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No Network Problems Today? Just Wait!

18 Mar, 2001 By: Ronelle Ingram imageSource

No Network Problems Today? Just Wait!

“Why should I call our computer guy? It’s the copier that won’t print. The copier tech is free, fast and friendly. We have to pay for the computer tech who charges by the hour, and takes three days to respond and he’s a geek.”

I hear this conversation on a regular basis. Customers perceive that their penny a copy service and supply agreements includes the complete administration of their in-house computer system. If one workstation won’t print, “Call the copier company!”

The customer’s mindset is that their copier maintenance agreement provides unlimited “free” service calls. This now extends to all printing functions of the connected copier. Drawing the line between copier problems and network problems has become an enormous obstacle when servicing our customers’ digitally connected equipment.

A few years back, our service techs were not sure why the copier wouldn’t print. We struggled through the learning curve of servicing a new generation of digital copiers. Drivers didn’t work. Manufacturers emailed patches every day. Hotline techs explained that the features quoted in the sales brochures “are currently unavailable.”

Our frustrations and knowledge grew during the past few years. We have finally reached a point of equipment and network familiarity. During a telephone conversation, we can now usually differentiate if the problem is copier or network related. The newest problem is convincing the customer that you, the copier dealer, is not responsible for their network problems.

New Approach To New Services

We have been proactive the past six months. All new sales includes a written explanation of the scope of their servicing agreement. Most sales people explain the options to the customer. Some are just “burying” the additional cost of the network hardware agreement into the monthly lease payment. In either case about 75% of our customers are now prepaying for option number one and number two as listed below.

This is the simple explanation of our 3-tier Maintenance Agreement for connected printing equipment:


Traditional Walkup Copier Functionality: Responsible for a good quality copy exiting in the equipment, when the print button is manually pressed.

Network Related Hardware and Software: Responsible for being able to make a print when the technician’s laptop computer is connected to the copier.

Discounted Blocks of Time for Networking Related Needs: Extends to, hours of billable labor time required to allow the customer’s computer equipment to interface effectively with the copier/printing system.

By offering the customer three different levels of coverage, the dealer is diplomatically informing the customer the rules have changed. Traditional analog maintenance agreements of the past no longer apply to the connected equipment.

It is vital to the traditional copier dealership to clarify the division of responsibility before there is a network problem. The historical mindset of customers who purchase all-inclusive servicing agreements is to “call for service” at the first whisper of any problem.

Tragically, the more lenient a copier dealership is with stretching the boundaries and scope of the traditional penny per copy service agreement, the more demanding and resentful the customer becomes.

Sample Of Negative Feedbacks

“Last time we had computer problems you came out and fixed it for free” is the lament of customers who previously convinced a service manager to stretch the rules of their copier maintenance coverage.

It is a lose-lose situation when connected equipment is placed without a clear understanding of the scope of the coverage that is being purchased.

Customers who actually have fulltime, in-house, IT professionals, are usually more comfortable talking to the copier technician than asking for help from their company’s aloof computer professional. End users often comment, “I can get the copier tech to respond to my service needs faster than if I put in a request for in-house MIS support.”

Companies that outsource their computer and networking needs respond by explaining, “If I call our computer servicing company, we will be charged and they always take a couple days to show up. You (copier servicing company) are free and get here the same day.”

Implementing The Needed Change

Our industry has created a monster. Copier dealers are perceived as free and fast. Whereas, networking companies are expensive and slow. Naturally, the copier servicing company will be the first to be called.

With proper explanation and firm compliance, most customers understand and accept the new parameters of responsibility when servicing networked, digitally connected printing equipment.

The longer servicing dealers wait to clarify the division of responsibility and related charges, the greater the confusions and resentment that will be created with your customers. NOW IS THE TIME to clarify the division of service and support responsibilities that are included in your servicing agreements.

Take Charge

First, deal with changing the structure of your maintenance coverage on your newly sold equipment. Explain the concept to management, then to the sales and service staff. Get this program up and working.

There is a way to deal with connected equipment already in the field. Make a list of all maintenance agreement customers that have connected equipment. First, deal with the customers who keep reminding you that “you have always taken care of our network problems in the past.”

Send out a letter explaining “The manufacturers warranty on the . . . CPU. Software, printing system, drivers, harnesses, cabling, etc. has now expired.” Offer a reasonably priced “Network hardware and software maintenance agreement.” Also, include in this mailing the option to buy “Discounted prepaid blocks of IT labor.”

Two things will happen. Some will pay for the offered services. Everyone else is officially put on notice that your IT services are no longer free.

Will the transition be easy? NO

Will everyone be willing to pay? NO

Will all the sales staff go along with the new program? NO

Will sales management be a cheerleader with the change? NO

Will you have to learn to say NO to your customers demanding free IT labor? YES

Will lengthy telephone conversations be necessary? YES

Will you give in from time to time and provide free IT labor? YES

Will your service department be able to generating honest revenue for a new service you now provide? This answer depends on you.

The transition will not be easy. Each day you can grow more comfortable being paid for a new product (computer and network servicing) that you are providing. If customers could do the work themselves, they would.

Every time a customer upgrades their operating systems, adds workstations, changes their DSL provider or moves their server, the copier may no longer print from the network. Do not be “suckered” into free network services forever.

Upon completion of the initial installation, have the customer sign off on each successfully installed workstation. Document the successful hookup of every workstation and the scope of the initially agreed upon installation. Once the signoff is complete, your product has been delivered.

How would you handle a customer who requested an additional gift of a sorter after the initial purchase was made? No business would offer to give the $2,000 sorter at no additional cost if the customer persistently demanded its delivery. Unfortunately, copier dealers are giving away thousands of dollars of IT labor because the customer does not understand the changing rules.

How do you handle a customer’s fax machine that won’t send or receive because the phone lines are down? Do you send out a tech and rewire the phone line? Or do you explain to the customer that THEY are responsible for fixing the phone line problem?

Trailblazing Through Resistance

The biggest argument I received from our sales staff was “No other companies are charging for all this IT stuff.” One look at the stock market value of the “big” copier companies proves to me that we cannot afford to blindly follow their business practices. Most privately owned companies cannot go to their creditors or shareholders and receive a $400,000,000 loan to tide them over until they figure out how to start making some money. If stock prices are any barometer, I should not look to the mega-dealers for guidance on how to run a profitable business.

The copier dealers who are now connecting our products must learn to charge for the new products and services we are offering. Those of us who expect to stay in business must make some prudent business decisions. The upkeep of connected equipment is not free. Someone must pay for it. The customer who receives the service should pay for it.

If the industry as a whole won’t get smart, those individual dealers who wish to stay in business must lead the way. If we follow a pack of “blind mice,” we will all have our proverbial tails cut off.

We must receive compensation for the added value we are providing when selling and servicing connected equipment.


Ronelle Ingram will email sample of 3-tier service agreements, marketing material, sign-off and authorization sheets to any one who emails a request to ronellei@msn.com.

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