There’s that golden, warm, sweet glowing period that surrounds that first, wonderful, falling-in-love part of a relationship. The sun shines a little brighter, birds chirp a little sweeter, rainbows add a new color and even Fiona Apple is happy.
During this time, everyone is on their best behavior and all the little faults and foibles are overlooked and often thought of as cute, endearing quirks.
This is commonly known as "the honeymoon period."
In the boy-girl dynamic, it can be something like, “Oh, it’s so cute how he hums while he eats. It’s like he’s singing his food a little lullaby! I just love him so much!”
But a few weeks/months later it can slowly transform into, “Do you even know that you’re humming? Or how irritating it is? Seriously, it’s like *really* annoying and kind of makes me want to stab you in the face with my fork!”
It’s much the same in the business dynamic, yet with (hopefully) more clothing during the final consummation. At first it’s assurances from the seller of great service and terrific performance and top quality and promises of enjoying the end product and timely payment from the buyer.
But as the relationship progresses beyond signing the contract, and running the wire and installing the system and completing the programming and ultimately handing over the job to the owner, things can pop up that can test the relationship.
And few things can prove to be a bigger relationship tester than a broken piece of equipment.
As people that are in the industry, working with gear on a daily basis, we understand that sometimes, for no apparent reason whatsoever and even under the best of circumstances, things can break. It can be the best gear in the world, installed in the most perfect way possible, in the most equipment friendly, conditioned space ever, and used but once in a blue moon, and it can still break. Meaning that sooner or later, you’re going to have to deal with a situation where a system goes down because of a component failure.
As difficult, awkward and honeymoon-vibe killing as it may be, the time to discuss how broken equipment will be handled should be done early in the relationship, and not at the crisis phone call moment of, “That piece you sold me is broken! Did you sell me a pile of junk?! I expect you to bring me a new one…RIGHT NOW!”
Now, in many customers’ eyes, the WARRANTY – spoken in a grave and solemn voice as to imply that it was etched on tablets of stone by the very finger of God – is a sacrosanct document that stands between them and any broken piece of equipment. It is a promise that their system will work, or by God, be made whole again in the fastest and freest manner possible. But, in reality, the warranty has very specific guidelines on what it does and – sometimes more importantly – what is DOESN’T cover. These are the items that should be discussed with the client so they’ll know exactly how you and your company plan on standing behind the system you sold/installed.
Let’s break down the wording in a typical warranty document, shall we? I’ve selected Denon and Samsung’s warranties to use as examples because they are large, commonly used brands.
First up is the length of the warranty. This is usually pretty straight forward, but varies by manufacturer and even by component type from each manufacturer. Important to notice is that some products (typically video) carry a much lower warranty duration for labor than parts. Some manufacturers offer particularly terrific warranties – for example, 5 years on Sony’s ES line and lifetime on Niles speakers – which might make them more attractive in your customer’s eyes.
While this document frequently states things like “Any product which is not purchased from an authorized dealer…” – or what we used to refer to as the, “Well, if you buy it on the Internet, you won’t have a warranty! So, caveat emptor, buyer beware and all that!” clause – in reality the manufacturer will often still take care of the purchaser and warranty the unit.
No, the parts of this section that are relevant are any damage due to “abuse, misuse, neglect.” Remote controls that drop on the tile floor and shatter? Not covered. The AV receiver that you installed in the pool house that was literally consumed by chlorine gas within ten months? Yeah, also not covered.
Another key phrase is the “use in industrial, commercial, and/or professional applications” meaning that typical consumer gear installed in restaurants, bars, clubs, etc. are not protected by the manufacturer warranty. This is a good point to raise with your customer in the honeymoon to help steer them towards a piece of gear that is designed for a more intense 24/7 duty cycle.
With larger televisions, in-home service is often part of the warranty. However, the bit of wording most requiring attention is (10) in the Denon warranty and the second sentence in the Samsung warranty. To whit, “The following are not covered by the Warranty (10) Any installation or removal charges resulting from product failure,” (Denon) and “To receive in-home service, the product must be unobstructed and accessible to service personnel” (Samsung) In installer-ese this means that the warranty DOES NOT cover you driving out to the house to disconnect the product and remove it from the house. Or, in the case of TVs, many repair companies will NOT work on a TV if it is wall-mounted, and someone – often you, the dealer/installer – will need to remove the set from said wall before it can be worked on.
Believe me, many – MANY – of your clients are likely under the assumption that WARRANTY covers the cost of you or staff driving to their home, diagnosing the problem, disconnecting the component, getting it repaired, and then returning it, reinstalling it – in the case of a receiver possibly doing a ground up reconfiguration – and then insuring that it is working correctly. All for free. In the case of a receiver this could easily be a couple of hours not to mention the travel time. (This little bit caused me to write the missive, “Who’s gonna step up to pay up?” discussing warranties and responsibility.)
In most cases, getting service is going to require transporting – aka “shipping” – the unit to an authorized repair center. (Our company actually ships most components from South Carolina to an authorized repair facility in New Jersey.)
This is pretty straight-forward in that (a) You (meaning anyone other than the manufacturer) are responsible for transporting the unit or arranging for its transportation and (b) You (ditto) must pay the initial shipping charges. While this is clearly spelled out, it is often not appreciated by the customer as the total expense it can be.
There are very real costs (labor and materials) associated with packaging (you did ask them to keep the original box and packaging, right?), insurance and shipping charges to send a component off for repair. A heavy receiver/amp can easily cost upwards of $50. (And God help you if it is damaged in shipping. The fact that UPS collects your “extra insurance” money, accepts your package, ships your package, damages your package and then is the sole and ultimate determiner in who is to blame and liable for the damage is an egregious injustice. We’ve had claims denied for “insufficient packaging” when the box had clear TIRE MARKS on it! But, I digress…
What the Warranty Will Do
Once the product arrives at a repair facility, the warranty does cover it being fixed or replaced at the manufacturer’s discretion. Replacement doesn’t guarantee a NEW unit though, as they might end up getting a refurbished replacement instead. And even if the customer is absolutely convinced that the product may “catch on fire and kill them in their sleep,” and WILL NOT have this unit back in their home, this does not obligate the manufacturer to give them a new one.
However, (most) manufacturers are not completely soulless, stone-hearted automatons, and if a unit has been repaired multiple times in a short period, many times they will offer a dealer in good standing a replacement unit to accommodate a customer in need.
So, how can you spin this potentially negative, “you’re sleeping on the couch tonight!” honeymoon-wrecking conversation into something that will make them still think you’re custom installation’s Prince Charming?
Have a clearly defined and established policy and discuss it with your customer. And – if applicable – highlight why working with your company is such a great thing.
For instance, if something breaks during the first month under the warranty period, what’s your company’s policy on this? Do you “eat” all the charges involved? The shipping and truck rolls and reinstallation? What about within three months? Or six months? Or during the entire warranty period? Do you offer some kind of a maintenance plan that covers these costs? Do you provide a loaner system that will insure that they aren’t totally without during the repair period? Do you have long-built relationships with manufacturers that will ensure that your clients get preferential treatment when you call with an issue?
Highlighting and explaining the strengths of your service and how you stand behind your installations and handle repair issues can be a giant factor in separating doing business with you from buying on the Internet or from purchasing from a Big Box store.
And bringing this up during the “honeymoon” will help offset any hard feelings and misunderstandings when a problem arises later on. I guarantee it.