Appliances can be mysterious things. So can automobiles, air conditioners and water heaters. One minute they’re humming along, working just fine, and the next minute…surprise! At this point you’re probably running to your laptop or the old fashioned Yellow Pages in a sudden, dire hurry to find a qualified repair company that will come out right away. But rushing into your decision can end up being costly—especially if you don't know what to look for when selecting a repair company "sight unseen." Best case, you may emerge from the experience worrying that you just overpaid for what seem to be otherwise excellent repairs. Worst case, you may be on the phone again, looking for another company to repair the last company's “repairs.” These tips can help you select a service repair company with confidence— no matter what item needs repairing.

1. Check for business verification

One of the best ways to ease your mind is simply to check if the company has been verified by a reputable agency you do know and trust. Here are some examples to look for.

  • The Better Business Bureau: The BBB maintains a database of member businesses. These businesses have submitted to an extensive review process before being admitted to the BBB. They also pay an annual fee. But even for businesses that haven’t gone through this process, the BBB will take customer complaints, follow up on those complaints, and keep a record of complaints filed. You can call or look on their website to see if the company you’re considering has had any complaints filed against them and what the resolution was.
  • The Chamber of Commerce: You may also have a local Chamber of Commerce you can call or look up online that verifies local companies in different industries.
  • A national, regional or location association: Look for a local association that governs that industry—for instance, if your air conditioning needs fixing, call the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA). Plumbing problems? Contact the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contracts of America (PHCCA).
  • Ask your insurance company: If you’re using insurance to cover the costs of a repair, you can ask your insurer for recommendations. Be mindful that in most cases, you don’t have to use one of the insurer's "verified" repair firms, but you want to be sure before you opt for a non-verified company that this will not invalidate your coverage, so read your policy carefully!
  • Check for other verifications: If an auto shop is ASE certified, this means that each technician—and the shop itself—has gone through a rigorous process for all manner of repairs. There are many different types of ASE certifications, so be sure the repair you need is ASE certified by that shop.

2. Thoroughly review the company's website

By reviewing the company's website, you can read customer testimonials, find out what (if any) warranties are offered for repairs, and learn about their customer service and complaint resolution policies. You can also find out how long they’ve been in business and if they’re affiliated with any other local associations or agencies you can contact for verification.

3. Do an Internet search on the business name and see what comes up

There’s a reason many companies now employ social media managers to monitor and manage the company's online reputation. Once a dissatisfied customer gets online and shares their experiences, those comments remain visible forever. You can check popular review websites like Angie's List, Yelp, Yahoo Locals and others to see what customers say about a business. You can also look to see if the business is monitoring their reputation and responding to complaints with offers of resolution.

4. Check with your social network

Word of mouth referrals are the biggest business going today. You may not be best friends with many of the folks on your LinkedIn or Facebook accounts, but you can bet that they, too, have had to hire repair companies and that they’ll have opinions and recommendations to share. Don't be afraid to reach out and ask!

5. Ask how technicians are paid

There are pros and cons to using a company that pays its technicians by the job versus by the hour.  So this shouldn’t be your first-pass criteria for choosing or passing on a service company. But be mindful that technicians who are paid by the job may be less inclined to take their time with each facet of your repair—technicians who are paid by the hour, on the other hand, may dawdle, but may also take more care to ensure your repair is done right!

6. Go with your gut

There’s no single foolproof way to choose a service repair company. So if you’ve reviewed each of these tips and still have a short list of companies to choose between, you may need to check in with yourself for the tie-breaking vote. Here, you can review these questions:

  • What was the representative like on the phone—did you feel s/he was knowledgeable and took the time to answer your questions? If you got a good first impression, that may speak volumes about what working with that company will be like.
  • If you asked for a call back, did that call come on time with the information that was promised? Actions speak louder than words—every time.
  • Is that company the best at what they do or a "jack of all trades?" Preferably, it’s ideal to find a company that specializes in exactly the type of repair needed.
  • What’s the pricing like—is it competitive with other quotes you’ve received? You may not want to choose the lowest price, unless you’re also convinced that comes from the most reputable firm in every other way.

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