Autumn is here, with a chill in the air. Which is why it was especially traumatic when our Rheem hot water suddenly stopped working last week.

Ever since we had this hot water heater installed 3 years ago, it’s been a problem. We went without hot water for almost a month while going through the Rheem step-by-step troubleshooting procedure, which involved sending us spare parts one at a time, scheduling a repairman to come out and install the parts, and then calling in again when the part didn’t work.

So far we’ve been 11 days without hot water this time (thank goodness for the gym showers!). We’ve been going through the customer service dance again. The contractor who originally sold us the unit is telling us to call the manufacturer. Rheem is saying we have to remove the hot water heater and return it to the contractor and then they’ll replace it. Really? Remove the hot water heater and bring it back to the contractor? By law, we aren’t even allowed to do that, since it connects to a live gas feed. It has to be done by a licensed plumber. Rheem may think it’s very clever, selling us a lemon and making it virtually impossible to get it fixed. The contractor, of course, is telling us that they can’t do anything, and we just have to deal with the manufacturer directly.

What neither seems to understand is that with this kind of behavior, we’re never going to be customers again of either the contractor or the manufacturer. The inability to get decent service has soured us on both parties.

People Want Solutions, Not Vendors

What customers want (in other words, what I want) is one person they can call to solve their problem. They don’t want you to forward them to your vendor, or to some third party. They want to call you and have you work the magic it takes to get the product working again.

Furthermore, you want them to call you, too. That’s the only way you can make sure the service experience is a good one. Our contractor is going to lose our business through no fault of theirs, but through the fault of the manufacturer. The fact that it’s “industry standard” for customers to deal directly with manufacturers does not matter to me. It’s a stupid standard that is making my life miserable.

What I wouldn’t pay for … a contractor who would sell me a hot water heater, install it, and be a one-call service center for me. Would I pay more for this than simply time + materials? You bet. The contractor would quickly get the experience dealing with the various manufacturers, and could streamline which products they recommend to be the ones that don’t break, or that can be quickly fixed when they do break. If they have enough customers, they could even get some negotiating leverage, either for service response time or price. (“I have 100 customers with your hot water heater in the Chicago area. Let’s negotiate a discount on replacement parts.”)

There’s a market niche, but so far, no one’s filling it.

What experience do your customers go through when your product breaks? Is there a chance for you to deliver serious extra value by being a one-phone-call provider for your customers? If so, will it give you the extra bonus of developing relationships or expertise that ultimately helps you work even faster, cheaper, and more easily?

Think about it. There’s power to being the only person someone calls when they need a solution, and that can be turned into a seriously valuable business.

The potential of the one stop shop

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