When purchasing management software to assist with the day-to-day operation of your self-storage property, not only will you have high expectations of the software, you should have certain expectations of your provider’s technical support. Without tech support, you would eventually encounter numerous hurdles while using the program—hurdles that could easily prevent you from accomplishing the objectives behind your purchase.
While discussing the features and costs for the software you’re considering, remember to ask the provider how much technical support comes with the original purchase. You can expect anything from three months to as much as a year. Within this “warranty period,” you’ll be entitled to tech support and, with most providers, any software updates released within that time frame. But, as with any costly purchase, your warranty is only as good as the company that stands behind it.
The need for tech support rarely ends once the “free” period is over. To ensure your staff has ongoing support, consider purchasing an extended tech-support agreement. This is a great way to provide employees the assistance they might need down the road.
The issue of long-term support also will help you determine which software is right for your company today—and tomorrow. Before talking to vendors about tech support, consider these questions:
- How computer-savvy are your managers?
- Do you have a lot of turnover in personnel?
- Are you seldom available to help your managers when a problem arises?
- How complex is your operation?
With an unlimited-support agreement, there’s no per-call or per-minute charge for phone support. If you choose the alternative and pay for the assistance as needed, you can expect to pay with a credit card at the time of the call, or will be billed once the call is completed.
Whether you purchase a support agreement or pay for each individual call to the tech-support team, it’s important that your employees never be reluctant to seek help from professionals. There’s no better way to avoid costly, unnecessary mistakes and inaccuracies in your financials than to let the people operating the software get the help they need from the people who wrote the program.
As an added bonus, some software providers show extra appreciation to their customers by providing a toll-free number for technical calls. Considering the length of a productive, in-depth, problem-solving call, the money saved will go straight to your bottom line.
What to Ask Tech Support
Comprehensive training over the phone is possible but not very efficient, as well as being stressful for all parties involved. Reputable software providers offer training for their products, usually at their headquarters. This is always a worthwhile expense. If possible, send a member of your staff to the class. If sending someone away for a few days isn’t possible, most programs are easy to learn with the help of a good manual and a few quick calls to the provider’s tech-support team.
Another question to ask: Will the provider assist with configuring the software to fit your unique business practices? Usually it will, and for the following reasons: When first setting up your software, there are many settings to configure within it, such as late fees and notices, taxes, unit numbers, unit sizes, etc. This configuration is important, and there are settings you don’t want to overlook or improperly configure.
Your property’s rental agreement is a good example. Your lease outlines specific dates, rental rates and late fees as well as timetables during which tenants may be denied access to their units. Your new software should be configured to coincide with your lease and any other legally binding documents. If you’re to trust the program with carrying out important automated tasks, it must be configured properly.
Beware of Wait Times
Do you know the hours of operation for tech support and the time zone in which the support staff resides? Software vendors are located all over the country. If there’s a software problem plaguing your office, will you have to wait another 12 to 14 hours until help is available?
Though the location of the vendor shouldn’t be the sole reason for selecting one software over another, it’s good information to have in advance. You’ll be able to schedule certain office activities accordingly (i.e., upgrades, new computer installations, monthly closes, etc.), when tech support is readily available.
You should also ask potential vendors how long the wait for assistance will be when you call. Depending on the time of day, number of users and other factors, you 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 provider will staff only professionals who, in most cases, are seasoned in these matters.
Your provider’s tech-support department will usually have a goal. If they cannot answer a customer’s call immediately, they will try their best to return the call in a specific time frame. A good number of providers log each incoming tech-support call. This gives the service manager the ability to track the progress of the call, making adjustments if needed by redistributing calls, to stay within the company’s objective.
There are days and times where call volumes will be higher. Monday morning, for example, 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 other days of the month.
Another factor that can play into the time it takes to return calls is the complexity of the problems being handled. Problems as a result of end-of-the-month billing will likely require more time for a technician to resolve than a simple question about program operation.
What other sources of assistance may be available to you? Ask if your software provider can point you in the direction of a user’s group consisting of other customers using the same product. Such a group can be a great value to your manager. Simply enroll in the group online and get involved with questions, answers and comments.
Your provider should be knowledgeable, experienced and have the latest problem-solving tools to assist you with any troubling matter. The company might even be able to remotely log into your PC (with your consent, of course), and assist with troubleshooting, corrections and reconfiguring as needed.
When making an investment in your facility’s management software, you naturally expect and need quality assistance. Before choosing a vendor, ask questions about the company’s technical support. You’re entitled to a high level of professionalism and expertise when you need help.
David Essman is the director of marketing for Lakewood, Colo.-based Sentinel Systems Corp., a manufacturer of self-storage management software and security systems since 1975. He can be reached at 800.456.9955; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.sentinelsystems.com.