Category Archives: Contracts

Elevator U: The Myth of Maintenance Teamwork

pierre-etienne-vachon-116891 (1)
Photo by Pierre-Etienne Vachon on Unsplash

Long-term planning for elevator maintenance takes cooperation from several parties and often is equated to teamwork. However, the idea that a team is always the solution to the problem often misses the bigger point. At the recent Elevator U conference we learned a lot about the various people that make elevator maintenance systems work but, surprisingly, the word team was never mentioned.

This is may be because when you hear the word “team,” you think of a group of individuals all dressed in the same uniform striving for victory, all pulling in the same direction. Even though everyone’s in-game goals may be different, victory for the team is always the objective, so they cast self-wants aside for the win.

Baseball is a great example of this. The goal of the pitcher is to strike people out, force a simple ground ball or “can of corn” pop-fly, but sometimes they have to intentionally walk an apposing player to ensure a win. The batter always wants to drive the ball for a hit, but every once in a while a sacrifice is required above the attempt at a dramatic homer. A selfish player or someone that has goals apart from on field victory is never a welcome addition to the team, even if they are great players. The goal should always be the win; not the individual’s desires.

Although we would like to think that elevator maintenance is a team sport, with everyone pulling in the same direction and willing to sacrifice for the good of the team, oftentimes it is not. The result is that managing elevator maintenance needs to come with the realization that everyone might just be dressed in different uniforms and they may not be playing on your team at all. This is not because people in the elevator business should be considered corrupt or lazy and out of hand; it is because the various components needed to have good elevator service usually have differing goals. The people it takes to keep an elevator running are sometimes working in opposition to each other so instead of a team, it should be looked at as a partnership.

This is why it’s important to ask: Who are my partners and what are their motives?

The elevator company – They are who you have the actual maintenance contract with and their goal is to make money by providing good service and products. If keeping you happy makes them money, all is good. When you cost them money…well, that’s another story. To confirm this fact, look over your current contract and see who the language favors. You will find that it is a very lopsided document. There is nothing wrong with them wanting to ring the cash register as often as possible. They have a lot of responsibilities which cost them dearly: they employ people with their revenue, provide upgrades and improvement, and even engage in R&D to make elevators safer and better functioning. Making money is not evil, but it’s important to realize that it is their goal.

The repair personnel – Sometimes they are on your team and other times they are not. Often times the technician’s goal is to simply make it though the day with their sanity intact. They have lots of stops to get to and there’s pressure from the company to maintain lots of different elevators plus special projects. They also must be efficient, punctual, and represent the company in person to you, all while making money for the company. They must live in the impossible world of making each customer their number one priority or at least feel that way. They can be reliable and loyal, but their bread is buttered somewhere else. Keep in mind they straddle this fence all the time and a good relationship is a plus. But be warned! You can’t fire them, but you can make sure they are where they are supposed to be and repairing what they are supposed to. Also, all techs are not created equal and you may have drawn the short straw.

Next in the line up is the building maintenance or facilities department – Their goal is, first and foremost, to solve problems, keep their job and avoid pain. A person responsible for maintaining the whole building may know very little about an elevator, but has the nearly impossible task of keeping it running (with the help of the certified elevator tech) and assisting with or making long-term decisions on the elevators in general. Recently, I had an opportunity to meet several of these great folks at the Elevator U conference. The conference is for college and university staff, administrators, facility managers and elevator technicians to learn about and discuss challenges and gain information to problem solve. I was surprised by the number of first time attendees there were and many had no background in the elevator business at all. You may find that a facility manager has technical training in another trade all together or may specialize in business or management and may completely hate the elevator responsibilities as it may not be their bailiwick.

Sometimes they have little or no time to deal with the issues raised regarding elevators and so they acquiesce to the wishes of experts (elevator techs) for expediency purposes. Modernization can roll off the lips of the facility department personnel, because they may not be as concerned with the bottom line.  Also, remember this department or individual is the first line of defense when it comes to complaints from both users and superiors and that’s something else they have to deal with on a day to day basis.

