As you may know, in South Africa we have a chronic criminality problem - from many years. C'est la vie....
As such, we must adopt a number of protective measures in our homes (and not only). The minimum requirement in a residential dwelling is an alarm system.
So, years ago, I had an alarm system installed and connected to an "Armed Response Service" (a private undertaking monitoring continuously all subscribed systems for any form of alarm and ready to intervene at very short notice if there is any abnormality - serious and even less serious).
The installation was carried out by a contractor "approved" by the Armed Response Company. Their technician was really good: he made an excellent and reliable installation, definitely to my satisfaction.
The subsequent story
Recently, I decided I should upgrade my alarm system with extra devices to protect better a patio area, located between my house and the main road.
Obviously, since my first experience was positive, I called the same contractor for a quotation.
The person I dealt with previously - let's call him Mr Flowie - told me he was now working on his own, and not any longer for the "approved" company. He stated he had a very good technician working for him, and that he would be able to provide the same level of service and the same degree of reliability as in the past.
We then discussed the technicalities: two pairs of laser beams to be installed in the patio area and no exposed wiring both externally and internally (since my wife does not like to see any wire running around any wall). The decision was to run all wiring from the laser beams to the alarm system control panel in plastic conduit tubing, running over the terraced roof of the building from one side (patio area) to the other (garage area).
The price quoted was fair, so I gave Mr Flowie the green light to go ahead.
D-Day came, and Mr Flowie came with his technician - let's call him Francois - and all necessary material.
The beams were positioned - wiring and conduit were installed over 2 days. I must admit that the conduit work did not look great to me: but Francois explained he was an electronic technician, not an electrician. So I had to live with that.
While he was doing the job I had an idea. Since the technician was on site, why not doing also the upgrade to my remote controls? This was a job I had in mind to do from long time.
The Remote Controls issue
Yes, this was an issue. I had:
- a 2-button remote control to operate my alarm (alarm on-off - and panic button)
- a bulky one-button remote control to open/close my garage door
- and a very bulky 2-button remote controls to open/close the two Gates (In and Out Gate) of our residential complex
You can easily imagine what a pleasure: every time I was going out with my car I had to carry the 3 remotes.
So, during the first day of the laser beams installation, I asked Mr Flowie if it was feasible to combine the 3 remote controls into one 5-button unit, having all facilities (set/unset alarm system - panic button - garage door open/close - in and out gates open/close). After consultation with Francois, Mr Flowie concluded it was well feasible. Excellent!
But, I had a bug in the back of my mind: I was worried about the 2 gates of the complex, used not only by myself, but also by the other 4 landlords in the residential complex. Obviously, I wanted full guarantee that the other 4 landlords would be able to use their existing remote controls to open the gates, while I would use the new one.
Mr Flowie and Francois explained to me that there was no problem at all: Francois would install a new receiver at each gate control panel, to work "in parallel" with the existing receivers. I would use the new receivers to operate the gates - the other landlords would use the old receivers. The gates' control panel was large enough to accommodate a new receiver, and its installation would just be a matter of minutes, with practically no disruption in the usage of the 2 gates.
Mr Flowie quotation for this extra job was more than expected, but I wanted so much to get rid of my old remotes. So I gave him green light to go ahead.
So, on Day 2, Mr Flowie brings some new 6-button (5-button remotes were not available) remote controls - 2 new receivers for the 2 gates - a new receiver for my garage door opening system - and a new receiver for the alarm system. All receivers had to be changed because the new remotes (very nice and very slim) were of the "rolling-code" type, more modern and more secure.
Francois installs and wires immediately the new receivers for the garage door and the alarm system - "codes" them to operate with the new, slim remotes - tests them - all OK. I am impressed.
Then he decides to do the job also at the 2 gates. Now I am panicking a bit.
However, in a matter of 15 minutes, the Out Gate receiver is installed - "coded" to operate on the new remotes - and tested.
I test the opening/closing mechanism of the Out Gate both with my new, slim remote and with my old, bulky remote: working! BUT: with the new remote the "range" is not good at all. The gate would open close only when I am only a few metres away: not brilliant....
It's Friday: Francois says he will fix the range next Monday, then he does the same job at the In Gate and then he carries on with the laser beam installation.
