A few years ago, after several changes in the company I work for, we were struggling to get new service leads. So I created a region-specific website designed to attract new business from the surrounding area. One of the things I didn’t count on was getting lots of calls from national service providers looking for technicians to provide service for their customers in our area. After dealing with several, I thought I’d share my experiences and insights on what to look for and what to watch out for.
For those of you unfamiliar with National Service Providers
The majority of the national service providers advertise on their websites that they have thousands of technicians, around the country who can provide service on any machine in any zip code. When a customer calls and agrees to their services, the customer then waits for a call back with notification of when the tech will be out. Typically, the national company checks their database for providers in the area or they get online and call around to local service providers to find a technician qualified to work on the machine. The local provider they find must be willing to do the work for a specific fee and within a designated period of time. Once the national service provider finds a local service provider to accept the call, the tech goes out and fixes the customer’s machine as a representative of the national service provider.
However, the above scenario is not always the case. In some areas, and especially in larger cities, some national service providers hire people full time to do service calls for them. Other national providers have online databases where technicians can go online to accept service calls, print the work-orders, perform the service and then upload the completed work-order for payment. They all operate slightly differently, but the overall concept is the same.
Service technicians, like me, drive around town from service call to service call passing by large factories or corporate office buildings. I think, “Wow, if I could only get a piece of that action.”
Government agencies, banks, and corporate companies like fast food chains and retail stores love national service providers. They don’t want thousands of offices/stores all sending accounting invoices for work from a thousand different service providers. They want one invoice and one company to deal with. So providing your skills to a national service provider might be your only shot at getting into many of these companies.
While providing the services is good business for us, I often wonder what these companies are paying for these contracts. I typically get paid an amount equal to what I would if I had a contract with the customer myself , so the national service provider, obviously, has to be charging the customer more than what I would.
If you think about this on a much larger scale, it might be more profitable for a company to hire someone at $40,000 a year to handle a few thousand local service providers rather than paying inflated fees for the “convenience” of dealing with just one. That $40K employee could see that “X” service provider charged $200 to install a preventive maintenance kit while service provider “Y” charged $350, and could further cut cost by comparing services. While you might think $40,000 is a lot of money, it’s really not when you look into some of the contracts customers have with the national service providers. I think I’ve had a few heart attacks when talking to customers about contracts on their current equipment. Why in the world would they pay $1,000 a year for a service contract on a machine that’s worth $800?
I’ve even had the experience of a national service provider calling me to provide service on behalf of a different service provider. Sure makes you wonder what the customer gets charged if I get my cut, the people who call me get theirs, and then the customer gets billed by the final provider.
Dealing with a National Service Provider
Make sure you read and understand all the information provided to you. Most of these companies have service provider rules you must understand and follow or they will not issue payment.
Here are a few examples :
- Make sure you have the work-order they sent you for the call and have read all the instructions provided. One thing that will guarantee no payment is not having the work-order filled out and signed.
- Remember that you are representing the service company that contracted you. If I am pressed with questions from a customer I usually tell them that the provider contracts me and I advise them to call the provider with their questions. Typically customers accept that answer.
- Never discuss money or payment details. Refer them to call the provider.
- Never talk negatively about the customer’s equipment, the provider, or the toner. Some of these contracts are toner contracts and they obviously don’t want you talking bad about their product.
- Call the provider when the service is complete and get the signed work-order to them as soon as possible. It’s best to call the provider while onsite to make sure you have all the information they need from the machine.
- Make sure you understand what to do when parts are onsite. Some providers want you to leave the parts with the customer while the majority of them hold you responsible for the return of the used or unused parts. Know what is expected of you and take the parts with you if needed.
- Be professional! They, like any other professional company, expect you to have the proper tools, to dress appropriately, and to have your own transportation. I get asked some of the weirdest questions and have heard of some odd situations from customers about their experiences with other techs so this has been an obvious issue with some of these providers. It is hard to tell who you’re dealing with over the phone.
Positive Aspects of dealing with a National Service Provider
- The majority of the time the customer calls in to the provider needing service. The provider’s goal is to diagnose the problem over the phone and send out the correct parts so the call can be completed on the first onsite service visit. Many times when you get onsite the parts are there and all you have to do is install them and make sure the machine works properly. This cuts down on return trips and diagnostic time.
- While some providers will only give you occasional service calls, some of them will give you lots of calls which can lead to some of your biggest customers, as it has for my company. Like I say, “You never know what a call will lead to so handle them all in a professional manner.”
- When working with a national service provider, you deal with lots of customers but only invoice one, reducing your administrative and collection costs.
- Possible future leads on other equipment – but this can be a slippery slope. Yes, you represent the service company who sent you out on the service call, but if that company doesn’t service copiers, typewriters, or other types of printers, it can lead to more business opportunities for you. Only if a customer asks will I talk about it. But I always tell them not to call me personally on the machine I’m currently working on. It’s under contract with the national service provider and I’m not going to break that trust. Plus some of these customers already know me.
