Pumais president of The Source Home Theater Installation in New York City.