Now I receive a call from Mr Flowie: "could I please pay Francois some money in cash, since he has no time to come and pay him his wages, and the week-end is coming, etc. etc."
Since quite a bit of works has been done, I decide I can help Mr Flowie and give some cash to Francois.
Monday, Day 3. Francois comes a bit late, but he hurries up and by early afternoon the laser beams installation is completed. Not to my satisfaction, though, because the conduiting job is of very poor standard: conduit pipes not glued together - junction boxes hanging loose against the wall - a T-piece joint badly done, with a hanging wire - and so on.
Once again, Francois re-iterates he is not an electrician, he has done his best, it will be up to Mr Flowie to fix the conduit works properly.
Then we test the laser beams: working OK - the Armed Response Company is notified that a new device has been added to the existing system, for their records and monitoring.
Francois calls Mr Flowie to tell him the job is done. Then Mr Flowie calls me, asking to get some down payment for the job done, as his cash flow is in a poor state. I promise I will bank-transfer to his bank account 50% of the Laser Beams job amount, while he still has to fix: my conduits - and the poor range in gates control.
He promises he will fix the conduit, then asks Francois to do something for the range issue.
Francois starts fiddling around again with the Gates' receivers - my heart beat is at least 250....
Nothing, no improvement. Francois blames the new remotes' brand: brand X instead of brand Y. Everybody complains about brand X range, and he has told Mr Flowie to buy brand Y, but Mr Flowie went for the cheaper solution....
Day 4 (after a few days): Francois comes again to fix the Gates range issue, but he has little hope. In fact, no improvement.
So, I call Mr Flowie: the poor operational range is not acceptable, I cannot drive my car at 1 m. from the Gate receiver to make it work! Maybe the solution is to forget altogether about the new remote controls issue, and put things back as they were.
This was actually part of the original agreement: if I was not satisfied with the new remotes, Mr Flowie would just take them back and leave all things as they were previously.
At this stage, tired of spending my valuable time after the silly story, I confirm we shall go back to the old system.
Francois starts straight away removing the new receiver from the out gate. I do other things. After 1 hour or so I go and see what happens: Francois is still there, struggling and stripping a few dozens wires from the gate control panel!
I almost faint! He tells me that another landlord tried to go out with his car, and Francois had to open the gate manually to get him out, and the landlord was furious! Oh boy, the nightmare I wanted to avoid is now starting....
Francois explains to me what is happening: the old receiver has been "disturbed" by the strong signal of the new receiver, which is "absorbed" by the old receiver - since the old receiver is "old stuff", now is finished and can be thrown away! Panic!
In the meantime, here comes my neighbour, the one who had gone out through the manually opened Gate. He is really furious: "how did I dare to carry out some job on the complex communal gates without informing all other landlords and getting their approval, etc. etc.?"
I realise only now the big trap into which I have fallen. The super-star electronic technician does not even know what he is talking about, nor does Mr Flowie! They are a farce!
I reassure my neighbour: things will be rectified immediately and he does not have to worry at all. Then call Mr Flowie. I explain the story. I demand his immediate intervention to fix the horrible nightmare.
It's late afternoon. Mr Flowie comes and starts talking with Francois. Long talk.
At the end of the talk, what comes out is that there is only one practical solution: to scrap the old receivers in the Gates' control panels - to install only the new receiver - and to give all landlords new 2-button remote control units to operate the new receivers!
My blood pressure is at about 850 and my cholesterol level must reach sky-high proportion.....
I simply ask Mr Flowie a question: who pays for all that?
Mr Flowie assures me he will provide the extra remote control units at his expenses, because I had no fault.....
Now I start thinking of the implications: every landlord must have at least 2 old-style remote control units for the gates. That's 8 new units required for the 4 landlords. Some of them might have more than 2. Some of them may have replaced already the old units with newer ones, to operate not only the gates but also their garage door, alarm system, etc.
How many units do we need?
With high sense of humility and guilt, I visit 3 of my neighbours - explain the problem - and promise by tomorrow the matter will be fixed - besides they will get modern, "rolling-code" remotes free of charge, so it's not so bad, after all....
