Fair is Fair Right?

Fair is Fair Right to Repair

The proposed Right to Repair legislation has been a hot button topic in the appliance repair industry recently. I have been listening in as advocates on both sides of the debate push their points. As a member of the service industry myself, I am interested in the divergent opinions held by the service industry. I can clearly see the two sides – repair companies who represent appliance manufacturers and do warranty for those manufacturers and then those servicers who want no part of the warranty end of the repair business.  

It is obvious to me, who would support the “Right to Repair” legislation and who might oppose it. The question is… What does the customer stand to benefit from all this? According to supporters of the legislation, customers can expect to see lower service costs, longer life of appliances and more opportunity to complete DIY repairs. Nailed it! For a portion of the industry and for the consumer the new legislation would be a win. So, what is not to love?  Well, I have a few opinions, so I invite you to continue reading. 

I believe it is fair to say it is the repair companies not interested in doing warranty work that will benefit the most from the “Right to Repair” legislation. Most companies who opt out of warranty repairs do so because warranty service compensation rates fall far below the break-even mark. There are several other benefits from opting out of doing warranty work. For example, you are not paid for warranty work upon completion like c.o.d. work. Warranty payment takes time, staff to do the warranty input, resolve issues, also manufacturers expects service providers to stock parts, meet minimum quality of service standards, warranty their own labor etc. These are all extra costs incurred with warranty work.

So why in the world would a company take on warranty work? Do they have a solid desire to subsidise a major corporation? In fact, there is an unwritten, usually unspoken bargain for warranty servicers. That bargain? The company doing the warranty work gets the benefit of access to training from the factory, experience and knowledge, technical support, and a customer base referred from the factory. If the warranty work portion of their business is less than thirty percent. Then generally, it is a relationship that can work.  

In my opinion, the “Right to Repair” legislation is going to turn the servicer/manufacturer relationship upside down. At the core, the “Right to Repair” legislation says that manufacturers must provide the same level of parts, service literature, training and technical support to any service company or appliance owner that requests it. Each jurisdiction will sculpt the language in their own way, but this is what proponents are asking for. If this happens, suddenly the incentive to do warranty work vanishes. Perhaps manufacturers will start charging for training, technical support, and service manuals to offset costs. Perhaps they will discontinue live technical support, reduce, or stop training. After all, all they are required to do, is provide the same level of support to all service providers. Will manufactures loose their leverage with warranty providers? Will manufactures increase prices to accommodate increased costs, then reimburse warranty providers with rates more representative of their costs? I have no insights; however, it seems likely all options are on the table. The law of intended consequences says we will not see the results till well after any legislation is passed. My opinion, increased prices from the manufacture may wipe out any decrease in repair costs that may be in the offing. If you are not surethink about this; The cost per unit goes up for every consumer, but any non warranty repair cost saving will only be on percentage of all the units sold. Why? Because not every unit sold will need a non warranty repair. 

Proponents of right to repair legislation tout increased life span of a product as a benefit. In general, the life expectancy of an appliance has steadily been dropping. From what I have seen in the field, and in my research, it is my estimation the average life span of an appliance is five to seven years. One of my long-held concerns is the industry is moving in a less environmentally sustainable direction. So that would be a huge win! I just can not see how right to repair accomplishes this lofty feat. A better solution may be to insist that manufacturers have the parts and part look up available for at least ten years. Of course, a manufacture determines the part replacement cost, so if they want to encourage early replacement of the product then a premium price for replacement parts is a strategy. The hope is third party parts manufactures would jump into the market provide a part at a competitive price therefore keeping replacement parts prices low. If the part is close in specifications and covered by a warranty, could work. Especially for high volume parts that might span several models or even several manufactures products. But who is going to provide the low volume part that is integral to the units’ operation? One part not available, kills the product. There are almost no unnecessary parts on todays appliances. The truth is, the consumer has voted for the life span of an appliance by purchasing price, not value. The manufacturers have restructured their business model to suit the customer. Imagine the pain of increasing the price of your product to increase life span, then re-educating customers that is a good choice for them.  

For those customers looking to do DIY repairs more info would be benefit for sure. Not having to rely on questionable online resources and get the info straight from the manufacturer themselves would be helpful

Will the manufacturer be willing to take the DIYer through the steps that would needed to get an equivalent diagnosis to that of a experienced and trained technician? Would they only provide information assuming the customer will have that advanced level of training and ability? Only time will tell.  

Are the manufacturers behind the “Right to Repair” legislation? The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers says no, not so much. They outline several concerns which the proponents of “Right to Repair” dismissively reject. One real concern, which in my opinion is more than valid, is the damage to the product that can happen when the wrong person services a unit. While one side of the debate says if you build it well enough, inexperience or lack of knowledge cannot hurt the product or the brand. After nearly half a century in the appliance service industry, I just cannot agree with that statement. I have had more than enough experience with trying to repair the appliance then trying to repair the customers confidence in that appliance, to know that even the best quality machines can have issues. No matter how well it is made, it can be broken. A person can claim expertise or knowledge and still do irreparable harm to an appliance. I have had numerous experiences with resolving issues a DYI attempt hacreated. While it can be a challenge to repair a unit, is it is more difficult to repair the brand’s image after a customer has had a bad experience. How much worse is it if the person doing the work is adversarial to the brand, the customer or is dishonest? Another concern that no one from the “Right to Repair” side seems to get is cyber security. Again, they argue that if the product is made well enough there will not be any problems. Hackers like to hack and the more hackers that attempt, or have some proprietary piece of the puzzle, the more likely someone succeeds. In my opinion, you want to keep the circle as small as possible and guard your software as best you can, to protect your customers and yourself. Maybe the hackers do not get access to the customers credit card info or passwords but if they shut off or disable a fridge it can be a horrible inconvenience at minimum. Bottom line; If I am the manufacture. I want the salesperson, the delivery agent, the service company, everyone who represents me, doing so in an intelligent, thoughtful, comprehensive manner. As much as I, as a business owner and technician may not like it. I understand why some manufactures are trying out, the factory to service completely in-house model.  

 If I am the manufacture. I want the salesperson, the delivery agent, the service company, everyone who represents me, doing so in an intelligent, thoughtful, comprehensive manner.

With all this considered there are perhaps two things needed to make the manufacturers comfortable with “Right to Repair” legislation. The first one, and it is a big one, is a universal standard of education, experience, and integrity. Each jurisdiction may have some standards or absolutely no standards. It seemonly an industry group could step up and come up with an acceptable set of guidelines. Likely in consultation with manufacturers.  The second thing and maybe more difficult, but no less important, is some level of accountability to the manufacturer. Warranty or not, they want to know the brand, the product itself and the customer are not going to be diminished or harmed during service. Every manufacturer has some metric to measure their service success. They do that because they care about outcomes. They hold their warranty service providers up to those standards. If you are a warranty service provider and rely on the training, the experience and customer referrals you get from the manufacturer. That is rather good incentive to keep with the program. How can you make the service companwith no dependence on a manufacturer accountable? Good question – hopefully someone smarter than me has figured that out! 

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