After-Sales Service

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CCTV after sales service, is there such a thing?

My intention was to follow up the previous issues article about project planning with some comments on the after sales service problems I have experienced. In the meantime I received a letter through Paramount Publishing addressed to me as Editorial Consultant, the gist of which is reproduced below.

Dear Mike
CCTV MAINTENANCE RESPONSE: CITY CENTRE SURVEILLANCE
I would be interested to read in ‘CCTV Today’ your view upon the necessity for speedy response to breakdown. We ask for a 4 hour, urgent fault response (2 or more cameras affected) and 8 hour non-urgent response (any other fault), conditions that would be quite acceptable in the computer industry, but the CCTV suppliers seem to demur at such and consider it to be over-the -top, or even a con-trick, when penalties become necessary for non-performance. The response times are measured in contract hours for 7 day cover between the hours of 08.30 and 16.30, and the respective repair times are 8 contract hours and 16 contract hours.
I recently had cause to penalise our supplier for non-performance on two occasions, and following an earlier warning. I believe their attitude to be one of ‘I’m taking my ball home’, rather than continuing to play the game by the rules governing it and finding in them a satisfying challenge to be met. After all, the rules which they accepted were set-out, and open to some limited discussion, and should have been priced-for accordingly. I cannot think that the 36 hour response, which they now seem to think is what they might achieve would do anything to endear the camera system to a police force that becomes more reliant upon it, or to the public it is supposed to protect; the system could very soon be reduced to disrepute........................................

The writer feels that he may not be alone in the problems he is facing in after sales service (or lack of it) for a CCTV system. In my own experience he is definitely not alone, and the finger could be pointed at several installers who have not lived up to expectations. It does not seem to be an isolated problem or worse with any particular company. Having said that, there are some companies that provide an very efficient service, but are they always the lowest competitive tenderer? This raises some interesting questions as to how end users specify their requirements compared to what are their expectations. The writer compared the level of service to the computer industry but closer to home would be the intruder alarm industry.

However, do the faults lay with the installer, the specifier or the end user? The intruder alarm industry is well established with a large, reasonably capable service force. The call-out response and costs are usually well spelt out in the tender and there are established and accepted practices. Both sides to the contract know the rules. Also an alarm going off has always demanded a rapid response.

So, back to CCTV. Until recently a camera going down did not present a great security threat. I am talking about the usual commercial, industrial or retail premises, not high security installations. A 24 hour or 48 hour response was fairly common and acceptable. Now though, the game has changed, in particular with Town Centre systems monitored 24 hours a day. Another reason is that more industrial premises have reduced manned presence in favour of cameras. This trend has probably taken place only over the last five years and large parts of the industry have simply not caught up with it.

Another reason is the difference between CCTV and intruder alarm installations and the capital structure of the costs. Intruder alarm installations are far more labour intensive in terms of cost per pound of selling price. So there is a greater pool of labour for service call-outs. Added to this is the number of actual alarm installations, possibly 1,000 for every 1 CCTV installation. So, the intruder alarm industry has a far greater number of available service engineers spread over most of the country.

In the case of CCTV, there are fewer companies with fewer regional depots with the result that fewer engineers having to cover much larger areas. Certainly there are many small local CCTV installing companies who could provide a rapid response, but do they have the expertise or resources to install a major Town Centre or industrial CCTV system? Another question is, do these small companies have the buying power to compete with the large nationals in competitive tendering?

This is not meant to be in defence of the CCTV industry, but to try to put the problems into perspective. In that case what does the end user expect and how does he obtain it?

  1. Make the call-out requirements absolutely clear in the CCTV tender specification, not tucked away in the small print of a fifty page tender document. Ask for a statement from the tenderers that they understand the requirements and have specifically costed for them.
  2. Make the penalties for unsatisfactory performance unequivocal and emphasise that they will be implemented.
  3. Make it clear that the first year warranty includes parts and labour and must achieve the call-out requirements.
  4. At the time of tender include a item asking for the cost of the second year maintenance agreement. You can assess from this whether or not it is likely to fulfil your needs.
  5. Before placing a contract, check out that your requirements can be met for call-out response.