Neighbour N. 1 has 2 old 2-button remotes. Neighbour N. 2 has 4 old 2-button remotes. Neighbour N. 3 is now overseas, so I send him an urgent e-mail to find out how many remotes he has. The answer comes very soon: he has 6 old-style 2-button remotes. Why so many? Because he often rents out his property, has a house management agent, etc. etc. Neighbour N. 4 has 3 old-style 2-button remotes.
So all together, we need 15 extra new-style remotes, fortunately all 2-button.
Late evening I call Mr Flowie, and tell him he must buy 15 remotes. He is not very happy. He was prepared to help me with 8 (2 per neighbour). I tell him he must get 15 tomorrow morning, then we shall fight for the cost. He accepts.
Sleepless night. The nightmare is here..........
Day 5. Mr Flowie and Francois come mid-morning. Mr Flowie has bought 8 remotes. What about the other 7? He will buy them later, he needs some money first. He is loosing too much in this job........
While Francois starts coding the In and Out Gates receivers for the 8 new remotes, I talk economics with Mr Flowie.
The friendship, the level of service and kindness he had shown in the past are all gone - as it is gone my attitude to a constructive relationship. I have seen enough mishaps to be willing to consider any negotiation.
I strongly tell Mr Flowie he better fix immediately the disaster he and his super-star technician have made, then we can talk about payment.
Mr Flowie now becomes friendly again: he promises me he will buy all necessary remotes and fix up everything, but he simply needs some cash - I still owe him 50% of the laser beams installation and the extra amount for my 5-button remotes.
OK, I say, the laser beams job is practically finished (except for the conduiting to be fixed) - I can release that payment. Which I do straight away. The agreement is that Mr Flowie will bring 7 more remotes tomorrow and finalise the job.
BUT, there is a problem: tomorrow I am away on a 2-day mission - the job can only be finalised upon my return.
Mr Flowie gives me his assurance that all will be done to my satisfaction, and he will also provide all landlords in the complex with 1 year guarantee on the job and the new equipment.
I decide to trust him for the last time.
Soon thereafter Francois brings the 8 remotes: all coded, all working. After a random test of a few of them at the 2 gates, I start my pilgrimage trip to visit my neighbours.
I give each one 2 remotes, with promise to hand over the missing ones within a few days - 2 remotes per household will keep them going for the time being. I also hand over to each landlord a small note, stating that the new remote operating system for Gates control is now operational, and is guaranteed for 1 year. In case of problems, they can contact Mr Flowie or Francois (tel. ns. enclosed). My neighbours are a bit happier. And what about my neighbour presently overseas?
He has a house manager, a lady taking care of his property and of renting it out from time to time. I go and visit her, and she takes the 2 new remotes in consignment.
Day 7. I am out of town, for my mission. When I check my email, I see a most unpleasant message right there in my inbox. It's from my neighbour N. 4. She has called Mr Flowie to ask him when she can get the missing remotes, since she is expecting some friends to visit her. Mr Flowie, she explains, has gone into a lengthy discussion on why the old receivers had packed up, which was not his fault, therefore he cannot supply any additional remote to anyone without payment.
Now my temper goes down the drain: first I call Mr Flowie and threaten I will ruin him and his business unless he sticks to his promises. Simply, he better show up this coming Monday with all outstanding remotes. Finito.
Then I calm down by email my neighbour lady, reassuring her the problem falls entirely under my responsibility - she has nothing to fear.
Another sleepless night.........
Day 10. I am back home, waiting for Mr Flowie to show up. Nothing.
Late morning I call him. He is very busy on another job, but will "try" to come this afternoon with Francois.
Mid afternoon he comes with Francois and 4 more remotes. And the other 3, I ask? Tomorrow, Mr Flowie says, after getting paid for the extra amount I owe him for my remotes....
I am really furious. I order Francois to code immediately the 4 remotes (after all the other 3 remotes can wait, since my neighbour N. 3 is overseas...). We all go together to the Out Gate for the coding operation. Francois opens the control panel, makes an attempt to code the first remote, then, very candidly, states: "No, the receiver is full - it only has 12 channels for 12 remotes - he has already inserted my 4 new remotes plus 8 for my neighbours. That makes 12. There is no more room for other remotes...."
What I have said to Mr Flowie and Francois and the way I insulted them for their un-professionalism cannot be mentioned here. All I know is that Mr Flowie now starts panicking and discussing technicalities with Francois, who states he had forgotten to mention the receivers were full.... the only way out to insert and code 7 extra remotes is to fit another receiver "in parallel" to cater for the extra 7 units. There is enough power supply, he says........
