The Future of Selling Service to Churches

It’s all in the fine print. Most people won’t open up new gear and grab the owner’s manual and warranty information and spend the next two hours pouring over that fascinating documentation. For those of us who do, we will find myriad legal terms that outline our options should we need technical support or have a warranty issue. It’s often well after the fact that we learn about what is — and isn’t — covered when it comes to our audio, video and lighting (AVL) systems. And sometimes, it’s too late.

But what would happen if service contracts and preventative maintenance were combined with world-class repair and equipment loaner services? I submit that the future of selling AVL to churches would become more profitable and result in much happier church clients.

In the church market, larger purchasing decisions often only focus on the cost of materials and the installation of AVL equipment. But it’s important to know what churches can expect from the manufacturer and from their systems integrator when it comes to service, warranties and ongoing support. The opportunity here is for vendors to help churches review the practical concerns and day-to-day operational considerations that churches should consider before they purchase in order to keep their investment performing consistently.

My time working on staff at churches taught me to build relationships with people who know more than I do. With that in mind, I intentionally got to know other church tech leaders, consultants, architects, design-build systems integrators and manufacturer representatives serving the house of worship market. I also learned that DIY (Do It Yourself) is possible in some situations, but that for consistent results and good stewardship, most projects required the help of other professionals.

So many churches want to “do it themselves” under the guise of cost-savings and confuse stewardship with free and/or cheap. Good stewardship has far less to do with how much money is saved and far more to do with how much isn’t wasted. DIY only to later pay to have it done well is not good stewardship of the resources churches are entrusted with through the donations of their congregants.

And even when entire AVL systems were done by hired professionals, I learned (over years) that what was covered and what was optional simply didn’t get captured in the contract, leaving the church to spend additional funds that were not budgeted to keep our AVL systems ready for weekend services.

It is from the experiences that shocked me as well as those that delighted me where I learned valuable lessons on how I as a church technician needed to present plans and options that took into account things like limited lifetime warranties, loaner programs, repair programs and ‘acts of God’ when budgeting for upgrades, replacements and new systems.

No two warranty programs are the same and service contracts are still seen as ‘price gouging’ by the jaded or uninformed. The AVL industry, headed by the newly minted AVIXA, would do well to propose open standards for warranty programs and service contracts. Though varying technologies obviously require varying levels of support and maintenance, churches — heck, every client type — would benefit from a standard starting place to define common post-sale expectations for components, consumables, and maintenance. Failing that, it would be a huge differentiator for systems integrators to take the lead and create ‘the-buck-stops-here’ warranty and service agreements that made them the single point of contact for clients dealing with these types of issues.

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Learning from the past, I’d suggest that AVL dealers and systems integrators add these options into their service and support packages.

  • Cross-Ship Loaner Service: When the defective component is shipped (with tracking number), the loaner component is shipped to the church.
  • Three-Day Repair and Ship: When a defective component is shipped out on a Monday (overnight), premium repair ensures the equipment is fixed and shipped (overnight) within three business days so that the church can get it up and running before the following weekend.
  • On-site Loaner: The vendor goes on-site and handles the labor of removing the defective component(s), the installation of temporary replacement components and the shipping of the unit to their repair bench or to the manufacturer.

Churches will pay for these additional service contracts because of the reality that Sunday comes every seven days. It’s a ‘cost of doing business’ that is easily understood by church leaders. As I’ve written about previously, when the overall cost of maintaining a system is calculated annually or over the lifetime of a component, the ‘cost per service’ is easy to understand — and budget for — before the sale is even made.

Here’s how it’s possible to make more money and serve churches better. Stick with me through the simplified math.

For example, if a system costs $100,000 (equipment and installation), then that cost is divided against the total number of weekends, multiplied by the number of services per week/weekend for the expected number of years of service. So, for a church running three services per weekend at 52 weekends per year, that’s 156 services per year. Over 10 years, that’s 1,560 services at cost of $64 per service.

But what would it cost per service if preventative maintenance and support service was included for 10 years? If the service contract progressively changed by only one-half of one percent per year starting at .05% in year one to 5% in year 10 on that original $100,000 system, that equals $33,500 in service and preventative maintenance over 10 years.

This means the total cost per service including preventive maintenance and support for 10 years comes out to only $84 per service! That’s the original system plus 10 years of maintenance and support to maximize the investment and ensure the system works every single weekend.

In all my years working for churches, I’ve seen firsthand what could happen when there was only manufacturer support. In some cases, the church came out OK, but all too often, the lack of having a dealer/integrator relationship cost the church time, aggravation and more money than they would have spent if they’d had the relationship and service contract to see them through technical issues.

Take it from someone who’s ‘been there, done that’ — find yourself a qualified systems integrator that has the service personnel available to you in case of an emergency. The future is profitable for the vendors smart enough to make this crucial shift in our industry.