Service for the Dead and Dying

The older I get, the more often I find myself amazed by the ignorance I find everywhere I look. It seems amazing to me that after 30 years of being part of an industry and 20-plus years of training that industry, I can still be shocked by it. OK, so...

X number or unlimited field service calls, or unlimited service calls with restrictions. If the system is installed, maintained and serviced properly, why would I limit the number of calls I was willing to cover? Because stuff happens in the field lightning, floods, angry gods of power surges, ground faults, upset employees and such. So the compromise is that the service provider is usually willing to provide unlimited service calls applied toward specific problems with the system and equipment, but paid calls for physical damage, acts of nature, ground faults and such.

Guaranteed response time from point of call for service. This means the service provider is willing to put his neck on the line for your security program. The provider agrees to get there and be busy fixing the problem within a certain time period from your call to report the problem. The average service response will be 24 hours from the point of call.

Guaranteed turnaround time for repaired equipment. The servicer guarantees that your equipment that is sent in for repair will be back to you within X hours or days. Great deal for the end user, dangerous deal for the service provider. The payout comes if the service provider does not get your equipment back from the factory authorized service point in time. They then have to provide you with free replacement equipment until your stuff comes back.

Replacement or loaner equipment. This is a nice feature to have for head-end equipment that needs to be redundant for your security needs. But if you are looking for an exact replacement, you are requiring that your service provider stocks such equipment and absorbs the cost. In that case, you may be better off purchasing backup equipment of your own to have available to the servicing company.

Most contracts will read "like" or "equivalent" replacement equipment. This is not all bad; all the service provider is promising is that if a camera goes down, he/she will replace it with an equivalent piece of equipment and prevent down time. The place where it gets sticky is with controlling or recording equipment. Obviously, the controlling replacement must be able to work the pan/tilts and lenses and such. However, can your employees work the equipment without training, and if not, does the training come as part of the project? If you have a replacement of like gender, does that mean it will use the same compression formats? If not, you have a problem. Watch the fine print for the details that could hurt you in the long run.

Quarterly inspections. This is a good thing if there is an actual process or checklist for what is to be inspected, cleaned and repaired. How about we say that we will have all housing/domes cleaned, back-focus to verify zoom functions, all control functions checked, monitor screens cleaned, all pan/tilts tested, pre-positions verified, playback and programming of analog and digital recorders reviewed. Finally, you want to have a clause that says that what is found in disrepair is repaired at the time of the inspection or a proper appointment is made to return and take care of the problem. Let's make the quarterly inspection something better than a quick peek at the monitor, eh?

Automatic annual or bi-annual renewal and/or cost increase. Service contracts, for the most part, are where many security companies make their only profit. The bid of equipment and installation is done at breakeven or loss, and the service contract will, after a couple of years, pay out the lost profits. The annual or semi-annual automatic renewal is part of the policy that you must pay careful attention to. This is where the various hidden, small-print comments are made: "This contract will automatically renew on the first day of the second month of each year after the year 2004 unless a written notice of cancellation is received from the client a minimum of 30 days prior to the renewal date."

Many times, a service contract will have a buy-out clause of 10 to 30 percent of the original installation costs if cancelled in the first two or three years. This may not sound too bad, until you try to cancel and find yourself on the line for 20 or 30 thousand dollars. Buyer beware always read and review what you sign. Many contracts have automatic rate increases of 10 to 35 percent annually. So if you spent $150,000 for your initial system, say the annual service contract is sold for 15 percent of that, or $22,500. You hit a 22-percent increase automatically for three years in a row and you are now paying $40,850 annually. The net three-year increase actually equates to 55 percent. Are you getting that much more for your service dollar? Probably not.