I run to my office, grab the telephone directory, and look for the manufacturer or supplier of Brand X remotes. Not there. BUT, in each remote's box there is a small instruction leaflet, and, fortunately, also a telephone number. I call and ask for technical services and customer support.
After a while I manage to talk to someone who knows what is talking about: Mr Dralland, the Technical Services Director. I explain the unpleasant situation in which I found myself, due to the incompetence and unprofessionalism of "someone" (no names) and ask for his help.
In 5 minutes the picture is clear:
- the new receiver should have never been installed in parallel with an old receiver - never ever
- the new receiver should have from the beginning replaced the old receiver
- instead of a 12 channel receiver, it would have been better to fit - in the case of a 5 household units like ours - a 24 channel receiver
- it's never too late, since 2 x 12 channel receiver can go in parallel - power supply will be more than adequate, since new receivers draw a fraction of the power required for the old-model receivers
- the range of Brand X remotes can easily be adjusted to operate up to 100 m. by simply tuning the receiver control for high range reception - just manipulate toggle switch so and so
- a 2-button remote costs so much (less than I expected)
- a 12-channel receiver costs so much (again, much less than I expected)
- if my existing supplier/technician don't know how to do things properly, he recommends I contact a Mr John (he gives me his phone number) who is Brand X approved contractor and knows his job
I rush down to the Out Gate. Mr Flowie and Francois are still discussing technicalities.
I interrupt and give them final notice: "you fix this enormous disaster by tomorrow, and I will close a blind eye on you - you don't, and you will be out of business - finito".
Mr Flowie says he is prepared to remedy everything: fit 2 new receivers - supply 3 more remotes - and provide guarantee - but he wants the outstanding money.
I repeat my final notice, let them out of the gate, and go back home.
Day 11. Tomorrow. Nothing happens in the morning. I call Mr John, the technician who was recommended by Brand X Technical Director. I explain the situation: will he complete the Gates remotes job for me and check everything? With the greatest of pleasure, obviously, he says. But he cannot come today nor tomorrow. Only the day after tomorrow. Appointment fixed.
Then I call Mr Flowie: is he going to finish the job or does he want to go out of business?
Mr Flowie, rather amicably, states he cannot do the outstanding things today, as he has a crisis job to complete. He will come tomorrow.
Day 12. Tomorrow. Mid morning I call Mr Flowie: he can only come tomorrow.
Day 13. Tomorrow. Mr Flowie calls me (!!). He is coming with Francois, 2 new receivers and 3 remotes - can I get the outstanding money ready for him. I confirm he will be paid on completion of the job.
Now I am in a puzzling situation: Mr Flowie is coming and also Mr John is coming.....
I call Mr John: after a while he answers his mobile phone. He has just fallen from a step ladder, he hopes he can drive to a hospital, he will call me as soon as he feels better.....
I have no choice but to hope Mr Flowie will show up.
He does, early afternoon. He comes with Francois, 2 receivers and 3 remotes. But he wants his outstanding money before doing the job....
I tell him I will do a bank transfer into his account while Francois does the job. He accepts, but wants to see proof of transfer.
I go to my computer and make a bank transfer via Internet Banking, but not for the full amount: I transfer 80% of the monies due to him. I print a receipt and bring it with me at the Out Gate, where Francois has already wired the second receiver and is busy coding the 7 remotes. I give the bank transfer receipt to Mr Flowie. He does not even look at it and runs away to another job.
Eventually the 2 extra receivers are installed, and the 7 remotes are coded. I test all of them plus others (my 4 new 5-button remotes): everything is working, but the range is poor. I explain to Francois he has to do some setting for higher range.
He starts fiddling around with the receivers and their aerial - eventually the range is good. He does not even thank me for explaining how to do the job....
Maybe the nightmare is over.....
Mr Flowie calls me. He is very angry because I didn't transfer the full amount due to him. I tell him there are some oustandings from his side:
- he must give me an invoice and a guarantee for both jobs he has done for me (patio beams and new remotes)
- he must fix the conduiting mishap...
Mr Flowie talks to Francois, who jumps onto the roof terrace to fix the conduit.
