“The two words ‘information' and ‘communication' are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.” – Sydney J Harris
A telephone system maintenance agreement is a standard contract that you enter into with your chosen vendor, and it details how they will maintain your system for you. It is important that your business telephone system stay upgraded and in working order.
But it goes beyond simply maintaining your system—it ensures that if your systems ever crash or break, you can get them up and running again in no time. For every minute your system is down, you lose money. That is why your vendor has to be very good.
What is a Telephone System Maintenance Agreement?
A telephone system maintenance agreement is a document that is signed by you and your maintenance provider (usually your chosen systems vendor) – and it is an agreement on the terms and conditions involved with keeping your system healthy.
These contracts are usually signed when a new business telephone system is installed, or an old system is significantly upgraded. They last for the period outlined, but only after the manufacturer warranty has run out. That means that you are covered for system maintenance during your warranty years and the contract years.
Sometimes fees need to be paid to the business telephone systems company so that maintenance is ongoing. If this is the case, the amounts are outlined in the telephone system maintenance agreement.
These agreements are binding and are very important to both the business owner and the company that is providing you these services. They detail things like obligations, restrictions, recertification’s, prices and payments, lapsed service fees, taxes, warranty information, general provisions and limitation of liability.
This agreement is usually discussed once a business telephone system has been picked out and explored by the owner and vendor. The vendor will try to make sure that the communications system chosen functions according to the needs of the business.
Telephone system maintenance is when your vendor provides you with a service that helps you reduce organizational costs, minimizes downtime risk and loss of business and allows you to have a single point of contact for your new system.
What to Look for in a Good Agreement
An upstanding telephone system maintenance agreement needs to have certain things in it that protect you as a company, or you could face real trouble if the system fails. That is why you need to know what sort of points to look for in any quality agreement.
- Look for good value – all good maintenance agreements provide additional value to the client (business) so that they are able to leverage these areas to improve operational control and business processes.
- Look for continuity of service – your agreement needs to outline how long it is valid before it needs to be renegotiated or renewed. Contracts that do not clearly state when they run out can cause a lot of headaches for businesses. Rolling twelve-month contracts are usually the best.
- Look for fixed price – if you plan to use your new business telephone system for longer than 3-5 years, you can try and setup a fixed price for the contract over this period. It usually works out a lot cheaper if you do it this way.
- Look at the exit clause – all agreements have an exit clause. That way if you are tied to the contract, but want to end it for some reason, you have an out. Otherwise you will be paying that maintenance company by law, for the entire contract period.
- Look at the upgrading ratios – your agreement should contain details about upgrades and updates, as they are an important part of maintaining a current, working business telephone system.
- Look at level of service – What kind of service level will you receive according to the contract? Review when the company will help you after an emergency, how long they will take to arrive, and when you expect the problem to be fixed.
- Look at sundry components – the agreement does not cover old parts of old systems, and these often break and cause issues between owners and maintenance companies. Keep in mind if it was there before they installed the new system – they are not responsible for maintaining it – even if it pulls down your entire system.
The Importance of Finding the Right Agreement
Telephone system maintenance agreements come in all shapes and sizes. There is no ‘one size fits all’ contract, even though these telephone companies want you to accept their standardized contracts. Often these contracts are in their favor, though they are fair to the client as well.
This does not mean you should sign the first contract you come across. Finding the right agreement is a very important part of maintaining a quality business telephone system for your clients. If you want all of the benefits we have been talking about in this book, then you need a company that will pledge to help you keep it all together.
The right agreement will not necessarily be in your favor, but it will certainly protect your business interests. The interests of your business as this point are simple—to keep your new system operating at maximum capacity to allow for consistent improvements in communication across your company.
The right agreement will also perform the following tasks for you, in order to keep your telephone systems up and running:
- The vendor you have chosen is an authorized dealer and has certified techs for the system you have.
- The vendor you have chosen will carry the spare parts you need in case of emergency. That means they can simply grab the part, and drive out to fix the issue. There is no waiting period for an ordered part.
- Ensure that remote testing and monitoring is available for your system at all times. If you have an issue, your vendor can just remote in and have a look. They will fix problems in a flash, because of this.
- Make sure you outline what is and what is not covered under ‘maintenance.’ An office relocation for example, may not be outlined in your agreement and could cost you extra when you move.
- Find out the payment structures for expansion, and get discounts and deals for secondary locations in writing.
- Make sure the agreement covers the entire system – that includes the main control unity, on hold functions, voice processors, cabling, communication devices and proprietary system handsets.
- Find out what level of cover the vendor is offering. It should be a 24 hour hotline, with emergency response times. Do not accept contracts that do not agree to 365 days a year cover.
Maintenance Service Levels
A maintenance service level is the level of service that your vendor will provide you, after you have signed and sealed the contract agreement. Every company is different, so do not assume that you are 100% covered. Always examine the agreement – especially the area where they detail their service levels.
