Tag Archives: customer service

Elevator U: The Myth of Maintenance Teamwork

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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.

Grand Opening Scheduled and You are Invited

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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.

Elevator Evacuation: What You Should Know

sfmlogomainpageLife is full of choices, from the clothes we wear to the cars we drive. Americans love having the freedom to do as they choose. But in some things, for good reason, we have no choice but to follow rules and laws that ensure public safety. This is especially true when it comes to regulations for elevators and other modes of vertical transportation. One of the most important regulations is the elevator evacuation plan, and every elevator owner is required to have one.

For the safety of all who use them, elevators are highly regulated. In Illinois, the Elevator Safety Division is responsible for implementing the Elevator Safety and Regulation Act through the registration, inspection, and certification of all conveyances in use. They also make sure those working on elevators are qualified by licensing contractors, mechanics, inspectors, inspection companies and apprentices.

Their jurisdiction extends to all of Illinois except the city of Chicago, and they work to ensure conveyances are correctly and safely installed and operated throughout the state. They regulate the design, installation, construction, operation, inspection, testing, maintenance, alteration and repair of not just elevators but also dumbwaiters, escalators, moving sidewalks, platform lifts, stairway lifts and automated people movers in accordance with all applicable statutes and rules.

Just one part of their regulation includes the elevator evacuation plan. It is one of the more crucial parts of the law that building owners must understand and implement if elevators are used. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) literally wrote the book on the evacuation plan, and it was codified by the state of Illinois, making it the law of the land that the Elevator Safety Division of the Illinois State Fire Marshal oversees and enforces.

In ASME Code A17.1-2007 – Section 8.6.11.4 Emergency Evacuation Procedures for Elevators, Section 8.6.11.4.2 – “A written emergency evacuation procedure shall be made and kept on the premises where an elevator is located.  It is the responsibility of the elevator or conveyance owner to develop such procedures. Note that there is no single procedure that applies to every site and every elevator; there are variables to consider when developing your evacuation plan.”

It is the responsibility of the building owner to produce an evacuation plan to meet the needs of each specific building and elevator.  To help with formulating a plan, the Office of the Illinois Fire Marshal provides the following information on their website:

In preparing your evacuation procedures, please consider the following:

  • Is the site located in a heavily populated or remote area?
  • Are personnel available to open the building after regular business hours?
  • If the building employs a security company or answering service, how might they be useful?

Written Procedures:

  • A written emergency evacuation procedure shall be made and kept on the premises where a conveyance is located.
  • The procedure shall identify hazards and detail the safety precautions utilized in evacuating passengers from a stalled elevator.
  • These procedures should be available to authorized elevator and emergency personnel.
  • You should have the contractor’s number readily available to building personnel.
  • The procedure should include the actions to be taken if a situation is life-threatening.
  • Situations requiring the use of the local fire department should be included in the procedure (medical emergency).

Training and Education:

  • In a catastrophic situation, in order to insure that a rescue by other than experienced elevator personnel is performed safely, the conveyance owner must select and train their employees in the proper evacuation procedures.
  • Building personnel should be given training in the proper procedures for evacuating passengers in an emergency/disaster. When training personnel, advantage should be taken of the experience and expertise which may be provided by the State licensed contractor servicing the conveyance.

Communication:

  • Prior to conducting an evacuation, the following steps should be taken:
  • The rescue team should verify that these steps have been taken, and while the rescue operation is in progress, the occupants of the conveyance should continually be kept informed and reassured of their safety.

Lack of an evacuation plan is a violation of the law that is designed to make sure that everyone using an elevator is safe. To read more about elevator evacuation plans, go to this link. The Illinois State Fire Marshal Office – Elevator safety Division website offers a tremendous amount of helpful information that can be accessed any time.

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.