Should We / You Charge For Remote Technical Support?

Curious about what other integrator's are doing, in terms of remote support. As our industry evolves, we are more than ever an IT company, rather than a security installer.

We typically dont charge for remote technical support. However, its becoming more frequent and more demanding of our in-house resources. For instance, if someone needs help with a password or instruction on pulling recording footage, not a huge deal. However, when someone requests something more time consuming, should we be billing?

We charge $150 Service Fee (Truck Roll), which includes the first half hour, then $95/hour for on-site support/service. In comparison, our IT provider charges a flat $150 per hour, whether on-site or remotely.

Curious as to what other integrators are doing, and what limitations they establish on the extent of remote support provided.

1, good question / topic!

You mention not charging for remote support. Is that for every customer any time? For example, does it matter if they are outside the warranty term or do not have a maintenance contract? Still no charge?

We haven't charged for remote support in a long time, since we see the accessibility to our team as a significant value proposition to our client base - Lets face it.... What we provide is typically reactive, rather than proactive. And, when it comes time to needing to interact with most security systems, customers have long forgotten how to "pull recorded footage" and need help.

That being said, all of our agreements DO say that there will be an hourly charge for remote support after the initial installation. But again, this was more a safety net for us, for clients that seem to always want to take advantage.

That being said, all of our agreements DO say that there will be an hourly charge for remote support after the initial installation.

In the past we would charge based upon 15 minute increments as well as a fee for the remote software because we pay a licensing fee... Just like UD1 stated our agreements also allow for us to charge a minimum of one hour... for the past year we have gotten away from charging for small amounts of time, say for a password change or something similar... if it is something much longer such as pulling large amounts of video or adjusting camera settings then we would charge accordingly... customers appreciate the timely response that it provided with remote viewing rather than having to wait for a truck roll...

We have charged (a nominal fee) for remote support for some time. The more demand there is for remote support the more resources we have to dedicate towards that effort. Along with that comes education, payroll, insurance and the tools to accomplish the job, including cyber security on our end and the customers end. While the fee is still far less than a truck roll, it is a cost that has to be recovered. Time + talent = money folks.

Mark, good points.

If an integrator was going to give remote technical services away for free, it could be useful as a marketing / sales differentiator (i.e., if you do it, promote it). Also, possibly a good way to keep customers close for upgrade / expansion business, assuming the cost of periodic remote technical service is low enough.

Looked at another way, many, if not most video surveillance manufacturers give remote technical support away for free.

"Looked at another way, many, if not most video surveillance manufacturers give remote technical support away for free."

Technically yes, technically no. If they were smart, a bean counter assess how many hours a year are spent on technical support, the cost to the company, and rolls that up into the product cost based on volume of sale. Everything costs money, and if you don't account for it some way, you will bleed out without ever realizing it.

1. I think your current IT provider is way overcharging for remote support when it requires way less overhead than going there, but that's just me. (At the same time, I wouldn't trust anyone who only charges $30 an hour, either.)

2. It depends. We include phone support in our managed service plans. When the customer is flat hourly, we charge hourly. How much depends on your burdened labor cost. If you're getting so many phone calls it almost takes a person's full time, then you should consider having a person full time dedicated to it and charge appropriately to cover cost (and make a little money) instead of paying another company full retail rate (plus some) for the IT support.

For us, it depends on the account. If they are a client who has an intrusion system, and we are monitoring their system. Then we do not charge for remote support under 30 min, after that we bill in 15 min increments. If they are a video or access customer with no RMR, we bill in 15 min increments starting when we connect to their PC. Most of our requests are for assistance using online portals for intrusion/access/automation, we want our customers to use these portals because they pay for them, so we don't mind giving a little free support. If we're on there for more then 30 min, it's typically because we're working on a large data project for them and it's more a service than support. For video, we get some requests to help search for evidence, this again is more of a service than support so we bill for it.

We have staff members who are almost exclusively on customer systems remotely. We have to pay them somehow!

Yes I think you should. We sell a monthly monitoring service typically around $25 per server to monitor the large school projects that we do, so it makes it easier to charge and bill for the services. I have three inside IT guys that take calls all day long and they are not cheap. Plus it saves us in the long run to monitor the servers and cameras. When we see a hard drive start to go out we are able to rectify the problem immediately before a major puncture. We have also found that many of the districts have someone that looks every morning to make sure everything is running correctly which takes quite a while to do and we are able to cut that out with our monitoring service to save their time. Most school projects we do have a three year parts and labor warranty so this can save trips to the school as well.

