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Customers Who Have Bought An Extended Warranty And … Gasp … Use it?

You approach the service counter of a typical retailer, any  retailer, armed only with a defective product and the extended service you purchased on it. You recall back one year ago when you purchased the product. The sales associate spun a glowing tale of being able to take care of you and your product for an additional three years beyond the manufacturer’s warranty. You were skeptical as it was explained to you about all the time, money and headaches that you would avoid if you bought their service contract. By the time they were done you were sold. You wanted the plan, you needed that plan. It was pricey, but the peace of mind it provided was well worth the investment. Besides, the sales associate was just so darn sincere.

Fast-forward one year. As you make the long walk to the customer service counter, it starts to resemble a scene right out of a Clint Eastwood western.  You receive a steely look from the person working behind the customer service counter. You imagine yourself in the center of town on a lonely, empty street while tumbleweeds roll by.

On the other end of the street is someone you thought was your friend but now looks ready to draw on you once the word is given. You nervously lay down the product and place the paperwork for the extended warranty on the box. The person behind the customer-service counter looks at you first, then the box and paperwork, then back at you with a look of sheer contempt. That’s when you realize you’re in trouble. Faster than drawing a Colt revolver from his holster, the associate starts asking you questions meant to win this showdown:

BANG! “When did you purchase this?”

BANG! “Did you call the 800# first?”

BANG! “You know we’re going to have to test this?”

BANG! “We’re going to have to send this out and determine if it’s covered or not.”

You stagger from the rapid fire that has just occurred. Suddenly you come to realize this wasn’t what was described to you when you bought the service contract, which now seems to be an eternity ago. As you stand there stunned and defensive, the words ring in your ears: “It will save you time, money and headaches.” As you go through the painful process, you begin to wonder, “In the westerns, didn’t the good guy always win”?

All right, I admit it; this was a rather dramatic example of what many customers go through today when they attempt to get their product serviced.

The simple point is many companies spend millions on training and materials to teach their employees how to effectively sell service contracts. For the sake of full disclosure, my company is an industry leader in that field. I have made a living on teaching sales associates how to be more successful selling service contracts. About a year ago, I started addressing what happens after the contract is sold in my trainings. This came about because of the way I was handled by various retailers when I made claims on my service contracts. It really opened my eyes to experiences that customers have when they need to take advantage of their plans. The reason is simple – we spend so much time and energy worrying about the front end sale, we forget, or perhaps we never thought about, the customer service experience after the sale.

The most important aspect of good customer service isn’t during the sale, but long after the sale. How a customer is treated after they have made a purchase dictates whether or not they will ever shop with you again. Retailers must take the time to train their people on the art of handling the customer when they come to the store with an extended-service plan claim. Now, I am not saying that no matter what the situation, you must take care of the customers. There will be times when a product may not be covered under your plan. There is, however, a right way and a wrong way to handle those situations. The question you need to ask yourself is, “Have I taught my people how to handle these situations the right way?” If not, you may play into people’s misconception of service contracts, ensuring they will never purchase a plan going forward.

Think of all the publications and TV consumer advocates whose mantra is that extended-service plans are sold for profit and not to take care of the customers. The way the customer is handled either contradicts or verifies what was reported.

It’s time retailers started keeping a close eye on what happens on the back end of a service contract. The customer needs to feel relief that they purchased the plan you offered. You made a promise to them, and you plan on happily fulfilling that promise. It’s imperative that when that customer walks out the door, they have to feel like the best decision they made was buying a plan from you! That won’t happen if the time isn’t taken to teach the people in the store the “proper” way of handling an extended-service plan claim. That can’t happen without proper training.

So, to quote Clint Eastwood, “Go ahead, make the customer’s day.” (OK, a little creative license.)

John Quattrucci, president, Stuart & Associates