Safe Opening: Should You Pay For Failure?

It's not uncommon for me to get a call from someone who wants me to come and open a safe after another company has visited, tried, failed, and left.

The safe owners often tell me that the first outfit sent someone who spent anywhere from fifteen minutes to half a day or more in a futile attempt to get their safe open before giving up.

It's really none of my business, but sometimes I can't help asking if the first person charged for the failed effort.

Surprisingly, plenty of people tell me that they did pay something for the failed effort. When I ask why, a typical answer is,

"Well, I had to give him something. He did spend time on it, and he worked sooo hard . . ."

Unbelievable . . . did they ever consider that maybe he worked so hard because he didn't know how to do the job and shouldn't have been there in the first place?

Worse, far too often the person who tried so valiantly and worked "sooo hard" did something that left the safe in worse condition than he found it. Which often means that in addition to the original problem, I have to overcome technical complications caused by the failed attempt.

Not complaining about that, but that does tend to add to the price the owner will have to pay for the desired result. However, it's not fun when the already-annoyed owner gets pissy about me charging more than the first guy.

Isn't it obvious why?

By way of example, pretend you leave your car at a garage to have tires installed. When you return at the end of the day, the service manager tells you his people tried to install the tires but couldn't do it. Then he hands you a bill for the unsuccessful effort.

 In other words, your car was out of commission for a day, the garage couldn't do what you hired them to do, but they want money for trying and failing? This is like one of those touchy-feely elementary school events in which every child gets a cute little award, not for excelling at some activity, but just for having a pulse. Don't want to damage the little tykes' self-esteem, now do we? (Hey, your kid lost fair and square. If he wants an award, teach him to try harder/better/smarter).

So why would anybody pay when a safe technician fails to open a safe he was hired to open? 

Indeed, why are safes different? If for any reason I can't do a job someone wants to hire me to do, I don't take the job in the first place.
("A man's got to know his limitations." Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry)

Opinion, but to routinely accept jobs, try, fail, and still expect payment for failure just because it occupied part of my day would be wrong.

My policy: "No charge if no result."
That doesn't make me special. Isn't it only fair that whoever hires me expects me to be able to deliver the promised work product? Why waste everybody's time chasing jobs I can't do? And when customers don't get what they want from me, should they have to pay me for failing?

Correct answer is an emphatic "NO!"

Opening safes isn't a game of chance, in which a safe technician stops over to "give it a try," with no inkling whether he will be successful. Yet a lot of outfits that advertise "safe opening" seem to do just that. Their representatives aren't equipped with the requisite skill, know-how, tools, materials, or all of the above for doing the work they advertise themselves as being able to do.

Too many technicians feel entitled to money for simply having showed up and tried, regardless of the result (or lack of one). It seems that too many consumers feel obligated to pay for failed efforts.

Didn't get what you ordered? Don't pay.

Comments welcome.

Ken Dunckel

Serving the San Francisco Bay Area


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