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Written Service Agreements?

Down the rabbit hole of setting customer expectations.

You might not think too many new things would surface that we haven’t addressed in our nearly 25 years in business, but just as technology continues to change, so do business practices, and occasionally we are forced to step back and examine something that we have — or haven’t — been doing.

Our company recently went through the process of becoming HTA (Home Technology Association) certified, and while that is a subject for a blog on its own right, one of the questions in the application spurred a lot of discussion between my business partner, Allen, and myself: Does your company have a written service policy?

Related: Do Certifications Matter?

The short answer is, no, we don’t. But after talking about it, we realized that we probably should have something, and chances are pretty good that your company should, too.

We did have something that we came up with years ago. It covered things like the customer needing to notify us a certain amount of time ahead of their requested pre-wire and final installation dates; the customer (or representative) needing to be on-site to specify exact locations prior to/or at the beginning of the pre-wire; that delays or changes to the project’s schedule outside our company’s control might result in additional charges; that we aren’t responsible for repairing poor work caused by other trades (such as electricians, sheetrockers, or painters); and that, due to the length of some projects, a component model, specifications, and/or dimension could change prior to installation unless secured by a deposit.

This agreement did a good job of laying out some of the things that routinely crop up during a start-to-finish installation project, but, in truth, neither Al or I did a great job of utilizing it consistently, and over time it became outdated, then forgotten. Also, this agreement didn’t offer anything that addressed the service-related issues that routinely come up after jobs have been completed.

We’d like to craft a document that lays out what our company will and won’t cover at no charge following the installation so our customers don’t feel surprised by something. The goal is to address the things that customers might incorrectly assume, so we could pre-emptively set an accurate level of expectations of service so no one is surprised when something arises.

Related: Do Your Customers Know What’s Next?

Further, we’d like it to not come across as some massive bit of cover-our-ass-legalese that will immediately alienate a customer at the outset and make them feel like we’re trying not to stand behind our installations.

The kinds of things that Allen and I would like to attempt to figure out and address in a written policy are:

  • How long will we provide free service following an installation, and what does and doesn’t that “free” service include?
  • Specify that equipment purchased from us is covered by the manufacturer’s warranty, and what this warranty does and doesn’t cover (such as our labor to remove, ship — including packaging materials if customer didn’t retain packaging as requested — and reinstall the component)
  • How will our service policy vary for items that weren’t purchased from us, but that we installed for the customer.
  • How we handle returns or changes on special order items. (“I know I ordered a 65-inch TV, but now that I see it, I really want a 75….”)

Our initial thoughts were that we would offer some defined number of free follow-up visits within a specified period of time following the project’s completion.

But then this sent us down a rabbit hole of possibilities such as, “Should this amount of time for free follow-ups be shorter for service issues caused by the customer improperly using or forgetting how to use the system?” That your know-it-all-relative came over a month after we installed the system and decided to rewire things and change some settings because of something he read on a forum, is certainly different from us needing to come back out four months later because the router we specified, sold, and installed suddenly factory-defaulted itself and now nothing is working.

In talking this through, we filtered this agreement through what our own expectations would be when hiring a professional service provider. Say you had a garage door opener or new HVAC system installed, and that had some issue unrelated to user error six to eight months after installation. Our expectation would likely be that the company would address this at no charge, and that same expectation and assumption likely applies in the client’s mind to the systems we install.

Other items that we feel should be included are:

  • That smart remote controls require reprogramming if a device is added or changed in the system, and that this isn’t a system “flaw” or something covered for free.
  • Our follow-up visit policy for items not purchased from us; how long should we be expected to come back and troubleshoot an issue with that TV or receiver you purchased elsewhere?

Our next question is on the best timing to give this document to a customer: When they give us a deposit? When we are scheduling the work? Logically, it would need to be before the final bill — or before you are too far into the working relationship — as it wouldn’t be fair to spring it on them at the end. Also, is this something we should make the customer sign to show they have received and acknowledged it?

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We think that this will have to be a living document that could be amended and addressed on case-by-case basis — say what someone spending six figures might expect versus someone simply buying a TV and soundbar — but that we can craft something that addresses the vast majority of issues.

Does your company have a written services policy? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts and insights, how you tackled some of these issues, and how it has helped set expectations for customer follow-ups.