If you are old enough, you can remember the days of the handshake. The handshake was the unmistakable consummation of an agreement; no deal was made without a handshake and breaking your word once hands were clasped was unthinkable. Those days have passed and now, a pitchman can say anything to close a sale and then offer up a standard contract that doesn’t back up the verbal promises made.
In the elevator world, we hear about this all the time. The following is an example of one customer and her journey to ensure Bigg Elevator delivered on services promised. It involves the usual players: the customer, a disingenuous sales rep, and an unfair, one-sided contract. Fortunately, thanks to some smart, up-front negotiating, intelligent monitoring and willingness to play hardball when faced with threats of legal action, the customer prevailed.
The elevator company in question is real, but we’ll call them Bigg Elevator. Like other large elevator companies, their proposed, standard contract offers “periodic” maintenance. However, it was important to the customer that periodic was defined as monthly to ensure a safe, smooth-functioning elevator. The salesman changed the wording to “monthly” maintenance. All parties were happy with the result and willingly signed the contract.
The Bigg Elevator mechanic never came monthly. When the customer didn’t remember seeing them for a while, she decided to monitor them more closely. Wary that if she complained she’d be fed the line that “they came when you weren’t there,” to make sure, she changed the locks on the machine room door. She then left a message via Bigg’s answering service for the technician to see her for the new keys when he was next there. Six months later, no one had contacted her for keys, so she knew no maintenance had been performed.
After the technician finally did get the keys, she continued to monitor the frequency of the visits by examining the log sheets he left in the machine room. A pattern had developed. Over the life of the contract, he was only coming once or twice a year.
When the five year anniversary of the contract approached, the customer sent a notice of termination, only to be told she had missed the window and had automatically been renewed for another five years. Ready for this response and armed with detailed records, she was able to demonstrate that Bigg Elevator hadn’t held up its part of the bargain.
While there was no provision in the contract for the customer to terminate for breach, she threatened to report them to state regulators if they didn’t agree to do so. After many excuses and legal threats back and forth, they did allow the customer to terminate. But she didn’t stop there. She asked for a refund of payments made for which she received no service in return. Bigg Elevator squawked, but faced with irrefutable evidence, they eventually relented and wrote her a check for over $10,000.
Lessons learned? Everyone reading this should take the following steps:
- Terminate your contract now, even if the renewal date is a couple years off. Send a certified letter of cancellation to your maintenance provider before you forget and the contract is auto renewed. Keep a copy for your records.
- Read your current contract so you know what they promised to do. If the language lets them wiggle out of regular visits, ask for language to be added, or make a note for the next renewal to include it.
- Comparatively shop other maintenance providers. Find out who is out there and what their terms are. Use competition as leverage to get a fair deal.
- Check current logs and see how often your elevator is getting maintained.
- Don’t be afraid to fight back. If you have good documentation that they failed to perform, use it to get what you are due and don’t let their legal threats scare you off.
It is a shame the customer had to go to these lengths, but Bigg Elevator forced her hand. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. You can stand up to Bigg Elevator. And you can find an elevator maintenance company (usually a smaller, local one) with fair contracts and an understanding of the meaning behind a handshake.