By David Essman
Not very long ago, I was at the checkout counter of my neighborhood retail giant buying a gift when the cashier asked if I wanted to purchase an extended warranty. Some years ago I would have responded with a definite, No, thank you. Nowadays, I seriously consider the purchase of such agreements, depending on the product and what inconvenience would come about if my item were to break outside the standard warranty period.
In some cases, when I purchase an extended warranty for a newly acquired laptop or television, I also receive expedited service for the product. This can mean the difference between a few days and two to four weeks of turnaround time. Although I dont always need or reap the benefits of this type of agreement, I do sleep better at night.
Similar comforting benefits are usually available for your self-storage management software or security system, including access-control products or closed-circuit television (CCTV). Here are a few points to consider regarding technical support, as well as what you can expect from your provider within the normal warranty period, extended warranty or service plan. One thing is for certain: Without technical assistance, youll eventually have questions or experience problems while using the product, which will prevent you from accomplishing the many objectives you have for using the system.
Free Support vs. Purchased Agreements
When it comes to free technical support vs. purchased agreements, there are several things you should know. Following is a summary, plus questions to ask and things you can expect from your software provider.
When technical support is included with your purchase, you can expect anywhere from 30 days to as much as a full year of support after your original purchase from most software vendors. Few manufacturers offer free technical support for the life of the product. Within this warranty period, as some might call it, youre typically entitled to as much technical assistance as you need.
For years, I thought extended support agreements or service plans were silly little schemes to make more money. They do make money for the companies that sell them, but they also provide a valuable service, of which some customers regularly appreciate the benefits.
Extended agreements are a great way to provide your staff with assistance after the normal warranty has expired. Unlimited, ongoing telephone support entitles you and your employees to help whenever and with whatever you need, as long as it concerns products from that provider.
Its worth mentioning that with some service plansmainly for your access-control or CCTV productsyou could be entitled to replacements or loaner equipment. Also, if youve solicited help from an installer or authorized dealer to install your equipment, such as a camera system, you may have an option to purchase a service plan from that company, which could have similar benefits to those of the manufacturer.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when considering whether to purchase a service plan or support agreement:
- How technical or computer savvy are your managers?
- Do you have a lot of turnover in personnel?
- Are you seldom available to assist your managers when a problem does arise?
- How complex is your operation?
- Do you have more than your share of power outages or break-ins?
Whether you purchase a support agreement or choose to pay for each individual tech-support call, its important your staff never be reluctant to seek help from the professionals who wrote the program or designed the system. In the case of software, theres no better way to avoid or correct costly mistakes than to let the people operating the system get the help they need from the people who created it.
Your providers technical-support team will usually have a timeline they like to meet. If they dont answer a customers call immediately, they will try their best to return the call in a specific time frame. A good number of support providers track each incoming telephone call, allowing the service manager to follow the progress of calls and make adjustments by redistributing the workload to keep within objectives.
When calling for assistance, you may or may not reach a technician immediately. Of course, we would all like to be helped the moment we call and not have to wait in line or leave a message. However, considering the level of expertise required to answer your questions and effectively solve your troubles, your software provider will staff only professionals who are trained and experienced. These seasoned individuals are not always easy to come byat least not the very talented ones. In many cases, not just anyone can correctly answer your questions or solve your problem.
One more thing you might consider is there are days and times where higher call volume can be expected. Monday morning might be busier than Friday afternoon. The next business day after a three-day weekend or the first and last days of the month might see a rise in activity compared to most other days of the month. Another factor that can play into the time it takes to resolve an issue is its complexity. Diagnosing a problem will likely require more time to resolve than simple questions dealing with the program operation.
Ask your software vendor what kind of training it offers for you and your staff. Most reputable vendors do offer training for its products, usually at its headquarters, or at state and regional conferences. If sending someone away for a few days is not possible, with the help of a good manual and a few quick phones calls to the providers technical team, you and your managers will be quickly on your way. As far as camera or security systems are concerned, onsite training is often provided by the installer.
Can your software provider point you in the direction of a users group consisting of others who work with the same products? Such a group has great value to your manager. Simply enroll in the group online and get involved with questions, answers and comments.
Finally, always know your support provider's hours of operation and the time zone in which it resides. If theres a problem plaguing your office, will you have to wait until the following day for help? While you probably wont base your software selection solely on the vendor's location, scheduling certain office activities accordinglysuch as upgrades, new installations, end-of-month activities, etc.might reduce frustration levels and help you obtain the assistance you need, when you need it.
David Essman is the director of marketing for Sentinel Systems Corp. of Lakewood, Colo. Sentinel has been a manufacturer of self-storage management software and security systems since 1975. For more information, call 800.456.9955; e-mail www.sentinelsystems.com.