Extended Service Plans: Getting Down to Business

By: Jeff Hatch

June 10, 2015

As a retailer, you know that extended service or warranty plans are a natural product offering for your business. They’re both comforting to consumers and profitable from a business perspective. But how much do you know about how your warranty programs work? Who are the players involved and who’s responsible for the various elements in fulfilling the plan? What’s your return on investment? Understanding the life cycle of your warranty plans not only impacts your customers and profit margins, but also your brand.
 
Start Here
Filling in the family tree of a warranty program can be a confusing process. Who’s responsible for what, when and for how much can be seen as a burden that many retailers choose to disregard. But, unless you know the answers, you’re leaving your store and customers at risk. 
 
An easy starting point is uncovering who the insurance company is that’s covering your plans. The insurance company, or underwriter, is the one who insures claims liabilities from the warranty contracts. It’s important to look for insurance companies that are well-managed and well-capitalized because they are truly the foundation of your plans. This is the company that you’re building your reputation on when claims need fulfilling, even if your business fails. This is the group that needs to be trusted, vested and insured so you and your customers can have peace of mind. 
 
Next Steps
A service contract provider is the company that is legally and financially obligated to repair or replace the customer’s covered product. This company is your business partner. They create and administer customized extended service plans on your behalf to meet your operations’ needs, customer expectations or product requirements, and in return, collect a fee for their services. Full disclosure of costs and margins is important because once plans are agreed upon with the service contract provider your store is able to mark them up accordingly or offer them to consumers at recommended retail prices. 
 
If you’re not sure what you’re paying for, you have every right to ask your service contract provider a few questions to level the playing field: 
 
1. How is your cost divided between insurance and administration? 
2. What is each entity’s profit margin?
3. What is the program loss ratio, both overall and by product? If your loss ratio is very low it should give you the opportunity to lower prices to sell more ESPs, be more competitive or collect more profits and put them in your pocket.
4. Am I going to receive all the information I need on a regular basis to ensure I am getting the best price and product compared to the market?
5. Do you participate in a profit sharing program with your insurer? 
6. Is my program compliant to protect my company’s brand reputation? Have all statutory compliance and filings been addressed? 
7. If there is an insurer and/or re-insurer involved, what is the financial strength rating of each and who is your contact at the insurer? 
 
The service contract provider and warranty administrator (or third party administrator) are usually the same organization. As a customer facing group, it’s critically important that your store has access to a contact person and your customers find it easy to work with this organization. They are also responsible for training your sales representatives on the ins and outs of selling warranty plans and how to facilitate a claim. 
 
Since you’re paying the administrator a fee, you want to align yourself with well-respected companies that work hard to earn trust and deliver on expectations — for your store and your customers. Working with administrators that allow communication with all parties, including the underwriter, keeps the relationship in check and ensures plans operate smoothly and adhere to specific terms and conditions. Additionally, administrators contract with repair facilities to repair or replace covered products, so easy access and open lines of communication are essential in this relationship to ensure the parties involved — you and your customers — get what they’re paying for.  
 
The Customer’s Role
The service contract is an agreement between the service contract provider and your customer. The service contract terms and conditions may state that for service or to report a claim, the customer should call a separate number to contact the warranty administrator. For your store, keeping the administration and underwriting under one umbrella provides a hassle-free arrangement that ensures warranty plans deliver positive results for customers throughout the life of the plans.
 
Is Your Plan Working?
While creating an effective warranty program certainly takes a little work, becoming educated about the process and asking the right questions to ensure you’re partnering with the right service contract provider is critical to the success of your business. Bottom line, knowing who the extended warranty players are and how they impact your business can mean the difference in profit and loss — of revenue and customers. 

Filed Under: administrator, contract, customer, extended, insurance, plan, program, provider, service, warranty

Extended Service Plans: What’s Behind All The Fine Print?

By: Jeff Hatch

December 03, 2014

Using a single-source provider for underwriting and administration offers gains in profit and service.

The real question isn't what's behind the fine print, but rather who is behind the fine print of an extended service plan. In today's economic climate, retailers need to be diligent in determining who can financially back and service their products with plans that don't negatively impact bottom line results or customer relations. While some retailers prefer to act as their own administrator for service, the overhead costs and time required to facilitate work orders, customer service and repairs can often lead to eroding profits and dissatisfied customers. For retailers that opt to rely on an outside provider for administration or underwriting, it can expose your business and customers to financial risks and service levels that don't align with your business goals.

As a retailer, customers trust that you'll stand behind the products you sell with service plans they can rely on. Now, more than ever, retailers need to select partners that not only provide sound financial backing but also the service required to assist when customers need it most. By working with a single-source provider for underwriting and administration of extended service plans, retailers can focus on sales knowing that the money saved and service gained from a customized program can deliver profitable margins and elevated service that keep customers coming back.

