The Customer Care Conversation, Part Three

Ed Wenck | Mar 26, 2020
Following a conversation thread that started on the CEDIA Community board regarding customer care programs, CEDIA set up a conference call with 35 member participants to explore the conversation further and share insights and experience. Here’s part three of our highlights from the call.

How do you market these solutions to your clients?

James Ratcliffe, Homeplay (Sunbury-on-Thames, England, UK):

When it comes to marketing and communicating our service plan to customers, it is about being really clear and making it apparent that it's the same for everyone, no one is getting special treatment. I have it detailed on my website, front and center.

Robert May, Sounds Good Smart Homes (Oakville, Ontario, CAN):

We made our entry level support plan the same price as a service call. To sweeten the deal, clients get 10% off any additional billable labor for the year. Most of our older clients jump on the support plan and when my office manager follows up with them to renew the following year, he'll point out the advantages of bumping up to gold or platinum and that's usually just how we get them rolling in our program.

Mark Feinberg, Home Theater Advisors (NY, NY):

With new clients, it's part of the presentation of the proposal. We have a brochure on our support plans, and it's presented as we include three months of it in the proposal. They sign a support plan agreement and they chose which plan they want to be on. Our lowest is a pay-as-you-go tier — there's no cost to it. Clients pay to either call us or have us come out. A phone call is going to be charged and there's no afterhours support. We have a standard tier, which basically gives them the OvrC home app and they can reboot things themselves. Then we have our preferred and concierge options that have the two Parasol tiers, and those are fixed monthly amounts. For the concierge tier, if we can't fix it remotely and we can fix it in less than 30 minutes on site, that visit is included. We also include an annual onsite firmware update and cleaning of the rack.

Mike Ranpura, Smart Life AV (London, UK):

We send the client a separate document with the proposal, which includes information about our care plan service, and we say that it's a requirement for the system to have this in place. We haven't had any pushback on this. We may flex a bit on their monthly price depending on the scale of the system, but generally, if you're confident and you make it clear that technology does go wrong and for it to run reliably, you need to have it maintained, then it works.

Robert May:

We charge an annual rate too. It reduces the hassle of having to track it monthly and it's nice to get that lump sum.

Chad Nichols, SimpTech Solutions (Cincinnati, OH):

A difference of opinion here, but I would give away a piece of equipment, before I would give away service time. We don't manufacturer the product, it's a black box to us, there is no value in it for us. But our service, that has value that will continue to grow.
We use monthly billing as it eliminates questions from our clients. When they get the larger bill at the end of a year, they tend to question whether or not they got enough service out of it. As far as marketing it is concerned, we don't allow a service call for anything unless a client has chosen a plan. They have the option to choose a zero plan, but we make them look at the consequences of that and sign off on it before we send anybody out to it.

We send an invoice for every service call that we do. 

Mike Ranpura:
We find that using a monthly price plan is better for cashflow reasons. We also use GoCardless, which automatically takes payment out by direct debit.

Chad Nichols:

We do quarterly as it means less credit charges for us, it's less to track, and it eliminates the big annual bill for the client.

Ron Wanless:

We send an invoice for every service call that we do. It's absolutely necessary to make sure that the client understands that especially with remote services, that we've done something either proactively or reactively to work on their system and make sure that it's maintained. And so, giving them those invoices tends to make them understand that the service they're paying for is paying off.

James Ratcliffe:

We used to get clients to buy pre-blocked hours of time. There were a lot of people who liked that but meant that some were paying us money and never calling us, and others were calling in all the time and it was very difficult to manage. Now, they pay us for priority and all of the member support is free of charge. All onsite support is billable, that's even if you're on our top plan. We found that people are less likely to call you out for silly things.

Keith Harrison Keith Harrison, Total Home Technologies (NYC and NJ):

I believe that most of our customers suffer in silence — you don't hear from customers that they are unplugging something, or there is something that doesn't work in their house and they're annoyed by it. They don't say anything because it either doesn't bother them enough, or they're not willing to pay to get it fixed. If it's something major, they're going to call you. I think we get better feedback from our clients about what's actually going on and what’s making them happy if they don't feel that every time they pick up the phone or send an email, they are going to get an invoice.

James Ratcliffe:

I agree with that, which is the reason why I bundle everything into one cost per month and that way, the clients do bring me those small problems. Yes, it means that maintenance eats up more of your time, but it means that you're delivering a high level of service and building great relationships. The client's never going to feel that they don't want to sort a problem out because it's going to cost them too much.