Buddy, thanks. Is the charge just $25 per server (month, year?) or is there additional labor charge per unit of time or?

Sorry $25 per server per month. If the system is out of warranty then we charge to go out and fix whatever has failed. Many times a simple camera reboot or tweak of the system will save the customer a service charge on site. With this setup it also gets the customer to allow us to remote in through their VPN which sometimes can be challenging to get as well.

This is also a question that we have as a system and storage system design and manufacturer. (Seneca)

When a customer calls in to our support center to ask why a such and such system is running poorly for VMS 'X'.... we typically remote in to the system to inspect the hardware first.... then discover many times that the system was actually set up incorrectly for the VMS in use.

Since we are knowledgeable of most of the main VMS... we help them work through changing their setup so the system can perform as desired.

Sometimes we even discover that they purchased a system that will not do the job that they actually put on the system. For example....they may have originally spec'd in 40 cams and once installed.... they have 50 cams. So now we are trying to help them figure out how to handle the extra load they added...which is a design task. We have even mocked up installations in our DSS lab to determine the best solution.

For now...we do not charge for this assistance.... but we are surely discussing how this affects our expenses and design schedules to decide if a change is needed.

Question #1, is the customer inside warranty or not?

- If under warranty, and the question deals with something that falls under warranty, obviously no charge. You wouldn't charge them for a service call either, right?

- If not under warranty, you have to judge how long the support case is likely to take. Maybe give them a first fifteen minutes free to assess the issue. After that, you could charge a reduced rate version of your normal hourly rate (or a flat fee?).

Question #2, do you have a website that allows the client to self-help their way through the issue? Maybe start a Q&A page on your website. Also, videos go a long way helping end users refresh their skills when it comes to retrieving video.

- We sell two different levels of recording devices: Standalone DVR/NVRs and DW Spectrum VMS servers. We tell clients up front during the sales process that standalone devices are much harder to playback and retrieve video than the Spectrum system. We tell them that we will train them on both and offer to give them one free help session on their first incident. After that, help pulling video is a paid service call.

Question #3, does the manufacturer offer support as well? Some major manufacturers do, but sadly a large majority don't or can't. Depending on your answer here, your manufacturer might be able to assist them on their dime.

- Digital Watchdog has some pretty awful tech support for the Spectrum product. We lean on the actual developer for help, NX Optix. We generally sell Dahua and Hikvision cameras, which as many here know, do not offer any real US based support. Dahua has a Q&A section on their website, but I've never used it. The few issues we've had, we relied on our US based distributors for help.

Wow, Jon, that's interesting about going direct to NX for support of DW Spectrum systems. Without getting too side tracked from the original topic, how does NX seem to feel about that? Are they resentful of DW not pulling their weight?

They are professional about it. I've never received a hint of objection or disdain. We find their reps to be very knowledgable and helpful. The only minor gripe would be they aren't in our time zone, so there is a small delay in replies.

If the manufacturer gives support away for free, isn't that taking away a revenue source from the integrators?

We definately need better rules of engagement for manufacturers- integrators- end users with this subject.

My view: Free = no value, manufacturers charge them = integrators become the hero and either add value with a monthly support contract or charge for their opinion.... Just like an attorney.

We apply the same logic as we would to a truck roll. If its warranty, no charge and we saved some warranty expense. If its on our service agreement, no charge and they saved downtime. If its neither, bill it at a slightly lower rate, they save money and we get more done. And Jon is right, we would never charge someone for a 5 minute phone call, thats just nickel and diming. If we have to roll a truck after spending 20 minutes on the phone, were also not going to charge them for the time on the phone. Our service labor rates make up for that time.

I see a lot of our industry having to go to the managed services model. It pains me every time I have to pay an IT guy to fix something a computer software or hardware manufacturer has not made properly. Unfortunately, we are now in the same boat and we can't make enough money up front in most cases to provide support for free over the life of the system.

This is almost a similar sounding discussion around the mid 90's when the major PC manufacturers: HP, Dell, Compaq, went from offering free phone support, and what was often a person-to-person tutorial of how to use Windows, to charging for support. Compaq tried to look like the hero to the consumer by criticizing it's competitors for charging for support, but they eventually caved and starting also when it just started costing too much instructing grandma/grandpa over the phone how to log onto their AOL. PC manufacturers started limiting their support only to what might be a hardware problem, within warranty, period, and if there was a question about if it might be a hardware or software issue, it meant reinstalling the system to factory condition (backing up was your problem). People and businesses wanting more personalized support for the complex stuff created a huge industry of independent and small IT tech people.