OUT-OF-WARRANTY REPAIRS: How To Convince Customers 



Imagine the plight of a SOHO
customer who buys a printer or a scanner, uses it for two years, and in the
third year finds the product malfunctioning and finally stops working. The user
calls up the retailer from whom he had purchased the scanner and yells at him.
The retailer yells back at him saying “We do not provide after-sales
service,” and directs him to the dealer/distributor or authorized service
center (ASC).

At the ASC, the first question
asked is: “Is the product under warranty?” “No,” says the user.
(Most vendors usually give a warranty of not more than two years, unless you
take an extended warranty for a small price.)

The ASC responds back with:
“We have a problem getting the spares for this model since this model is not
being manufactured any more by the vendor.”

So, what next?  The user is
directed to call up the manufacturer’s own service center. The user calls up
the manufacturer’s own service center. The response appears very helpful and
looks like there’s some light at the end of the tunnel.

The user explains the problems
and provides the date of purchase and other usual formalities and requests the
service engineer to come and visit his place to carry out the repair. The
service center replies with a big “sorry”. Little did the user know that he
would have to carry the scanner all the way to the service center because the
product falls under the ‘carry-in’ category. The user is left with no option
but to carry the defective scanner to the service center.

Till the time the user gets back
the repaired scanner, the user has lost four productive weeks, incurred
transportation expense, a whole lot of phone call expense, service cost and
spare-part cost. And not to forget the mental tension!

Total this up and you will
end-up getting a figure, which is very close to the price of a new
printer/scanner of a newer model. In this scenario, how do you advise your
customer? Should he repair or not?

Available options

“When the cost incurred to
repair a product is exorbitant, we suggest they for a new one,” says Kishore
Karkera of La Plume (an ASC for HP). “Such product obsolescence is not limited
to a few vendors. This happens with all of them,” he adds.

Does this mean the fate of a
product that is out-of-warranty is as good as junk when the product stops
working? This question becomes pertinent when the product belongs to a
manufacturer like HP or Epson who come up with new models every now and then!

While most printer and scanner
manufacturers boast about their service networks, the fact is, not all ASCs are
equipped enough to handle service of obsolete products. “We usually do not
keep spares for products that are not running in the market. But, whenever
required we make a requirement request to vendor’s authorized center and get
the spares. This takes some time,” says a staff at an authorized service
center.

However, this is not the case
with all ASCs. Many ASCs simply direct customers to the vendor’s main service
center if the model under repair is not under warranty or is outdated. Same is
the case even with some big names like Redington who recently refused to service
a (three-year-old) HP scanner that was not under warranty because of
non-availability of spares, and directed the customer to visit HP’s own
service center.

Suppose, the client came from a
B-class city, the repair job would be a nightmarish experience for him/her.

Who rules!

So, who scores in this bargain?
The non-ASCs! Resellers taking up servicing as their secondary business is very
common. However, many have switched over to servicing in a big way. The growth
of non-ASCs in the recent past is an indication that end-users have begun to
accept that their services are at par with ASC’s.

“An ASC is no longer a
king,” says Bhagwan Makhijani of Prism Technologies, “We provide better and
faster service. Besides, the cost involved is also less when they service the
products with us,” he adds.

There is a general feeling among
users that ASCs are costlier than non-ASCs. But this may not be true since many
ASCs are trying to match their service costs with the non-ASCs.

Be it ASC or non-ASC, the fact
remains that, “at the end of the day when I take my repaired product back
home, I end up paying a huge amount,” says an user who recently got his
printer repaired at an ASC.

Both ASCs or non-ASCs have
similar service charges (for example, Rs 250 for a printer). But the total cost
at an ASC adds up to 25-35 percent more than that at a non-ASC because ASCs
claim that they use original components, which are costly but reliable, whereas
non-ASCs may use ‘duplicate’ spares.

“It is true that original
spares cost four to five time more than  non-original spares, but, even if
we use original spares, we manage to service customers at 10-15 percent less
cost than the ASCs. With Indian spares we save up to 25-35 percent,” says
Bhagwan.

Spares quality

But how good or bad are
non-original spares? “The vendor will obviously say it is bad. They will
insist on using the original. But, so far, I have not faced any problem with
Indian made spares. They too last long. Besides they cost only one-fifth of the
original’s price,” adds Bhagwan. ASCs get all the preference from the
vendor, yet the non-ASCs score by cutting overhead costs and transferring the
benefit to the customer.

Another traditional way of
servicing obsolete products is by removing parts from old discarded products.
Although an ASC will have problems doing this, non-ASCs have very little
hesitation in removing parts from unused products. “We buy old non-working
machines and use the good parts from them. This way we are able to tackle the
problem of product obsolescence and customers are also happy,” says Kishore.

This may not work all the time
as one may not get the necessary parts at the required time. This ultimately
induces the servicemen to turn to the so-called ‘duplicates’. As long as the
vendors are not serious about ensuring a quick and continuous supply of required
spares at a reasonable cost, it will be the SOHO customer who will suffer
because of his limited resources.

Vendor’s policy

All vendors have a policy for
servicing products under warranty. Which usually ranges from one to two years.
There also exist a policy of extending warranty by giving a nominal cost. Both
HP and Epson provide a warranty extension pack. Customers are required to apply
for warranty extension with a specified period from the date of purchase. One
can also convert a ‘carry-in’ warranty to an ‘on-site’ warranty by
giving an annual fee. However, this facility is not available for all products.

Even during the warranty period,
to avail of the benefit, it is a must that the product, after purchase, is
registered with the vendor and all the clauses are adhered to. However, many of
the clauses are so ambiguous, "it is as good as not giving a warranty,”
says Bhagwan.

The vendors, of course, have
their own rules on how to implement warranty. They keep a tab on products that
are under warranty through their web sites. Customers just have to feed the
serial number of their product to know the warranty status. But with the
friendly neighborhood non-ASC round the corner, who would want to stray into
cyberspace?

Nelson Johny in Mumbai

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