A new pandemic is brewing in the appliance biz

By Scott Bekins, Contributor

Most people familiar with appliance repair would agree that warranty service often falls short on customer satisfaction and has only worsened over the years, with no end in sight to the decline.

Manufacturers focus on marketing, promotions and R&D to create an exciting, fast-paced and very competitive industry, which is mostly good for the consumer. However, the lack of commitment to service has created a growing problem for vendors, servicers and even the environment, as frustrated customers fill landfills with repairable products.

Warranty repair is the responsibility of the manufacturer and can be a tremendous loyalty-building opportunity. Unfortunately, it is approached by most manufacturers as a cost center that needs to be aggressively minimized. The last few years of record demand for appliances, along with our current labor shortage and inflation, will only exacerbate this problem.

The appliance industry is largely unlicensed and unregulated; combine that with low-paying warranty rates, and the recipe does not produce professionalism or responsiveness. Moreover, the lack of formal training and comparatively low wages makes appliance repair go unnoticed by most technically-oriented people seeking a career.

The manufacturers’ drive to sell more without regard for post-sale service creates a huge problem when an appliance needs repair. Unlike the auto industry, which sells through dealers that are required to service and are held accountable for their service satisfaction scores, the appliance industry sells mostly through channels that do not service. True, the manufacturer is responsible to provide warranty service and may use factory technicians, servicing dealers, independent servicers or a combination of all three. But with no profit on warranty parts, a lack of equitable warranty reimbursement and deteriorating technical support, the availability of quality servicers is declining.

Factory service can be a positive experience if the technician is proud of and specialized in the brand he or she represents. This is more typical of major metropolitan areas that have enough repair volume to justify the cost of a factory technician. Conversely, independent servicers partner with multiple appliance manufacturers, which helps volume although their technicians are not specialized in any one brand.

Meanwhile, servicing dealers are forced to allocate profits from their sales to run a professional service operation because they see the value in customer satisfaction and loyalty.

There is a solution, however. Appliance servicers must be offered warranty reimbursement rates that won’t put them in the red, along with quality technical training and support. Appliance manufacturers must allocate the necessary resources to support servicers and provide sufficient compensation to operate responsive, knowledgeable, professional, clean, respectful and caring repair services. 

Less than that is not service, nor does it engender brand loyalty.

Scott Bekins is the owner of Bekins, a West Michigan appliance and electronics business, and is the founding chairman of the BrandSource National Service Committee, which is working to ensure the profitability of members’ service operations. Join the BrandSource Service Dealers Facebook group to learn more.

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