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Service Contracts: An Understood Benefit

How do you handle the topic of ongoing service and maintenance during your sales process?

How do you handle the topic of ongoing service and maintenance during your sales process? Given the unquestionable importance of aftercare to the customer experience, I am surprised at how few integrators I’ve worked with and spoken to have really given this question the consideration it deserves. By and large, a passive approach to the topic seems to rule the day. Vague reference toward a “dedication to service” may be tossed out in passing. But while product literature, sample schematics, and detailed proposals are sprawled out over the conference table, literature of any sort documenting a service program is a rarity. And polished sales presentations around the topic of aftercare are virtually nonexistent.

Broaching the Topic

Before I go further, I should make a confession: I was a salesman for a time, and I fell into the same trap many others do. Service is a difficult topic to broach during the sales process. The fear of scaring off a client is always there. This is especially true in a competitive bid environment where others are looking for any angle they can to gain an edge. With everyone putting their best foot forward, planting even a small seed of doubt about system reliability in the client’s mind felt like a slippery slope.

Service has to become a formalized offering and a key part of the value proposition you present to end users.

So, I would shy away from an in-depth conversation about service. I would hesitate to discuss how the ownership experience might look for the first three to six months as we worked the bugs out. I certainly never mentioned that they might consider setting aside a spare bedroom for us as we commissioned the system. And I almost never brought up the fact that we’d be in their home five-to-ten-times as frequently as any other trade over the life of the system. They didn’t ask, so I didn’t tell.

Surely, you’ve been there. The problem is that even if you succeed in landing the job, sooner or later reality always set in. Some calamitous failure or series of hiccups shakes the client’s confidence in their purchase. Buyer’s remorse and frustration abound. And all you can do is try to contain the damage.

Control the Dialogue

Setting client expectations early can greatly reduce (if not eliminate) feelings of surprise and frustration surrounding technology failures. But understanding the importance of this conversation and effectively steering it, are two different things. The answer to this challenge requires a shift in thinking about service. Service is not something our industry can afford to continue treating like an afterthought. Instead, it has to become a formalized offering and a key part of the value proposition we present to our end users.

Creating a formal service contract (whether it’s tied to RMR or not), which puts things such as hours of availability and guaranteed response times into writing, is something every integration company needs to do right away. Accompanying sales and marketing materials clearly outlining the benefits of your service program are also a must. With this backing material in place, and presented prominently during your sales presentations, you can begin to shift the dialogue around service. Instead of it being perceived by your client as an exercise of ongoing damage control, it becomes an understood benefit of working with your business.

Without a formalized and robust service offering, however, your warnings about the importance of aftercare are likely to come across as little more than red flags, planting a seed of doubt about your ability to match the high-flying promises of your competition. After all, no one enjoys the company of people who always discuss problems, but never solutions.

But with a thoughtful approach to the dialogue, and the right service program in place to back you, the seed of doubt will shift. No longer will clients fear doing business with you because you openly discuss service. Instead, they’ll fear doing business with your competition because they don’t.