This post is Part 4 in a multiple post series about understanding the sales process when working with a home technology professional. In the previous post we discussed the installation life cycle, specifically as it pertains to managing change orders and payment schedules during the course of your project. This time around we'll explore how to manage the completion and sign-off of your project.
When it comes to home technology, the term 'complete' is a bit of a moving target. We discussed this point on a recent episode of the podcast that you can download here. The gist of what I'm saying is simple. Home technology ought to be considered a living, breathing system that will need continual maintenance and support. We'll touch more on this in the next post. However, it's important to understand this fact as it will come into play as the project is winding down, and your integrator is looking to collect final payment.
I typically explain to my clients that home technology systems have a 'break-in' period. This period can last anywhere from a week up to a few months, depending on the size and complexity of the system. Deploying home technology is much like a software roll-out in that many of the bugs in the system simply won't come to light until the system has been tested through real life usage. During this period your integrator will be making a number of visits to resolve the problems as they come up. Various integrators will handle the break in period differently in terms of how it relates to final payment. It will be up to you as the customer to negotiate a deal at the outset that you are comfortable with.
Typically a small portion (5-10%) of the total contract will be treated as a retainer, and will be due upon completion of the contract scope. But again, the trick is in defining 'complete'. Be sure to have a conversation with your integrator about the debugging period and how it will relate to final payment. This is especially important on larger projects where the debugging period will last longer, and 5-10% could represent a large amount of money.
Exactly when to cut that final check may feel like a gray area. However, there are a few simple things that you can do to make this process more cut-and-dry. The first is to review the warranty offered on your system (always make sure you have been provided with a written warranty as we discussed in Part 2 of this series). Make sure there is specific verbiage in the warranty related follow up visits after scope completion.
Secondly, make sure that you keep a running list of known issues as you begin to discover them. In the trade we often refer to this list as a 'punch list'. This can be done on a simple notepad. But one method I've found extremely effective is to use a Google Spreadsheet that is shared between you and your Integrator. In any event, the important thing here is the level of detail you put into the list. When an issue arises, write it down immediately. Keep in mind that the more information you give your integrator about the exact circumstances under which the bug was discovered, the quicker they'll be able to find it and squash it. A secondary benefit to keeping a detailed list is the paper trail it leaves. Like any contract job, there is always the off-chance that the relationship will get sideways, and in these cases information is power.
In summary, understand that the process of deploying home technology systems is a complicated one that can't be rushed. It is only through real life usage of the system that all of the bugs can be discovered and resolved. Understanding, and planning for, this fact from the outset will make for a much smoother experience as your system nears completion. Making sure your payment schedule is structured accordingly, ensuring the warranty includes appropriate verbiage, and keeping a detailed punch list are three ways that you can ensure the smoothest possible outcome.