Let’s Do Battle for Better Product Quality Control

If you are a veteran of the alarm industry, you’ll recall there was a time when the equipment we purchased not only worked out of the box, but it worked for many years thereafter. If you had bad equipment, manufacturers were not only quick to replace it, but they did so free of charge. In fact, I remember actually being able to swap out equipment at the distributor facility with no questions asked.

Today, given the level of sophistication in the industry, alarm company owners can offer their subscribers features that were not even imagined 25 years ago. As a result of technological advances now relied on by our subscribers, it is more important than ever this equipment function dependably. Most customers have little or no patience when they’re told the problem with their alarm system was directly equipment related, or worse, that the dealer had never experienced this problem before.

Bad Equipment Aplenty

In addition to personal experience with equipment failures, I have talked to many dealers and distributors across the country that are very troubled. They have experienced a significant increase in equipment related problems “out of the box” and after the equipment has been installed in the field. Moreover, some manufacturers ship product with date codes which are outdated from inception. Thus, based on this practice, if the product is found to be bad immediately after purchase, it either does not qualify for over the counter exchange or it is out of warranty when you go to return it.

Cost related trouble with products goes beyond occasional malfunction. Some manufacturers also want to charge you for repairs on equipment that is new; charge shipping costs on product that was new, even though it did not function; charge restocking fees on defective equipment; and charge a flat fee that sometimes exceeds what the product costs at the time of purchase. Notably, there does not seem to be anyone from the manufacturer’s side who is willing to take the time to help solve these problems, which in most cases were caused by the supplier in the first place.

Essentially, all that manufacturers seem to want to do is sell more product and not deal with these costly problems that affect an alarm dealer’s bottom line and negative customer perception. In fact, when my company identified a defect on a particular control panel set and had to replace it at the manufacturer’s insistence, I sent a bill for my employee’s time to the manufacturer for this replacement based on what I normally charge in order to recover my out-of-pocket expense.

Shockingly I received a response that as their “partner” they expected my company to help absorb the costs. In other words, I should work for free since they had already sent me the panels, even though nothing my company did or did not do created this serious loss of functionality. You should be advised that I am not their partner, and while I have looked for a more modest term to describe this scenario, only one word seems to fit the bill … ridiculous! Needless to say, I have not received any dividends either.

I would also like to underscore that there are many manufacturers that provide reliable equipment and invariably back up their equipment better than others. However, it seems this is not indicative of their entire product line, as sometimes I feel like I need to hire a full-time employee just to track these repetitive problems that I clearly cannot recoup the costs on from my subscribers.

It is also important to note that oftentimes equipment reported as faulty is not bad at all and is instead directly related to untrained and incompetent alarm technicians. While this fact needs to be taken into serious consideration, the majority of problems I have experienced firsthand, and have heard from other alarm dealers and distributors, were not due to improper installation or programming. It is simply due to bad equipment.

‘What Were They Thinking?’

Another situation I have experienced is when distributors find themselves in an extremely difficult position between the dealer and the manufacturer, which goes like this: A bad piece of equipment from a dealer is returned to distribution, then returned to the manufacturer but given back as “repaired” and not replaced to the distributor with new equipment. Surely, no prudent alarm dealer wants to knowingly sell used equipment on a new account. And pouring salt into the wound, the manufacturer has the gall to charge shipping and minimum repair charges for this “bad out of the box” or “warranty” transaction. Simply put, this doesn’t add up.

Another prime example of inherent defects is an initiating device which has a built-in tamper switch that simply does not work without hours of adjustment, a wing and a prayer, or manipulation that only an alarm technician (no, I mean magician) can perform for it to set. Then when the device needs adjustment or service, you have to start all over again. Clearly, this is unacceptable and I often wonder who designed this equipment, how it was tested and what were they thinking?

I am also keenly aware of the mindset by some alarm companies and manufacturers that sell equipment based only on price. Here again, though, no matter what it costs, it has to work and work reliably. Period. We cannot address the false alarm problem in our industry, which we are clearly trying to do, without making sure that whatever the industry installs works, and help address how the overall public and the police view our industry.

Time to Put Up or Shut Up

What I would like to see for the alarm industry is a rating and tracking system conducted by dealers on the reliability of the equipment they purchase. At some threshold, if the equipment reveals too many systemic and repetitive problems by a representative group of alarm dealers, then the manufacturer either takes the equipment off the market or pays the dealer to replace the device with something that works. For example, if the manufacturer is promoting a low-cost motion detector, it should be quantified against a higher-cost motion detector without all of the hoopla, rhetoric and verbiage that most alarm dealers and even the manufacturers had never heard of until it was put out in the marketplace. If the problem is egregious, the manufacturer should have to contribute to a false alarm reduction program or donate monies to law enforcement. Furthermore, let’s also make the manufacturers provide us with a liaison that is hired specifically to handle these types of problems. I would be willing to pay more for any equipment if better quality control and assistance was in place to address these pivotal issues.

Simply put, alarm industry contractors need to do everything they can to make sure the equipment they select works, and if it doesn’t there needs to be a financial consequence to the manufacturers who have elected to disregard what the industry has worked so hard to maintain — our reputation.

I am quite sure if a database of equipment problems was accessible on a Web site to registered dealers, then manufacturers would start to take these unacceptable practices more seriously and not leave the dealers in a quicksand of false alarm charges, dissatisfied customers and lower profitability. The undesirable alternative is to be the manufacturers so-called “partners” and work for free whenever their product fails to function as intended and represented, and then continue to see our profits dwindle even more for what I believe is a problem that with today’s technology should be the exception and never the rule.

< small>Jeffrey Zwirn, CPP, CFP

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About the Author

Contact:

Jeffrey D. Zwirn, CPP, CFPS, CFE, FACFEI, CHS-IV, SET, CCI, FASI&T, MBAT, writes Security Sales & Integration’s “Security Science” column. He is also president of IDS Research and Development, an alarm and security consultation, expert witness and training authority providing nationwide services on all issues related to alarm and security matters. He can be reached at (201) 287-0900.

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