Maintenance service levels deal with the LEVEL of coverage, response times and any customized solutions you may need in addition to the original contract. Never be afraid to add in points of your own.
- The 24/7 package: This is very standard in the telephone systems maintenance industry. The contract should state that you have access to maintenance services 24/7, 7 days a week.
- Response times: Make sure that your maintenance company responds to your emergency call within 2-3 hours. This needs to be in the agreement, or you could lose entire working days to a technical systems fault.
- Certain days: Many vendors will outline when and how they operate. For example, from weekdays they operate between 9-5. On weekends they operate between 10-2, excluding emergencies of course.
- Customized solutions: If you have any specific service requirements that you need, like additional on-site support or training—add them to the agreement.
- Hardware and software failure: The level of service must extend to fixing hardware issues in person, and software issues remotely as required. A clear understanding needs to be laid out so that everyone’s expectations are properly managed.
- Objectives of service: Outline what the vendors objectives of service are, so that you can compare their level of service with their objectives as they work, to ensure quality of service.
These maintenance service levels are a vital part of the telephone systems maintenance agreement. Without a clear understanding of their level of service, you could end up fighting a losing battle, when things go awry.
These levels of service must always be measured, and as a business owner it is your job to make sure that your vendors are holding up their side of the agreement. If you let them, many companies will relax their response times. This is unacceptable for you!
What Should and Shouldn’t be Covered
When looking for the ideal telephone systems maintenance agreement, certain things need to be covered. Then there are a few things that do not or should not be covered, and we will address those here as well.
Coverage in these agreements depends on the business, the way they run their business and the type of service they agree to provide to their customers. No two businesses are the same so make sure that you read your service level agreement at least three times.
What Should Be Covered:
- The KINDS of fault that the maintenance technicians are able to fix. This includes all manner of breakages to hardware and software glitches.
- Minor and major fault response times. Many vendors have different response times to faults depending on their level of severity. Major faults should take no longer than three hours to tend to, minor faults no longer than eight hours.
- Vendors will often ‘swap’ their new equipment for your old equipment so that it can be refurbished. They will take your faulty equipment and keep it, supplying you with new equipment for free.
- Software upgrades are incredibly important and should be covered fairly extensively in the agreement. Remote programming also needs to be outlined.
- All charges, surcharges and extra expense scenarios need to be detailed in the agreement for the business owner to see in black and white. That way there will never be any hidden or surprise costs.
- The agreement should also cover terms and conditions, exit strategy, obligations, service levels, restrictions, charges, certifications, upgrades, area availability, warranty details, taxes and general provisions.
- The wires in the walls, jacks, and phone cords should also be covered, even if they weren’t installed fresh with your phone system.
- The wires in the walls, jacks, and cords for you fax machines, credit card machines, and alarm system, even if they aren’t connected to your phone system should be covered, though that might come at an additional expanse.
- Vendor meets with your carrier
What Shouldn’t Be Covered:
- Certain KINDS of faults like normal wear and tear and damage from natural disasters like tornados, fire, floods and storms. You will have to insure your equipment for these specific purposes.
- Anything that does not correlate with three other telephone system maintenance agreements from other companies. The easiest way to see what this vendor has added in their favor, is to cross check their agreement with other agreements. Get your lawyer to read over the details and make a list. Then decide whether or not you can live with the extra conditions, or change them!
Getting the Best Agreement for Your Company
The best telephone system maintenance agreement is a customized solution. You will sit down with your maintenance vendor and discuss what you expect from them in the coming years, in terms of support, training and overall maintenance.
You also need to outline what ‘maintenance’ means so that you both have a clear understanding of the word and list of included services. Getting the best agreement possible is part of a process of elimination and comparison.
I never read an agreement without having a few comparable agreements from other companies nearby. This gives me an additional perspective on the kind of maintenance business I’m dealing with, and if they will actually fulfill their contract obligations.
Once I have adequately reviewed the agreement and made sure I am happy with all the inclusions and details, I compare it with the other agreements. I make a list of what is different and if it is not clear, I will query it with the maintenance contractor at the next meeting.
I will also mock up a list of inclusions that I want, based on advice from my lawyer. I will handwrite these inclusions into the margins of the original document. Once I am happy with the final version, I will hand it back to the maintenance contractor.
Then he or she will review it, and get back to me on the changes. We will review it together and agree on the additions and alterations. The contract has now been streamlined to suit my needs as a business owner, yet they are still fair to the contractor.
Getting the best agreement for your company has a lot to do with the vendor that you choose. If they are reputable and have a lot of references that you can call (do call them), and they check out, then you will be alright. What you want to hear is that they are great maintenance vendors that go above and beyond for their clients.
There is always middle ground that you can meet with a business-minded vendor. They want you as a long term customer, so do not be afraid to negotiate price either. The longer the contract, the more discount you can request.
It is common practice to offer new clients a small discount for signing a long term contract with a maintenance vendor. Even if they seem reluctant, they do it all the time. If you are serious about it, you can save yourself money.