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Old 07-05-2009, 10:38 AM
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Lightbulb Some thoughts on diagnostics-only

This has been buzzing around in the back of my brain for a while and thought I'd throw it out for discussion.

The issue is clients who either ask you "How much do you charge just to diagnose my [PC/Laptop/Printer/Whatever]?" or "Can you just diagnose it and tell me what the problem is?"

I don't know how the rest of you feel about this, but I have a couple thoughts on this.

First, in the early days of my business, When I had clients who just wanted a diagnosis I always assumed they just wanted to know how serious the problem was so they could make an informed decision as to whether it was worthwhile to proceed with the estimated repair costs. In my opinion, this is perfectly reasonable and valid. I had established a bench fee, a "diagnostics only" fee just for that purpose.

Then, I discovered that on at least two occasions that I knew of, persons I had done diagnostics only for had taken my diagnostics and then had a buddy fix it for them at little to no cost, using my diagnostics. In other cases, I suppose it's reasonable to assume that the end user may have even done a DIY job using the information I provided. In all those cases, even though I might have charged a small bench/diagnostic fee, I was out the repair job.

My diagnostics are based on my years of accumulated knowledge, experience, no small amount of study, formal training (which wasn't cheap) and time to achieve my certs, my tools, my equipment, and my time to perform the diagnostics.

Key point: I'm of the opinion that a correct diagnosis is 90% of the job; the rest is time, sweat and skill. As technicians, and in this forum and others like it, we often talk about how many hours is reasonable to charge for such and such a job, how much time it takes, etc. and gloss over the fact that it is our knowledge, experience and professionalism that our customers are really paying for. It is this that sets us apart from the kid next door or the pizza box techs.

Since then, I have changed my pricing structure a bit. We have always had a minimum fee for onsite or in-shop repairs. What I did was to make our diagnostics fee the same as our minimum charge.

So now, when a customer asks, "What are your rates?" and I answer them, "Our minimum charge is $90/hr" and they respond with, "Well, how much just for diagnostics then?", my answer is "$90." [Edit] If the customer agrees to have us proceed with the repairs, we waive the fee and proceed just as if it came into the shop for the first time. [/EDIT]

I'm reminded of an old story about Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Edison and Ford were close friends and at one point, Ford had bought some new machinery for his assembly line and it wasn't working right. The machinery had come from overseas and it was going to take a month or more before a factory team could come over from the Continent, and even then, at great expense to Ford (this was before transatlantic air travel, mind you).

So Ford asks Edison if he'd like to come up to Dearborn and take a look.

Edison said he'd be happy to. When he arrived at the factory, he was shown the equipment and listened to the operators explain what it was supposed to do and how it wasn't working correctly.

Edison studied the machine, had the operators start it up a couple times and finally took a piece of chalk out of his pocket and put an "X" on one of the gear transfer cases and announced, "Your problem is in here... the gears are mis-aligned".

Ford's mechanics disassembled the part in question and indeed, discovered the gears were not meshing correctly. After few adjustments, the machine was re-assembled and worked perfectly after that.

Ford told Edison to send him a bill, as he didn't expect him to fix it for free. So Edison sent Ford a bill for $1000 for "services rendered".

Some time later, Edison received his bill back in the mail, unpaid, from Ford's accountants with a note asking, "Please Itemize".

Edison modified the bill and sent it back thus:

1. 1 Piece of chalk: $0.01
2. Knowing where to put the chalk: $999.99

----------

So those are my thoughts. I suppose a related topic would be the clients who want you to tell them what the problem is over the phone for free, but that probably deserves to be a separate thread.

Anyway, what do you folks think?
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Last edited by Doctor Micro; 07-05-2009 at 10:50 AM.
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Old 07-05-2009, 10:42 AM
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Yeah, that has been mentioned before on the forums; about charging diagnostic fee and then the customer gettin' his 14 year old next door neighbour to fix it for him..

Charging for an hour seems reasonable enough.
If the customer gets it diagnosed by you; and then decides for you to repair it, do you flag the diagnostic cost ? Or at the least discount it ?
That might encourage them to get you to fix it ( if it is fixable )
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Old 07-05-2009, 10:54 AM
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Yeah, that has been mentioned before on the forums; about charging diagnostic fee and then the customer gettin' his 14 year old next door neighbour to fix it for him..

Charging for an hour seems reasonable enough.
If the customer gets it diagnosed by you; and then decides for you to repair it, do you flag the diagnostic cost ? Or at the least discount it ?
That might encourage them to get you to fix it ( if it is fixable )
Yes, we waive the diagnostics and then treat it as a regular repair call. I just edited my original post to reflect this. Thanks.
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Old 07-05-2009, 03:17 PM
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Yeah I experimented with a diagnostics fee, but in the end I just found it easier to charge for an hour. You bring up some good points. But I find removing fees and changing them around is to complicated for the average customer. They just want it easy.

I have had a few people who wanted to reinstall windows themselves or swap a hard drive afterw i told them what was wrong, who ended up with tech problems since they weren't able to do it.(sometimes weeks later!) I explained I offered no warranty or further assistance unless they wanted to make another appointment since the problem could have changed due to their "Repair" efforts. It sounds weird but I kind of believe the cheap customers need to be punished for their cheapness.