Pareto was an Italian philosopher who postulated the concept that 80% of the wealth was owned by 20% of the population, hence the well known 80:20 ratio. We all know about Murphy and the havoc he can cause. Put the two together and you have the typical scenario for many CCTV contracts. I have personally experienced the results on many occasions. 80% of the installation proceeds smoothly with everything going to plan and time. Then Murphy steps in and the last 20%, which includes commissioning, takes an eternity, in two cases to my knowledge, in excess of twelve months! This invariable creates two considerations. The first, is at which point should the contractor be kicked off the site and another brought in to complete. The cost being deducted from the initial contractors invoice plus any penalty clauses invoked. The problem is that the major part of the contract has been completed and there are several lingering, sometimes minor, snags to be corrected. This is where the shortage of engineers is exposed because there are other sites demanding their attention and they are always due to return ‘next week’, for some reason it often seems to be ‘next Tuesday’. (Like the story of the man who found a shoe repair ticket in his grandfathers pocket!) The second problem is that much of the equipment on site could be out of warranty or close to it.

Therefore, there are two other important clauses that should be included in the CCTV specification.

Practical completion

When the contract is completed, practical completion will be effective after fourteen consecutive days of uninterrupted, fault free operation.

Warranty period

The Contractor will repair, correct or replace any defect of any nature that may occur for a period of twelve months from the date of the issue of the Certificate of Completion. To this end, the Contractor will attend site before the end of the next working day after the fault is reported. (Or whatever period the customer requires). The defect will be corrected without undue delay. The Contractor will provide the employer with details of telephone and fax facilities for reporting such defects. At each visit the contractor will leave with the customer a form which states the reason for the call-out and the action taken to remedy the fault.

In view of the 80:20 concept, it seems reasonable to retain 20% of the contract value until the Certificate of Completion is issued, of which 5% is retained until the expiry of the warranty period.

I am not familiar enough with the legalities of penalty clauses to make a definitive statement. Perhaps someone with such knowledge would like to make a contribution to CCTV Today pointing out the pitfalls and how to construct and implement penalty clauses.

So, back to the first question raised by the writer. What are my views on the necessity for speedy response to a breakdown? It, of course, depends on different persons concept of ‘speedy’ and on the nature of the installation. ‘The next working day’ could be unacceptable for a Town Centre installation when the busiest time is over the weekend. On the other hand a well designed system would ensure that critical areas are covered by at least two cameras. The writer has covered this by specifying the loss of two cameras as being urgent, presumably the loss of one camera as being non-urgent. The important point to bear in mind is the cost implications of specifying rapid response times, it can make a significant impact on the running costs of a system. At the end of the day, you should get what you pay for and have no hesitation in taking whatever action is necessary to obtain it or cancel the contract.

I am more concerned at the implications in the letter that the system does not appear to have performed to an acceptable level from the outset. It seems as though there has been a catalogue of problems and faults with ‘the next Tuesday’ syndrome applying. It could be time to get someone else to look at the system, but, is this going to be jumping out of the frying pan into the fire? The diminishing confidence in the system does infer that some alternative action is necessary.

I am not suggesting that it is the case of the writer, but there is a lot of disenchantment within the CCTV industry in the manner in which some Local Authorities construct tender specifications and accept the lowest price. I know of companies that are declining to submit competitive tenders for Town Centre schemes. There is simply insufficient margin to complete a contract to the required standards they set themselves. But that’s another story.

There is another major problem that I come across frequently with warranty and service visits to site. That is the lack of documentation or records of visits, this applies whether or not the company is ISO9001. This is one of the simplest of systems to operate and monitor, for those companies that do not have such a system, I will describe it.

You need a four part set of self copying forms with the following information:

  • Name and address of customer.
  • Original contract reference number
  • Maintenance contract number
  • Telephone and fax numbers.
  • Names of contacts.
  • Tick boxes whether it is warranty, call-out service or routine service.
  • Date of receiving the call.
  • Description of fault by customer.
  • Engineers description of cause of fault.
  • Engineers action to correct the fault.
  • Further action required, parts needed, return visit, etc.
  • Date of visit by engineer.
  • Engineers signature.
  • Customers signature.

The engineer is sent to site with the top three copies and after completing the work completes the form and obtains the customers signature. A copy of the completed form is left with the customer. Two copies are returned to the office, one copy for the main contract file and one for the service record file.

It continues to amaze me that major companies do not operate such a system for there own benefit. From the customers point of view they have a record of all faults and the actions and times to correct them. Maybe this why installation companies are reluctant to provide the record! Customers should insist that such a system is in place as part of their requirements. One story I have been told is that the service department runs a similar system but as the particular installation was not completed, it was under the installation department who do not have a system.


