Do You Get Paid to Troubleshoot AV Systems?

I live in Buffalo, NY. We're not known for warmth. When I was in college and had my own apartment the heat wasn't allowed on until November (to save limited funds for more important things like going out). Until then, you bundled up to keep warm. This works until you have kids. Now the heat comes on in October. (I should state that when I started this blog last week it was almost 65 degrees. Although currently it is rainy and 41 degrees out.) This is Buffalo, where a different day can mean a totally different weather pattern.
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I live in Buffalo, NY. We're not known for warmth. When I was in college and had my own apartment the heat wasn't allowed on until November (to save limited funds for more important things like going out). Until then, you bundled up to keep warm. This works until you have kids. Now the heat comes on in October. (I should state that when I started this blog last week it was almost 65 degrees. Although currently it is rainy and 41 degrees out.) This is Buffalo, where a different day can mean a totally different weather pattern.

When my heat came on I noticed it was not heat at all, but cool air. Odd. Maybe it was a fluke. Maybe I didn't have my coffee. But then, the other evening, I swear I heard the air conditioner come on. Could it be? Na.

As I sat down this morning I heard it again. I ran to the window nearest to the compressor and sure enough the dang thing is on. I checked the thermostat, which claimed "heat" not "cool." So I promptly called the company that installed the system 15 months ago and explained my issue. After a brief stint on hold they told me that they were sending someone over that morning.

The guy performed a troubleshoot procedure for about an hour and a half and couldn’t re-create the issue. He thought there may be something wrong with the thermostat. After a call back to the office he said he would change it out and to let him know if I still had the problem later. The thermostat was under warranty. There was no charge.

Later that day I heard the air conditioner kick on again. This time my husband experienced it too, but he fixed it by turning off the breaker. Yeah! Heat. Another call was placed and again someone came out to check out the system.

Should I be charged?

Troubleshooting is one of the hardest things to get paid for, especially if you were the one to install the system. I know that every custom integrator has a story (and feel free to share) about a client who wanted you out to their house today to fix a glitch, believing that your truck roll should be free of charge. I've noticed that the timeline doesn't change their opinion.

I just had a client who requested that we stop at their house to take a broken flat panel TV down from above the fireplace. Once repaired, we put it back up. The client did not feel they should have to pay for this service, even though the TV was not under warranty. They said that this is why they buy local.

When push comes to shove, what is our responsibility when it comes to troubleshooting? Technology is not a perfect science and chances are that there will be glitches. But how far do you go? What is the line you won't cross? How many hours will you let go of to make sure that client is telling their friends good things about you and not spewing bad news? I don't know the answers, but I'm looking for them every day.

Here’s what I think we can do:

Sell the right products: It’s hard to be a local business, especially one with a showroom, because clients can and will find you. For this reason we only sell what we can stand behind. No more mass-market no-name products. Not even for the holiday season. Let them wait in line at Midnight on Thanksgiving. When those TVs break, they'll think to themselves, “Well, I only paid $X for it so I can throw it away." If they bought the same TV for the same price from the little guy? Oh, you’d better believe they'll be calling you, demanding that you make good on it.

Be upfront: Let the client know what you WILL do. Do you offer a better warranty (a labor warranty) if they purchase all products from you? Let the client know what you do and do not cover, upfront, so there are no questions later.

Be human: Remember that this stuff is frustrating. Try to see it from the client’s perspective. Be honest with the client; trying to cover up an issue never works.

Have good troubleshooters: Having good installers that can take a step back to figure out a problem can be priceless. Make sure your guys (or girls) can handle this pressure cooker situation. Get them trained and encourage them to “phone a friend” if needed. (Sometimes explaining the issue or getting a second opinion does the trick!)

We don't live in a perfect world, and the average person probably does not "feel" for us AV companies. You're probably going to have to go out on a job for free from time to time and troubleshoot. But if this happens too often, you are draining your profit. Let’s do all we can to make money and avoid these issues.

Heather L. Sidorowicz is project manager/designer for Southtown Audio Video in Hamburg, NY.

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