5 Key Service and Support Considerations

Updated: April 30, 2009

When your business buys a new addition to its IT systems, it is also buying the company behind the product or service. Your company will look to the vendor for service and support as it installs the new technology, learns to operate it and uses it on a day-to-day basis.

1. Who will install the product? A simple product, like a word processor, can be installed by end users without much difficulty. However, complex systems like ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software require professional installation. Somewhere in between lie the systems that vendors and customers can install together. The question is, what support will the vendor provide during installation? Will there be on-site technicians to walk you through installation, or will you have to go it alone and call a tech-support hotline when you get stuck?

2. Who will provide telephone support? Many vendors now outsource remote technical support overseas to people whose expertise and command of the English language may not be the best. It is always a good idea to meet the people who will be providing your company's tech support before you sign on the dotted line.

3. Is support "free" (included in the purchase price), or will there be ongoing charges based on usage? The former may seem preferable to paying by the service call. But if you don't anticipate needing much support, going with a per-incident service plan may lower both the technology's purchase price and its overall cost of ownership.

4. If on-site service is needed, how will your business be charged? Some vendors charge for time spent traveling to and from an organization's location, while others start the clock when they get there and stop it when they leave. Certain types of service calls may be billed at a flat fee, while others might be billed by the hour and include materials charges.

5. How quick is the vendor's response time?
You should negotiate with the vendor regarding how long it will take to get a service person on-site when your company places a service call. The final agreement should include some consequences if the vendor fails to meet the response-time goal. Define clearly whether you want availability 24/7 or just during business hours. If you opt for the latter, keep in mind that the business's systems could be down for more than 72 hours over a three-day weekend.

When negotiating service and support agreements, keep in mind that greater coverage equals greater cost. Get a line-by-line quote on each service/support feature that your company wants, and ask the vendor what the price differences will be if it settles for less.

Get all agreed service and support features in writing. A service or support agreement should spell out what the new system should do when it is working perfectly. This agreement should also detail terms covering response time, service fees, support details and so on. The more detailed the agreement is up front, the less room for finger-pointing there will be later.

It is imperative to know what to expect from a vendor in terms of support and service before your company buys. Here are some of the considerations that should go into the purchasing decision.

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