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