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Who Should Pay When it Breaks?

  • by John Sciacca

An experience in my showroom last week – when a software update caused my automation system to break my HVAC system, resulting in a $183 repair – brought to mind a real problem in our industry: When something breaks, we installers at the tip of the spear are the ones that end up having to eat the brunt of the costs.

When things break, it is virtually always at the burden of the integrator to just “absorb” the real, out-of-pocket costs involved; the costs of retrieving the rogue unit, the time for repairing the rogue unit, reinstalling the freshie, testing to make sure it actually IS repaired and then paying the shipping charges to return the defective parts back to the manufacturer.

And at a time when gas is frequently pushing $4 a gallon, UPS is charging like $15 to even drive by and look at your store, and margins on hardware are thinner and thinner, these are very real, sucking-the-marrow-from-your-profits, kinds of costs.

The truth is, we install components that are often SO integrated that if something breaks, it is totally unreasonable to expect the customer to retrieve it on their own. Seriously, I can rarely get a person to sack-up and remove a battery from a remote control for heaven’s sake; you think I could get them to disconnect a mixing console, unplug a faulty surge protector or pull down a projector? (That was a big, fat rhetorical. Not only couldn’t I get them to, for the love of everything that is good and holy, I wouldn’t even WANT them to! Being able to simply press the button labeled “TALK” on the microphone is about as high-functional as I want my clients to get.)

This also doesn’t include the time spent in the field testing potentially suspect gear. If you’ve been an installer for any period of time, then chances are you’ve spend looooong minutes on the phone (after looooong minutes of waiting on hold) with someone from tech support s that said something like, “OK, let’s just try a few things before we declare this broken. I’m gonna need you to do is completely blank the system and then we’ll reflash it with some new firmware and then we’ll break out a multi-meter and then try like 10 other things before I’ll even think about considering that the piece you have MAY be broken. Now, this is going to take some time so...” That all takes time. Frequently a lot of it.

And, if you don’t know already, time IS money. Either money you’re billing or money you’re losing.

And during all this time, the client likely has a system that isn’t fully functional, making them think that you probably don’t know what the hell you’re doing (likely not true) or that you sold them a crappy system (ditto).

And beyond the money, you can be losing something even more important: reputation and credibility. Because going forward, any time there is an issue with the system, you think they’re going to immediately going to error on the side of, “Wow, my installer is so great! Everything he puts in is just SO rock solid!” Probably not. Think they might be more likely instead to say something like, “Man! I hate that stupid system so-and-so installed! It is ALWAYS broken!” to some of their contacts? Probably way more likely.

Now, I understand that service contracts are a way of insulating installers from these costs, but really, isn’t that just passing the buck on to the customer? It just makes them pay – or gamble on NOT paying – for a mistake that really isn’t theirs either. Honestly, the person that should be shouldering this burden is the manufacturer. If you include a warranty and that product breaks within that warranty period, is it really thinking too far outside the box that the FULL costs of the labor to mitigate that problem should be covered? Including travel time, gas, on-site troubleshooting time and all shipping costs?

I doubt it will ever happen, but if a company really wanted to garner good will amongst the installer crowd, they could ditch the rhetoric of things like, “We’re protecting our dealers with exclusive territories” or “We’re stamping out all unauthorized Internet sales. Honest this time!” and say something like, “If our stuff breaks, we’ll pay you your costs to get it fixed. All of them.” I imagine that would perk up a few ears. I know it would mine.

For more on this – a lot more – including comments by other integrators, click here to visit my blog.

AVNetwork Staff

The AVNetwork staff are storytellers focused on the professional audiovisual and technology industry. Their mission is to keep readers up-to-date on the latest AV/IT industry and product news, emerging trends, and inspiring installations.