Understand the Plan

Knowing the difference between a credible underwriter and administrator is an important distinction to make and one that definitely needs to be evaluated before committing to a company or a program. As a first step, make sure you understand the responsibilities and differences between an underwriter and administrator. An administrator is the company that handles the day-to-day administration of the product's extended service plan such as processing claims and accepting monthly payments for the service. Often, the administrator's name and contact information is featured in the customer literature about the plan. The underwriter is the company that is ultimately responsible for the financial backing of claims according to the terms and conditions of the plan. 

Since not all administrators underwrite their own plans and vice versa, there are a number of extended service plan options available that allow retailers to customize a plan that's right for their products. However, the logistics of how a plan is carried out and who carries it out can reveal service inefficiencies, limited profitability and financial burden. In fact, according to some sources, a significant percent of administrators don't underwrite their own plans. The volatility of this approach can cause a number of problems for retailers including lack of funding or term changes that can become the retailer's responsibility in the event the provider declares bankruptcy. While this used to seem like an improbable situation, the recent filings of numerous multinational insurance companies make this harsh scenario a genuine reality.

Once you understand the roles of an administrator and underwriter, evaluating the provider's approach to maintaining financial responsibility and customer service will help determine the best program for your needs.

Financial Accountability

The most important point to consider when evaluating single-source plan providers or underwriters is the financial strength of the insurance company backing the program. If the company is financially unable to provide the benefits required, then you lose money, customers and credibility. Publicly traded insurance companies are an open book when it comes to examining financial status. Some areas to pay attention to include: historically good capital, recent acquisitions, ongoing organic growth and operating cash flows. Several organizations, including A.M. Best, Standard & Poor's and Moody's Investor Service, rate the financial strength of insurance companies. These ratings are among the most widely used indicators of an insurance carrier's financial health, or lack of it. Using these tools to assist in your evaluation is not only credible but universally accepted.

Customer Focus

The most important thing to your customers when they purchase a product with an extended service plan is how they will be cared for should something go wrong with the product. When a product fails, you need to rely on a responsive administrator to diagnose and troubleshoot the problem for customers in a timely and efficient manner. To help evaluate response rates, retailers should look at a provider's First Call Resolution rate, technical training for staff and network of service centers to ensure convenient and expeditious repair of products. In addition, service offerings such as fulfillment which includes carry-in, in-home and depot offerings or fulfillment by means of a new product, gift card or co-pay voucher delivered to the customer help maximize customer satisfaction.

Excellence in customer service is not an idle commitment so it's also important the provider shows how they successfully track, record and evaluate customer satisfaction to ensure they are meeting service level commitments. Another aspect to consider is how the administrator evaluates product reliability to continually develop competitive rates. Through comprehensive risk analysis, the provider can structure the extended warranty program in the most cost-effective way for the consumer yet profitable for the retailer.

While there are several factors a retailer needs to consider when choosing an extended service plan program, often the easiest and most profitable is working with a single-source provider for administering and underwriting the program. By selecting a full-service provider, you also have the benefit of flexibility in plans, categories, features and benefits to fit your needs and, more specifically, your customers' needs. While the fine print can be a bit overwhelming, selecting a single-source provider with proven credentials can help enhance revenues and build customer loyalty.

Filed Under: administrator, extended, plan, provider, retailer, service, underwriter

TWICE Executive Forum Q&A

By: Global Administrator

April 28, 2014

Sean Stapleton, president & CEO of Warrantech, recently took part in an Executive Forum with TWICE magazine. The following is his response to the magazine’s inquiry regarding the criteria for choosing an extended service plan provider.

“What criteria should retailers look for when electing an extended service plan provider for their operation?”

Retailers searching for the right extended service plan (ESP) provider should carefully evaluate the financial stability of any prospective provider. The industry has far too many examples of providers who have shuttered their doors leaving both retailers and the customers holding the tab. Audited financials showing a history of strength and stability should be a precursor to any discussion.

Next, retailers should look to partners who are committed to providing complete program transparency, including claims data down to the product level. Often, providers do not share this data for fear of a retail partner understanding the real economics associated with their program. One of the hidden benefits of this transparency is that retailers gain a better understanding about the performance of the products they sell. This data provides insight to the customer experience (beyond the OEM warranty) and allows retailers to more effectively negotiate with product manufacturers and distributors regarding product prices and discounts.

Most importantly, retailers should choose a provider who understands the importance of providing fanatical customer service and has the tools and resources to provide such levels of service for the long run.

For more information about customer care solutions from Warrantech, be sure to visit http://www.warrantech.com/partners/partner-services/customer-care/

Filed Under: customer, extended, magazine, plan, provider, Sean, service, Stapleton, TWICE