Post-installation service is becoming more and more of a critical concern for most end-users today. However, when qualifying potential vendors, they often make the simple mistake of asking this question: "Do you provide service after the project has been completed?"
The standard response from any vendor is: "Yes."
Unfortunately, the vendor gave the right answer while the real problem resides in the question. This question treats service as a peripheral commodity without fully understanding what it takes to meet the client's expectations for service.
Instead of asking the above question, a better question would be: "How do you achieve responsive excellent service?"
While there are many factors that go into establishing an effective service program, one of the most critical components is your prospective vendor's approach to product standardization. For instance, if a security integrator carries more than two access control products, the chances are that they will be less likely to fulfill the client's service requirements since their technical infrastructure is not standardized to a specific solution.
For those firms that adhere to strict product and design standards, the benefits and efficiencies of standardization surface in many areas. First, by standardizing to a limited number of name-brand products, a security integrator can afford to invest in technical training for their service personnel. At our firm, where we carry one and only one access control product line, with a total of 48 employees, we invest more than $100,000 annually in training. If we carried more products, this number would most likely have to double, maybe even triple.
If you select an integrator that believes in standardization, you are less likely to hear one of their technicians utter the most horrifying words: "I've never seen this product before."
The second benefit of standardization is that it enables an integrator to maintain a reasonable service inventory of spare parts. Using basic logic, if a company carries a broad range of products, its inventory would have to be so large that most firms would be unable to afford a large inventory. The default service plan would be that they would depend on the manufacturer to maintain a service inventory. Of course, when your system is down and you need an immediate response, you do not want to hear the technician say on Friday evening: "There is a spare part in California, and we will have it here by Monday, Tuesday at the latest." It happens all of the time.
At our firm, by adhering to strong standardization principles, we are able to maintain a $500,000 (wholesale) inventory local to our market, and all of our service vehicles are fully stocked with spares. There is an added benefit of stocking our service vehicles with spares. It decreases the downtime of our clients, thereby increasing client satisfaction. Most important, it also lowers our operating costs since it makes us more efficient.
So, when it comes time to investigate a potential vendor's service ability, go above the norm and ask the real questions:
1. How many access control products do you support?
2. How many of your technicians are factory-certified on the products that you install?
3. What is the wholesale value of your service inventory?
4. What is the wholesale value of parts on each of your service vehicles?
The above questions will get you the right answers to make the best-value decision for your organization.
Alan Kruglak is senior vice president of Genesis Security Systems, an electronic security systems integrator based in Germantown, Md.