Finally, the building owner or facility manager – This partner has the goal of keeping the elevator running as smoothly as possible with as few shut downs for as little money as they can spend. They may actually break out in a rash if “modernization” or “major shut down” is even uttered. They feel like the elevator is a money pit and essentially believe that, since installed, the elevator keeps costing money in service contracts, shutdowns, and repairs. They know that the elevator is necessary, but ultimately they have the job of running a business or organization in the black and out of the red which leaves them with little patience for stoppages.

This disparate group of misfitting parts makes up the partners (or team) that have the duty to provide a safe, efficient elevator for the public. Holding them together may just be an impossible task.  But understanding their professional goals is a good place to start and always keep in mind that consistently reminding each other of the ultimate goal of providing safe vertical transportation at a reasonable cost. This may lead to more appreciation of each other and, who knows, maybe a little sacrifice every now and again for the benefit of the team.

Elevator Technician – Mr. Friendly Says Hello

mrEveryone wants to see the friendly elevator guy with the big smile and the big handshake. After a merry greeting and traditional backslapping, he disappears down the hall and goes to work. Thirty minutes later, you hear the familiar sound of the tool belt jangling toward you and you know you are about to get a full report. But, after 40 minutes of discussing the weather, family, friends, fishing, the best BBQ in town, the nuances of abstract animation in the film noir era, oh and the elevator, he leaves. Both of you are the wiser for solving the world’s problems, but are you lighter in the pocketbook for the casual conversation.

This may be happening more than you think. How often do you actually look at the contract or repair bill and compare it to actual time spent on the elevator itself?  Or do you know exactly what the contractual terms of your agreement are? Some may be billed a flat fee for certain maintenance regardless of time spent, but others may be paying for every five-minute increment. The terms are very important to know.

Each and every person who hires an elevator contractor understands that they will pay for time to repair and maintain elevators.  No shock there. This normally comes in the form of a flat monthly fee with some exceptions for work outside of the scope of the contract. Others choose more comprehensive contracts that cover nearly all costs other than vandalism, intentional destruction or “Acts of God.”  Also, hourly rates can vary widely depending on the geographic location and availability of technicians. Shopping the hourly rate may be a great place to start when looking at cutting the expense of maintenance, but actual time on the job may be hiding a bigger problem. Time actually spent on the job may not be matching what you are paying for.

Here are some things to be aware of that can increase costs.

  1. Forgotten tools – Have you had to pay for trips back to the shop or to the hardware store? Do you know if you have?
  2. Chitchat time – Are you forking over fees to find out what the weather is like in Bemidji or how the Bears did?
  3. Extra assistance – The elevator guys shows up with a team. Not sure if it is training or “bring your extended family to work day,” but you need to find out.
  4. The magic act – The incredible disappearing elevator mechanic. First you see him and then you don’t. Where was he for the past two hours? You checked the machine room and elevator and no one was to be found. Did he dematerialize into another dimension only to reappear suddenly just in time to go home?
  5. Lunch break, coffee break, smoke break – It is hard to swallow paying for all three of these in an hours time but it can happen.
  6. Whoops – The elevator professional drops his pliers from the top of the car and they end up in the pit. Oh well, one more unneeded trip to the dungeon.

These are just a few things that you maybe paying for that you are not even aware of. But, there are somethings you can do to alleviate the problem.

  1. Know your contract. If you are paying a monthly fee that is all inclusive and the elevator tech is a chatty Cathy and you like the banter..who cares. Enjoy the conversation. On the other hand, if you are being charged for every second that ticks off the clock, it’s time to reassess.
  2. Insist on a sign in and sign out every time they come and go. This will accomplish a couple of things. First, it will help alleviate the disappearing act.  It will keep you informed on progress, it will make the technician more responsible and you will have a chance to find out what is going on with the elevator.
  3. Always check the maintenance log! It is your right and if “routine maintenance” is all that is written and it took two hours, there is a problem. Also insist that a log is kept in the machine room. This should be added to your elevator plan.
  4. Open a dialog with the technician. When he seems to be working a long time, safely track him down and ask what is going on. Remember, this is your building and you are granting him and his company the privilege of working on it.
  5. Open a dialog with the dispatcher or supervisor. Do this before problems start if they ever do. You should be on a first name basis with the person that tracks the time and services of the technician. This may also get some of your basic questions answered for free.

