Product Service—It’s Not Easy to Say No or Yes

Paul R. Gary
May 9, 2015
COLUMN : Legal | Strategies & Practices

In most situations, if you sell it, you service it. This is true for window manufacturers and component vendors. The goal is to maintain customer satisfaction while keeping the scope of service activity within the “four-corners” of the product warranty, i.e. the service effort required by the warranty. With the twists and turns of real life, though, that can be difficult to do.

Every service request entails an aspect of no or yes. For example, past preliminary qualification—yes, it is your product and a reasonable description of the problem has been presented—but the decision of whether the situation calls for action looms. Then, the coverage of the warranty is applied to the facts and, if there is a nice, neat fit, action is required. This is an example of a classic yes.

If the person or the problem involved fall well outside the warranty, then that is an easy no. But, what if the caller is doing their best, being reasonable and the customer service representative honestly can’t tell for sure? Or, the situation described has aspects that appear to be within and outside of the warranty? This and other situations require a deeper strategy.

Asserting a No

For years, we have worked on the consequences from both saying no and yes to warranty claims. Rest assured, if you can tell that the claim is not covered and you see no meaningful mitigating circumstance, the best path is a clear and certain communication that there is no warranty coverage. Note that a record of all warranty contacts and their resolution should be kept.

As you would predict, though, most disputes arise from a refusal to provide service. This is especially true when some circumstance makes the denial seem unfair, which can still be the case even when companies adhere to nearly all written rules, warranties included. Often, companies suggest an alternative path for the caller for the sake of good bedside manner. Yet, there simply have to be limits on what a company will do.

If a follow-up contact is made to reassert a claim, that customer/caller is letting you know he/she doesn’t feel that “no” is acceptable. That person is already set apart from the general population and deserves a careful reiteration of the company’s position as well as an inquiry as to the basis for their dissatisfaction. Without any new information of significance, a cordial “no” should be redelivered. At this point, I would consider supplementing with a short written response, hopefully via email.

Extenuating Circumstances

What if extenuating circumstances do exist? For example, if 12 out of 20 windows in a home suffer an IGU failure within two months of warranty expiration, we have an unfortunate situation that might represent a phenomenon about which the company does not feel comfortable.

Lawyers often field a question in this regard. That is, “can I make an accommodation without getting in trouble for deviating from the warranty?” In my view, based on specialized individual circumstances, you can. Now, whether you should is a classic business decision. If you do, the matter should receive supervisor attention and, if providing service is not technically within the warranty, I recommend a carefully considered confirmation.

The same holds true for situations in which some issues are inside the warranty, and some are not. Assume a company service tech is going to be at the home in any event and an easily remedied out-of-warranty condition can be corrected without further risk. Making a case-by-case decision, the company may feel it is within its better judgment to address both conditions.

In such cases, the homeowner should be advised that work outside of the warranty is being done as an accommodation to help them. Overall, this kind of communication requires some artistry, but the bottom line is to confirm that the extra work is a favor, that there is no warranty on that particular work and, in the future, all requests will be handled within the written product warranty.

Finally, in my perfect world, each instance of completed service within the warranty would be followed by a confirmation of completion and indication of how to communicate questions or concerns. The context should fairly create a presumption of homeowner agreement in the absence of a reply.

While there’s much more to be considered on the issue of yes and no in the fenestration service marketplace, let’s leave it at these simple guidelines for now.

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 paul@prgarylaw.com.