- You can pick and choose what you want to work on. Since they aren’t calling you for every service call so you shouldn’t feel bad if you can’t or don’t want to do one of their calls. Many times the pay is a flat rate so if it’s too low, if the call is outside of your preferred service area, or you don’t know the machine very wel,l it’s ok to say no. Don’t worry they will call you back next time they need service or are desperate. You want to make sure you handle your own local customers first. Don’t ruin your local reputation for a national service provider that wouldn’t think twice about dropping you if someone was willing to do it cheaper.
- Some of them have an excellent support staff and information. Sometimes you will be asked to service odd equipment like Muratec’s and Zebra printers. Good companies have the service manuals and procedures available so you can walk into a customer with knowledge of the machine and be able to perform the repair with confidence you otherwise may not have.
Negative Aspects of dealing with a National Service Provider
- In my experience, only about half of them pay in a timely manner. While 95% of our customers pay within their 30 day terms, most national service providers do not. Make sure you closely monitor their account status before taking on additional work from them and be prepared to resend work-orders and call into their accounts payable department.
- Rules, Rules, and more Rules. Some providers are pretty easy going; they call you, give you the service call information, and ask when you can be there. You go to the customer’s site, fix the machine, call in to close the ticket, and fax over the paper work. Simple. Others, however, call every five minutes, want to know your status, demand paper work immediately after the call is done, say they never got the paper work, refuse to pay, don’t return phone calls, and the list goes on. Enough said.
- Flat Fees. Because they are usually looking for the cheapest provider they will want to haggle with you over pricing. Most times it takes about an hour and a half to two hours to fully complete a job; including phone calls, returning parts, faxing over the work-order, and fighting to get them to pay you.
- Attitude. While they are always professional when they call you to work on a machine, when it comes to closing out a call some are not at all professional and complain about every little detail. And calling into their tech support usually ends up being a half hour phone call, and that’s if you’re lucky. This is not the case on all calls or all companies but you will run into situations where you are stuck calling around in circles and spending tons of time on the phone to complete the simplest of task. When talking about rates I would consider this factor.
- Typically they need the service call done right away. I get lots of phone calls where they needed the technician out there yesterday so they want you to drop everything and take the call, otherwise they will just call somebody else. No loyalty.
- This is for the customer – I’ve been out on service calls where the customer complains that there has already been two other technicians out who didn’t know what they were doing or didn’t act very professional. The truth is, these national service providers don’t exactly know who they are calling to provide service for them and many times they are not willing to pay appropriate fees to get true professionals to work with them. Unfortunately that can lead to lower quality work. I’m not saying that’s always the case but sometimes it does happen.
Usually when a national service provider calls you they want an answer right away or they will move on to the next provider in your area. I typically accept the service call because I give anybody a chance and I’ve had them lead to some good business.
I recommend doing some online background checks on the national provider seeking to do business with you. Check out their website. Do a search on the name of the company and ”reviews” or “complaints”. If there have been complaints you’ll know what their weak points are and what to look out for. If you run into issues yourself don’t be afraid to tell them. Some take your advice and improve their services, others blow you off and nothing changes. At that point, you decide if the grief is worth the pay out.
If we experience ongoing issues with these national providers we try to find ways to work threw them. We ask for credit card information if they pay slow or raise our rates if we have to spend lots of time completing paper work and returning parts.
Hopefully this article has helped give you a better understanding of the ins and outs of working with National Service Providers. The majority of the calls I get from these companies are repairs I’ve done hundreds of times, with a few odd-ball ones thrown in here and there. The easy ones make up for some of the grief I get on a few.
Some companies are easy to work with and others are not. Don’t get too involved with them until you have completed a few of their service calls and have gotten paid. I’ve seen some people jump in head first with these companies, do a bunch of service calls, spend a lot of time, then run into issues where the company doesn’t want to pay.
I do business with about ten different national providers. If you are a technician and are thinking about using a national service provider, feel free to leave a message here on this blog post or send me an email message (firstname.lastname@example.org). If I have dealt with that company I will share my experience with you privately.
For customers, I recommend calling around locally first. These are the same people that will likely be providing the servicing anyway. Since my father owned a local business for many years, I’m a big fan of buying local as much as possible. And, because you should be able to try them out first without signing a contract, you can see how knowledgeable they are with the machine, how quick they respond, and their pricing. Lots of the machines I service under these contracts are HP’s. I tell customers all the time that HP’s are very reliable so they tend not to break a lot and parts are cheap. Unless you have them on an MPS program I don’t see to much value in having them under contract. You will be paying lots of money on a machine that hardly breaks.
I would love (and I’m sure others thinking about using or working for these national service providers would also) to hear what others have to say about them. If you have experience with these companies please leave a comment below on an experience you have had with them. This will help others make the right call when they need service.
Kevin Gumpp is a certified printer technician and freelance writer for Market Point. If you have a question regarding this topic or have any other printer repair related questions or topics for which you would like more information, please send an email to email@example.com.