Remember the vast majority of elevator technicians are hard-working, want to fix problems right and have integrity when it comes to the people they service. However, that does not mean that you shouldn’t check their work and build into your routine a time to do some follow up and re-reading of the contract.

The Stealth Bomber of Automatic Rate Increases

stealth-bomber-602733_1280The other day we quoted a full maintenance contract to a local school.  They called back and said “I really don’t want to keep using Bigg Elevator, but their rate is $20/month less than yours.” Rather than price match, I asked to see a copy of the contract with the names and rates redacted. Sure enough, as I expected, at the bottom of page 4 was this little stealth clause that is, unfortunately, quite common among the Bigg Elevators and their ilk: 

“The price in section 1.3 shall be adjusted annually on January 1 of each year of the Agreement.  100% of the current price will be increased or decreased by the percent increase or decrease in the labor cost.  The labor cost is the sum of the straight time hourly rate plus the cost of fringe benefits paid to elevator mechanics in the locality the equipment is maintained.”

English translation:  If their labor costs (including benefits) go up 5%, your contract rates go up 5%.  They don’t propose a rate increase that you can accept or reject.  You’ve agreed in advance that they can impose a new rate on you every year without your consent. Or input.

The school that we quoted checked their records and their actual monthly rates were now higher than what we were proposing. But even if they weren’t outrageously high, is that a fair provision?  Do you have contracts with your customers that are cost-plus?  You probably wish you did, because then you wouldn’t need to control your costs. And how do you know that the rate increase really does reflect their actual labor cost increases?  Do you really want to get in the business of auditing their payroll?  And do you really think they’ll allow you to?  Nope, you’ve just got to trust them.  Feeling like a sucker yet?

Should a business be able to analyze its costs and tell their customer, “sorry, we need to raise our prices to you?”  Absolutely.  But you should also be able to answer with, “sorry, we’re going elsewhere.”  This is America, after all.

Lessons for you:

1.  Don’t agree to automatic rate increases.  If they give you a sob story about their hard-to-control cost increases, then remind them that since you’re only signing a one-year contract, they’re only locked into the rate for a year.  After that, they can propose a higher rate for the subsequent year.  But you will have to agree to it.  So chances are they’ll be much more reasonable about it.

2. Shop around. The problem of overpaying for elevator maintenance comes from the idea that you cannot shop for the best deal and that you are automatically locked in with service from the initial installer.

3. Nip it in the bud. Before you forget, take control of your elevator expenses by drafting a cancellation of service letter and send it registered mail to your current elevator service provider. This will not stop your elevator maintenance service, but will let your current provider know you are willing to shop for a better deal.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for changes. Before you sign any agreement make sure you understand the contract completely and if there is something you don’t like about it, ask for changes in writing.

If you have experience regarding elevator service providers share your thoughts, success stories and horror stories with comments or questions.

Smart Customer Beats Bigg Elevator

hand-819279_1920If 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Check current logs and see how often your elevator is getting maintained.
  5. 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.

What? I Can’t Get Out of My Elevator Maintenance Contract?

Contracts are important when it comes to an elevator maintenance agreement. Read it carefully.
Before you sign any contract read it carefully. Don’t be afraid to ask for changes.

A contract is a 2-way promise.  In the elevator maintenance world, the elevator company promises to maintain and repair your elevator, and you promise to pay them. What happens if one of you doesn’t hold up your end of the bargain?  Well, contracts address that too.  So dig your copy out of the file drawer and see what it says.

It likely contains a provision that says if you don’t pay, they can stop taking care of your elevator.  Click for the info you need.