Keep Service Straightforward and Simple

Paul R. Gary
June 1, 2008
COLUMN : Legal

Without question, a window and door manufacturer's most direct interaction with users of its products comes at the customer service and field servicelevels. Companies maintaining comprehensive customer service and warranty service programs routinely place employees in a position to address an owner, user or installer-each of whom is calling because he/she has a problem.

The job of responding is not easy. Equal parts doctor, technician, and therapist, a service representative's role is to identify, fix, and address the needs of the customer while at the same time representing the goals of the company. And it is in the performance of their job that customer service representatives present companies with their greatest opportunity for customer satisfaction-and greatest source for complaints.

That last comment was not intended to offend any customer service departments or their representatives. In fact, most customer service representatives are hardworking individuals who have learned through years of experience that addressing the problem with a modicum of discretion may satisfy even the most stubborn customer. On the other hand, where comments or commitments are made without consideration for full their impact, problems can, and most likely will, arise.

In the usual scenario a representative is presented with details of the complaint about 30 seconds after being met by a customer who is already frustrated by the issues they are experiencing. Interaction with the customer/ owner can set the stage for resolution or litigation very early on in this visit. Communication is the key and some strategy involved. Problems typically created during direct customer interaction include over-committing, trying to placate or simple indifference to the problem. In the midst of this, we feel there are things not to say.

The three phrases below each exemplify the potential start of problems-and should never be repeated by your customer service department:

Uh-oh Phrase 1: "While this is not covered in the warranty, the company will be happy to..." What is the use of having a warranty if the terms and exclusions are not enforced? A warranty must be applied in a fair and equal manner to ensure that you are receiving the most protection possible from the warranty you paid good money to have prepared and circulated. When a customer is promised something beyond the terms of the warranty it calls all other exclusions into question and may prevent the company from later relying on an exclusion that was not contemplated in the initial visit.

Customers will understand that an item is simply not covered by the warranty and they must find their cure elsewhere. They might not like that result, but the equal application of warranty exclusions will ensure that your warranty is there-and applicable-when you need it. In addition, consistently adhering to the warranty allows your service representatives to counter the "poor recollection" of a contentious consumer with the statement that he or she never varies from the warranty and is not authorized to do so.

Uh-oh Phrase 2: "While we cannot find any problem with your home, I know you are upset. So, the company would be happy to...." All companies have difficult customers and clients. There will always be a customer who wants more, no matter what your company does or tries to offer. In many situations, the worst thing that a company can do is to try and simply placate an owner. New products or parts may only whet the appetite for these chronically "squeaky wheel" customers. A better approach might be a product-pride approach: If something is wrong, fix it-if nothing is wrong, don't. This might not stop a potential claim, but it will allow the company to stand confidently behind its product without appearing to waffle with respect to the quality of its manufacturing.

Uh-oh Phrase 3: "Oh, don't worry about that window. The real issue is...." There is only one reason that a customer service call is made-a perceived problem with a window or door. The field representative should explain how he can determine the issue is not with the product and that is all the customer should hear. That is the first and best approach-stick to the product you are there to inspect. Explaining the examination process and why something is (or is not) related to a condition of the product will go a long way toward reaching the end result of customer satisfaction. If possible, avoid comments about other building products or trades. Keeping explanations limited to the performance of the product will help focus the discussion and contain the representations made by your customer service personnel.

At the same time, keep in mind that your customer service technicians are often the first eyes that someone from the company has set on a given product since it left the factory.

Their ability to return information regarding product condition or alternative issues can be important data for future product development and refinement.

Strategies for focusing the discussion between consumers and service representatives should be identified and training implemented so that your people are enabled to accomplish their goals of satisfaction of the consumer and protection of the company. Through training, field representatives become sensitized to the important role they play in the company's continued success and on what to-and as importantly, not to-say.

Paul R. Gary is the prinicipal of The Gary Law Group, a law firm based in Portland, Ore., emphasizing legal issues facing manufacturers of windows and doors. He welcomes feedback about articles published in Window & Door and can be reached at 503/227-8424 or