Also as we all know with the nature of windows sometimes the problem is something else entirely. That is the risk the customer takes for being cheap I suppose. So I often do mention that this is the case to the customer.
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Old 07-05-2009, 04:29 PM
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Also as we all know with the nature of windows sometimes the problem is something else entirely. That is the risk the customer takes for being cheap I suppose. So I often do mention that this is the case to the customer.
You bring up a good point. In preliminary conversations with the client, discussing symptoms and possible causes, we often bring up the point that when we're fixing the original complaint, we often find one or more additional errors or problems that also need to be fixed. Sometimes the problem they call you about is just the latest symptom in a long chain of events. The "final factor" so to speak.
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Old 07-05-2009, 05:41 PM
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We charge by the hour only. When a customer calls up with a windows problem, and asks how much our fees are. I tell them it's $95.00 per 1 hour, with a 1 hour minimum. Inside of that first 1 hour, we will attempt to diagnose and make the repair for you. If it runs outside of the first 1 hour, we will bill in 30 minute intervals. They are usually happy with that. I mean we do have flat rates for basic in shop stuff, like memory upgrades, HDD upgrades, reformats, etc etc.
We are similar, except we break it down to quarter-hour increments (rounded up to the nearest quarter hour) after the first hour for actual work. If we're onsite and we're just going over the invoice or the who what where why when and hows with the client, the clock is already stopped. The only flat-rate jobs we have (in-shop, not onsite) are for simple 10-20 minute component upgrades like adding memory, swapping out a DVD-ROM for a DVDRW, etc. If we go onsite for these type of jobs, we can tell the client that they have time left on the one-hour minimum onsite charge and is there anything else they would like us to do while we're there? It's amazing how many times the customer will say, "You know, there is this one thing..." that leads to additional work and you end up with a much happier client when all is said and done.
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Old 07-05-2009, 05:57 PM
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i usually charge $25 for diagnostics, and no one has ever said thats ok. But WOW, if they did, that could be an hour down the drain. We are gonna look into this diagnosis policy and make some adjustments, perhaps the normal hour fee like so many others here. Great post.
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Old 07-05-2009, 06:00 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Doctor Micro View Post
I'm reminded of an old story about Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Edison and Ford were close friends and at one point, Ford had bought some new machinery for his assembly line and it wasn't working right. The machinery had come from overseas and it was going to take a month or more before a factory team could come over from the Continent, and even then, at great expense to Ford (this was before transatlantic air travel, mind you).

So Ford asks Edison if he'd like to come up to Dearborn and take a look.

Edison said he'd be happy to. When he arrived at the factory, he was shown the equipment and listened to the operators explain what it was supposed to do and how it wasn't working correctly.

Edison studied the machine, had the operators start it up a couple times and finally took a piece of chalk out of his pocket and put an "X" on one of the gear transfer cases and announced, "Your problem is in here... the gears are mis-aligned".

Ford's mechanics disassembled the part in question and indeed, discovered the gears were not meshing correctly. After few adjustments, the machine was re-assembled and worked perfectly after that.

Ford told Edison to send him a bill, as he didn't expect him to fix it for free. So Edison sent Ford a bill for $1000 for "services rendered".

Some time later, Edison received his bill back in the mail, unpaid, from Ford's accountants with a note asking, "Please Itemize".

Edison modified the bill and sent it back thus:

1. 1 Piece of chalk: $0.01
2. Knowing where to put the chalk: $999.99

----------

So those are my thoughts. I suppose a related topic would be the clients who want you to tell them what the problem is over the phone for free, but that probably deserves to be a separate thread.

Anyway, what do you folks think?
Great story! I guess it varies depending on what someones definition of a diagnosis is. I can't tell you how many clients/PT's think a diagnosis is shooting a guess at whats wrong with a machine without doing things such as disassembling, testing, swapping parts to make sure that corrects the issue. Can't tell you how many clients I tell the cost of a diag for an out of warranty machine and their response is "just to tell me whats wrong?" But our diag is one hour labor charge essentially. We used to charge just one hour for portables and less for desktops, but essentially with most Apple equipment now the desktops are escentially now all in ones almost like the portables (minus a keyboard/trackpad) and take just as much effort to troubleshoot, so we adjusted the prices to each be an hour.

Last edited by anonymous Mac Tech; 07-05-2009 at 06:04 PM.
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Old 07-05-2009, 06:55 PM
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@anonymous Mac Tech: Yes, it is a great story and one of my favorites. It does have a nice Michigan ring to it too
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Old 07-06-2009, 03:21 PM
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I have increased my Diagnostic fee to $50 as of this morning due to the fact that it takes about 10-30 minutes to complete a thorough diagnostic and identify problems that may come to bite me in the butt later if I don't make sure the client knows about them.

When you provide a diagnostic, your service is just as valuable, but the only thing you are not doing is fixing their problem. You are not telling them exaclty how to fix it either.
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