We’re going to talk about a residential service call for a central A/C system that is not cooling.
We’ll go thru the sequence of events from the time you realize your home is just not cooling down the way it normally does, until the door closes behind the service technician as he or she exits your home and heads on to their next call.
It goes something like this: The house seems a little warmer than you like but you tell yourself it’s just you, the AC will kick on in a minute and all will be right with the world. But before that happens, your daughter calls from school, she missed the bus and with the late August temps hovering around 100 she needs you to come pick her up, so off you go.
Back home, now it’s hot in the house you go over to the thermostat, the display shows 85 degrees. You push the down arrow key and lower the setting to 65 degrees that ought to take care of it you say to yourself, but a slight tinge of panic seeps into your mind. Please work, please work, you chant silently.
There is now no doubt, the Air Conditioning is not working and the household habitants are becoming increasingly irritable. What to do? Who to call?
Tip #1: Call your closest relatives or friends and see who they use. * Note (by closest I mean geographically), it won’t do much good to call your sister 500 miles away to see who she uses for service, because no matter how good that particular company may be there not coming to your house, I promise you that.
The yellow pages used to be the go to source for finding a home service provider; nowadays the internet is assuming that title as the go to resource.
Tip #2: Use common sense. Have you ever heard the saying “There is no such thing as a free lunch”. Well there is also no such thing as a free service call. Make no mistake you will end up paying more than if you had paid a reputable company a fair service call /diagnostic charge. Choose a company that has a mid-range service call fee that includes system diagnostic and written quote for repairs
You can tell a lot about a company by the way they answer the phones; but that can be good and bad. There are companies that have their Customer Service Representatives (CSR’s) so well trained that they compete with each other for commissions or spiffs to turn phone calls into service calls. Be forewarned, if you set an appointment, the CSR just made a sale. A good company will have the person answering the phone ask you a series of questions that can eliminate minor problems and may even solve your issue over the phone. If the person on the other end of the phone just asks your name address and how will you be paying, call somebody else.
So now you’ve scheduled a time for a tech to come out, most companies book in 2-3 hour windows as it is very difficult to predict what a technician will run into on the service call before you, so exact times are rarely if ever given. Exception/Tip: Book for the first call of the day. You can get an exact time the tech is coming from the shop or his house so there’s no variable as to how long the call before yours will take.
A good company will call you when the technician is en route to your home; give you the techs name and ETA. He should arrive in a marked service vehicle and be wearing a company uniform.
Sometimes called up front pricing Flat Rate is the newer/better way of doing things and here’s why.
On the majority of calls an average technician should be able to diagnose your problem within 30-60 minutes. He/She should be able to give you an exact price for repairs and a total out the door cost. For example a fan motor replacement will be $500.00 plus the $80.00 Diagnostic fee, so your total up front, out the door price is $580.00. The advantage for the customer is you know the exact price whether it takes 1 hour or 4 hours. That’s also the disadvantage. Some customers get upset when a highly skilled, hardworking experienced technician quickly fixes a problem. The customer can sometimes feel over charged if they try to determine what the hourly fee they just paid was. Don’t do it, Flat Rate pricing is not by the hour, it is by the job. When was the last time you tried that at your doctor’s office?
This system works best for companies that have higher caliber, more experienced, organized technicians that work quickly, neatly and efficiently. They are more likely to have a well-stocked truck full of all the commonly used parts to complete your service call as quickly as possible.
Time and Materials pricing is just what the name implies. You’re paying for the technician’s time and the materials / parts he uses. This was the old school way of running a service department. The service company would take the part’s cost add the appropriate mark up and charge you an hourly rate for ALL the time the technician was dispatched to your home. It’s important to understand this includes time spent calling around trying to locate parts (commonly waiting on hold for 10-30 minutes) or calls to senior technicians for advice or manufacturer hotlines for warranty issues and let’s not forget the all-time consuming driving to supply houses to get parts that for a multitude of reasons were not on his truck. Not having the correct parts on service trucks has become increasingly more common as equipment manufacturer’s replacement parts have become more unique and universal parts are not an available option. We find in a metropolitan environment the average time to run from a service call to a supply house and back to the job site is 2 hours. This pricing structure usually (but not always) works best for companies with slow, unorganized and less experienced technicians that add up the hours trying to cypher out the problem and make frequent runs to the supply house for commonly stocked parts they should have had on their truck.
When you need to hire a service company ask friends and family for referrals. When no one can proffer a referral, surf the net. The manufacturer of your equipment will generally have a dealer locater on their site. You can then Google their name and check their independent reviews. (Testimonials on their own website are useless for obvious reasons).
Ask how they charge. Time and Materials or Flat Rate?
Don’t fall for the free service call scams. Think about it, how can they afford to pay a technician to drive to your house, diagnose your problem and then not charge you? I'll help you with the answer. They can't, no services business can. Also beware of the companies that advertise really low cost service fees. One of two things will happen. You will either get what you pay for or be hit with a very high back end repair cost. These companies know from past experience that once they get their foot in your door chances are you’ll let them go ahead with the repairs and upsell reccomendations simply because they're there! The best course of action is to pay a fair service call/diagnostic fee generally between $49.00 and $79.00 during normal hours and get a written estimate for needed repairs. With the paid diagnostic the tech is being paid to diagnose your problem, with the free diagnostic the tech only gets paid when you "buy", so he will usually have a vested interest in generating a higher dollar ticket.
Get the TOTAL price for the service call before any repairs are made. Diagnostics are not repairs.
Check out our story on the Better Business Bureau and why they give bad companies “A “ratings!!
Pictures courtsey of Google Images.