How to protect yourself from bad service providers

By Afam Nnaji on September, 3 2008

Views: 4,772

Put differently this piece will only make sense to you if you want to learn from other peoples’ mistakes based on real life experiences. I will also provide information on how you can guarantee reasonable quality of service and how you can recover part or all of any funds spent on services or products that do not deliver on promises made.

As a matter of principle I never dabble into issues I don’t have very sound information about so I will be using two services/businesses that I have more than enough experience on to advice Nigerians. Inverter backup solutions and web development Part 1 of this 2 Part series will dwell on inverter backup systems while Part 2 will focus on web development.

The major sources of Inverters in Nigeria

1. The locally assembled inverters These inverters are usually set up by Nigerians who have learned how to build inverters either through circuits they see or copy from the internet or from text books or have come across enough information in the university days to be able to build inverters and/or battery chargers.

To begin with inverter technology is mature, it is not rocket science so in reality you could see very reliable inverters assembled locally using components you see in the market. Just as a lot of things in the world power is nothing without control according to Pirelli the tyre maker so while the freely available information on inverter technology makes it easy for any serious person that wants to learn how to build inverter such ease also brings with it a great responsibility to do things right all the time as inverters basically work all the time whether you have regular power supply or not as there will always be a communication between the inverter, battery charger and mains. So, safety is extremely important.

I have heard from people who stated that their inverters (unfortunately built locally) “caught fire” in the middle of the night. So, there is a very thin line between a reliable inverter and a potential fire hazard laying around in your house 24 hrs a day. This is where knowledge, experience, professionalism and integrity comes in in choosing where your next inverter will be coming from.

2. The imported inverters from business men Now, we have business men that are always on the look out for the next business opportunity and quite a number of them have gone into the business of inverter importation, sales and installation without any meaningful knowledge as regards the inverter technology especially support or repair issues that will ultimately come up once in a while. The funny thing here is that the inverter importer is at the mercy of the whatever the inverter manufacturer says or promises as regards the reliability of the inverter.

The clients or customers also will be at the mercy of the inverter importer who is already at the mercy of the inverter manufacturer. Should something go wrong maybe due to equipment defect or abuse things begin to get interesting.

The inverter importer cannot effect repairs and unless you were offered an outright replacement warranty you are faced with the option of buying a new inverter, bearing the cost of shipping to and from the inverter manufacturer location (assuming there is a reasonable arrangement between the manufacturer and the importer) or you simply relax and join the list of Nigerians that have had bad experiences using inverters.

One important issue is manufacturer warranty for important inverters. Even if a manufacturer will offer free repairs or outright replacements for inverters with issues one must remember that someone must pay for the shipping and handling costs to and from the manufacturer’s location and that someone usually isn’t the manufacturer or the importer so I will leave you to figure out who that important someone is.

3. Foreign inverters from manufacturers with offices in Nigeria These group of people offer rest of mind to customers since they will be dealing with providers that understand the technology behind the inverter so there is someone to fall back on when things go wrong. But again that is where the story ends as regards close by support as being too close to someone does not really guarantee anything as far as reliability is concerned.

I came across a prospective client that told me that she bought a 5kva inverter from a foreign inverter manufacturer with presence in Nigeria and but for the first day where she got over 8 hrs of backup she never saw more than 2 hours from the first day to about 7 months when she was complaining about this. In fairness to the inverter manufacturer they made good their promise to offer warranty as the inverter was replaced with new ones about 4 or 5 times without any change in the backup which is the main issue.

Obviously all the inverters were ok but something was definitely wrong with the charging algorithm. The reason why a lot of imported inverters don’t do well especially for long backups in Nigeria is due to this same charging algorithm which a fundamental design assumption that works well in the regions where these inverter manufacturers are located but does not really hold water here in Nigeria due to our peculiar power problem.

Remember that not many countries have the type of embarrassing power problem that we have in Nigeria. The only lucky group of users that do not really feel this problem is the banks as over 80% of the time the banks usually have regular light or generators to power the banks so the inverters installed for the ATMs are not really tasked except in the midnight and on weekends for banks that do not do weekend banking. Unfortunately, the major issues with affecting the components used in the inverter system that are most guilty of these problems are outside the scope of this piece.

How to choose inverters In reality cost will always be an issue when it comes to pricing as human nature will always make us consider the cost of a product or service first before considering other things that may be far more important like safety, support, warranty, reliability etc unless we may have had one or more bad experiences in the past. It is not uncommon to hear from a prospective client that Provider A is offering this service for X amount so will query you as to where you should ask for Y amount for what he/she believes is the same service.

You can get a very reliable inverter at a very low price just as you can get a very unreliable inverter at a very high price and in between these extremes you have a whole lot of combinations that proves that high price does not translate to higher quality and vice versa. What this means is that cost rarely determines or guarantees the quality of an inverter. If not cost, then what is important? Relevant knowledge, Support & Enforceable warranty The service provide should be able to demonstrate a reasonable level of understanding of inverters and backup solutions so you don’t end up having a situation where the blind will be attempting to lead the blind.

Ask questions and the way questions are answered will give you a clue as to whether the provider is bluffing his way through or if he/she has a sound knowledge of what he ought to know as regards inverters.

Find out what support really means on time to avoid surprises. If anything is not clear ask questions. It is better for you to ask as many questions as possible before committing your money because once money changes hand the tone of conversation will usually change. The only meaningful insurance you can get is an enforceable warranty.

What is the warranty period? Trust me on this one, the longer the better. I have come across local inverter builders who tell me that any new inverters they build usually comes with 2 weeks warranty and they insist that once nothing happens under 2 weeks then the inverter should be fine and any issues after 2 weeks will be paid for by the customers.

A longer warranty period transfers more responsibility to the inverter manufacturer as defects or product failures will mean plenty free repairs or replacements and if too frequent will not make any economic sense to the inverter manufacturer. Someone must take responsibility for problems that come up when money is paid for a product or a service and that someone shouldn’t always be the customer.

However, note that warranties do not cover end user abuse or unnecessary tampering of the inverters. On the part of the end user it is important to note that they in a way contribute to some of the issues with inverter installations that have gone wrong as the average end user will prefer to hear what he/she wants to hear as against what he/she should hear and you will always have service providers that will gladly tell any end user what he/she wants to hear as long as the person is paying.

In conclusion, ask for references, visit offices that are used for references to be sure and look out for references that could be traced back to manufacturer staff or relations who will most likely be ready to defend claims whether they are real or not. Part 2 of this series will dwell on Issues with Web Development in Nigeria and how to get the best out of web development projects.


 

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