Should You Service What You Didn’t Sell?

Service LeeDistad

There’s an advertising catchphrase that probably dates back to the dawn of advertising: “We service what we sell!” You’ll see it appended as a tagline everywhere from car dealerships to general merchandise retailers.

Last week my kitchen fridge died — it was only seven years old. I say “kitchen fridge” to differentiate it from the downstairs beer fridges. (Beer fridges are a Canadian thing, and talking to my American peers, haven’t caught on with you the way they have here.)

Strangely, at first, I couldn’t find my bill of sale in my filing cabinet. I also couldn’t find the owner’s manual in my manual files, which was even more strange. So I called the service desk of the high-end boutique appliance dealer in town, where we’ve bought so many appliances over the years. They looked up my account, and, even more strangely, we hadn’t purchased the fridge from them.

So, I asked about service options, and the gentleman on the phone was considerate but told me that they only do service calls on appliances that were bought there. I wasn’t angry, but I was curious and inquired why. Their reasoning was that the demand for service for major appliances is high. The sheer number of repair outlets in town is a testament to that. With the service techs and resources they have, they must prioritize looking after the customers who’ve bought from them — which I understand and sympathize with.

But that got me thinking. For AV pros, what are the arguments for and against fixing other company’s broken systems?

Now, let me just say that despite some commonalities in client management/relationship building and selling luxury and not necessities, there are plenty of differences between AV install companies and appliance dealers (even the most boutique ones that sell high-end everything and offer white-glove service).

Over the years, I’ve spoken with many AV dealers, and this particular conversation I’ve had many times. When it comes to servicing other companies’ systems, AV pros fall broadly into two main camps.

One says, “No. Never. No way. No exceptions.”

The other, “Yes, but only under particular conditions.”

The reasons why seasoned AV pros feel that way are diverse and could fill a much longer article, so to be brief, I’ll try to summarize.

The predominant thinking in the Never camp is that you’re cleaning up someone else’s mess, and that can be distasteful. Further, the risk to the client is that, as my grandfather used to say, they’re throwing good money after bad. Sometimes the cost/benefit analysis indicates that a better use of funds than patching a defective system would be to rip it out and start from the beginning, as opposed to building on an already shaky foundation, as it were.

That cost/benefit analysis that’s off-putting to some AV pros is conversely one of the things that makes repairing a faulty system attractive to others.

When I said, some will say, “Yes, but only under particular conditions,” what they really mean is, “This is our rate, and the meter starts running as soon as you, the client, say ‘Go.’ The meter won’t stop running until we’re the heroes.”

The ego boost and positive PR that comes from being the client’s hero is not to be underestimated, but ego boosts don’t pay the bills. System repairs by the hour can be both lucrative and profitable, both on a per-job basis, but in terms of net new future business from repeat and referral clients.

So really, which tack your company takes depends on both your appetite for risk and hourly billings.

In case you’re wondering, I did find the receipt, and I did call the service center of the dealer I bought the fridge from, who confirmed the extended warranty had run out. A $100 service call confirmed that yes, it’s broken, and no, it can’t be fixed.

So we went back to our first choice of high-end appliance dealers and bought a new fridge, much nicer than the last one, and it was delivered the next day.

And of course, I bought the warranty.