I also go up: he has no tools to fix the loose junction boxes - he has no T-piece to fix the joint - he has no glue.....
I call Mr Flowie. Mr Flowie says he wants the outstanding money then he will bring me my invoice and fix the conduiting....
I consider the situation: this matter has gone on for over 3 weeks - my blood pressure and my cholesterol have been ruined for the rest of my life - do I want to carry on in this way?
No, the answer is no. I call Mr Flowie, I tell him I am giving the outstanding money to Francois in cash, and I don't want to see any of them anymore for the rest of my life. All I want from him is an invoice and a guarantee. He says he will post it to me.
Week-end. I am glad the nightmare is over: not to my satisfaction, but one cannot pretend professionalism and service from un-professional people. Better forget about everything....
I go for a mountain walk with my wife. Set the alarm, drive out, open the Out Gate, and go for a glorious walk.
It's a beautiful but windy day, typical of Cape Town. After walking 10 minutes my mobile phone rings: it's the Armed Response Company. They inform me they have received an alarm signal from my house. From which area, I ask? From the patio beams area.....
End of the walk, rush back home, open in the presence of the Armed Response personnel arrived in the meantime, and look for abnormalities. No abnormalities. Everything is OK. A spurious alarm, they say - it happens.....
During the night another spurious alarm comes from the patio beams area. Check everything: all normal. Reset the system. Then sleepless night....
Next Day. Mr John calls me: he can come tomorrow and see me to sort out all my troubles. I accept with pleasure.
Tomorrow. He comes. He starts inspecting the patio beams. Opens up, and in 2 minutes there is a response: the beams are mis-wired and mis-aligned. No wonder they have started giving spurious alarms. The mis-wiring causes the power supply voltage to be too low: if it drops a further 0,10 volts they will trigger and give an alarm. The mis-alignment does the rest.
I ask him if he can fix the mishap: of course, just give him half an hour.
After which we test the beams again: they are perfect, now.
I ask Mr John if he can invent a way of excluding the beams from the alarm system, in case they start giving more spurious alarms. Mr John says there is no need, as these units are very reliable, but if I feel happier he will install a special switch to exclude the beams from the system whenever I want. I ask him to do so.
Then we go to the roof terrace and inspect the conduiting: he starts saying "....oh boy, oh boy....". He suggests I get a handyman to fix the horrible work, as it will cost me less than if he does it. I have a good handyman, so I opt to go this way.
Finally we inspect the In and Out Gates Control Panel. He starts again with "oh boy, oh boy....". He says he has never seen such a horrible wiring mess in his entire life....
So, I ask, what shall we do? Mr John says: "let's be practical: the system is working - let it work as it is. Either I re-do this job all over again, or we wait and see what happens. You can give all landlords my tel. n. and if there is any problem I will come straight away or send one of my good technicians- you don't have to worry".
I agree with him that the most practical solution is to leave things as they are.....
Now Mr John wants to know who made all that mess. I don't want to tell him, but he says he knows who it is - and makes a name. I prefer not to express any comment.
I thank him, I pay him for his troubles (less than expected) and say Good-Bye.
After a few days I am still waiting for Mr Flowie invoice. No invoice and no guarantee. I call him. He refuses to talk to me and hangs up. I call him again. Hang up.
I call him from another phone. Voicemail answering service.
I send him an SMS, asking for invoice and guarantee.
He answers next day by SMS: "This job was a loss. You insulted me. No invoice and no guarantee. Don't call me again".
I answer by SMS: "Your choice".
Call my handyman to fix the conduit work. After the usual "oh boy, oh boy...." he fixes up everything.
Do you want to see how the gang Mr Flowie/Francois left my conduit work? Amuse yourself....
But that eventually gets properly fixed.
So the nightmare is now over, one may think. Is it? NOOOOOOOOOOO!
The first winter rain comes to Cape Town. And in Cape Town, winter rain is real rain.
The patio beams start giving spurious alarms again, repeatedly. Fortunately Mr John has installed the exclusion switch, so I can isolate them from the alarm system.
Then I start thinking. Alignment should be OK. Wiring should be OK. For sure, it's OK at the beams - the wiring has been fixed by Mr John. Waterproofing? The beams are waterproof. But not any joint!
I remember there are several junction boxes on the roof terrace. On a sunny day I open all of them.
All are OK except one, one next to a gutter, where rain water is likely to accumulate in case of heavy rain. What is in that junction box?
Wires joined and only partially insulated by ordinary insulating tape!!!! Don't believe me?
Look at that:
I fixed that joint myself, with proper junction terminals and insulating compound.
No problem since......
Well, this is the silly story, starring Mr Flowie and Francois.
What are the conclusions? Quite a few....
Think of your own for a while, before reading my conclusions here below.
The following are my conclusions:
- I, the client, was definitely too naïf in this case. Obviously I was caught into the trap because of my previous positive experience of a few years before.
But that does not justify my lack of contractual management and, most important, my totally missing risk management approach (for the Gates remote controls).
I was actually lucky that my good relationship with my neighbours were not totally ruined by this episode.
Hence, the first learnt lesson: in every relationship between client and supplier there must always be a substantial and solid contractual basis (even simple), clear and well set. Contractual matters cannot be subject to improvising.
- Once I realised that I was in the hands of two very incompetent persons, I should have immediately stopped all works, investigated the matter technically (which I did with the new remote controls supplier X only when it was too late), and re-assessed entirely the situation.
I should have told Mr Flowie and assistant to gather all equipment they had supplied, buzz off my site, and forget about any payment altogether. Full stop.
Then I should have approached a serious contractor and started all over again.
Unfortunately, when the nightmare started, I was already in a frantic status: too late to behave rationally....
- What is the correct approach in dealing with technically incompetent and dishonest suppliers?
I believe it can only be extremely firm, no-mercy, no useless talks. There must be one final notice and one only.
The supplier's non-compliance with the final notice means poor or no care for the customer: bad news.
There is no further space for understanding, negotiations, and second chances. The supplier's business spirit is rotten, is not adequate to the circumstances. Any attempt to remedy a situation can imply further poor performances. Any attempt to help the supplier or to prevent more mishaps can only bring more mishaps.
- Business people like Mr Flowie and Francois are a plague in industry. They do not deserve to be or remain in business.
I did my investigations, and I discovered similar mishaps they did for other clients. This is not acceptable in the new millennium.
Irrespective of the fact they sell hamburgers or sophisticated alarm systems, suppliers who do not know the name of the game they are in and moreover just simply try their luck to make some money are dangerous to industry and to human kind.
They should be prevented from being or remaining in business, harming innocent clients.
I am always contrary to excessive regulations and to bureaucracy. But when it comes to protect clients and consumers I believe there must be a simple system in place by which extremely lacking or poor/dangerous performance is punished. Full stop.
I warned Mr Flowie I would put him out of business. I did it.
According to the very old non-quality mathematics, a dissatisfied client talks of his negative experiences with at least 22 other people. I did exactly that, in a systematic manner.
After all, Cape Town is not e megalopolis, and the alarm systems world is not not so big... Everybody knows everybody else.
Well, the bad news spread fast. In a few months Mt Flowie wasn't in business anymore. In order to survive, he managed somehow to find employment in an Alarm Monitoring and Armed Response Company, a small one, trying to emerge. I don't know how long he will remain there - not long, I assume.
And Francois? I was not so concerned about Francois, in spite of being the most guilty in my case, because not only of his technical incompetence, but also and mainly because of his "light", irresponsible approach.
Well, those guys will always be around: fired from a job they will get another one and another one and another one, until some strict boss will hammer them in such a way they will realise the best for them is to be employed as clerks or assistant store-keepers...
Definitely, to my opinion, the person to hammer hard was Mr Flowie, being the supplier, the businessman and the boss of Francois. He was hammered.
There is a message in this story of mine: you, the client, cannot afford any longer to forgive bad performance.
It's not only your right - I believe it's also your duty to hammer to death whoever shows very bad episodes of poor performance.
Because you owe it to yourself, to your community, to the entire world.
Simply do your best to bring to public knowledge any episode of bad performance. That's it.
One day Mr Flowie will try again to go on his own and do some business. I am pretty sure of that.
Well, if you happen to live in Cape Town and want to know who the person is in reality - just to safeguard and protect yourself - please drop me an email.
I will let you have full details of Mr Flowie (and Francois...) - with my greatest pleasure.