The following is an extract from Chapter 19 of the Principles and Practice of CCTV

Demonstrating the System

Once the installing company is satisfied that the system meets the specification, it then has to be formally handed over to the customer. This means more than just handing the customer a form and saying "sign here, please."

This could be the culmination of months or even years of discussion and negotiation and must be taken as seriously as the original specification. It is the opportunity for the customer to comment on the system as installed. It will also form a legal foundation for the installing company. A responsible representative of the customer must be present during the whole of the handover procedure. It should be established that the person has the authority to sign for the installation on behalf of the customer.

The starting point of the handover should be to go through the specification in detail. The aims and objectives of the system should be clearly understood by everyone attending. If there is a video recorder in the system it is a good idea to make a recording as the handover proceeds. The next phase is to operate the system and obtain agreement on every camera view. It is in this area that there is the most likelihood of misunderstanding. Until this point the customer has probably only seen the theoretical areas of view on drawings and described in the specification. Things like perspective and size of people and objects can suddenly seem different from that perceived during discussions. It is at this stage that the importance of a detailed and descriptive specification is significant. This occurs more often than not in the case of fixed cameras.

Rather than dwell too long on debating one scene it is preferable to make notes and carry on viewing all the other cameras. In the eyes of the customer, this will develop a better understanding of the whole system and how it functions. Providing the system has been properly designed it will also put into perspective the appropriateness of each scene in contributing to the whole project.

If at the end there are still problems or disagreements on the camera scenes then some discussion is necessary. It will frequently be the situation where a compromise had to be made in the selection of lenses. For instance there is nothing between a 25mm and a 50mm lens. Usually an explanation of the compromise will satisfy the customer. There may on the other hand be a mistake in the selection of a lens. In this case the installing company should have no hesitation in agreeing to change it. The action should be to make notes of comments from the customer but continue with the handover procedure with a view to returning to his comments.

The handover should proceed with a demonstration of every function and feature of the system. If there are multiplexing and video recording then a recording should be made at all time lapse modes to be used. This should be played back to the customer as part of the handover. Similarly 'electronic zoom' on a multiplexer should be demonstrated and the limitations as well as its use should be explained. If there are alarm inputs to a multiplexer or matrix then they should be activated and the results demonstrated. If there is any type of motion detection system it should be thoroughly 'walk tested.'

If the system is to be operated during the night-time then the handover procedure must include this, with 'walk testing' motion detection equipment if necessary.

At the end of the handover procedure there could be a snagging list agreed between the installing company and the customer. Hopefully this will be only a list of minor corrections or adjustments to be made. It could often include changing one or more lenses. The installation company should now obtain a signature on a standard form accepting the installation subject to an agreed list of work to be done. This should state a time scale within which the work will be completed. It is quite unreasonable for a customer to refuse to sign such a document, providing that the list consists of only minor faults.

Speed in carrying out any outstanding work is very important. Delays at this stage can cause a totally disproportionate amount of aggravation and lose a great deal of goodwill. When all the outstanding items are complete then a completion certificate should be issued and a final acceptance obtained from the customer. The last thing to do is to hand over the finalised version of the operation and maintenance manual.

Problems In Completing

If the guidelines outlined in these chapters have been followed there should be no reason why the customer should not sign off the system and authorise payment. However, life is not always so perfect and there can be many reasons for a customer refusing to pay. Maybe the installing company has not done such a good job after all. This is where some critical self analysis is required. Before any action is taken, an objective and thorough internal investigation should be carried out to find the cause of discontent. The objective is not to find a scapegoat but what needs to be done. This is the other aspect where speed is essential. There is nothing worse than a festering sore that is allowed to go unchecked. Speedy communication with the customer is equally important to advise that the matter is being looked into. This could also be important from a legal point of view later. The last thing anyone wants is for the matter to go to court. However, it is sensible thinking to prepare for this eventuality by maintaining accurate documentation. If, after all the hearts-searching, no legitimate reason can be found for refusal to accept the system then the next move must be made. An approach to the most senior management level should be made to the customer by the most senior manager in the installing company. At this stage it must be assumed that courtesy will achieve more than threats. It may be that the customer is short of cash and that a mutually acceptable arrangement can be made.

If this approach fails, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the customer is a scoundrel and has no intention of paying. This usually involves creating a smoke screen of fatuous complaints and unfounded criticisms of the system. Again, speed is of the essence and there are two actions to consider. The first is to put the matter in the hands of the company solicitors with an instruction to implement legal action. The second could be to employ an independent consultant who is knowledgeable about the type of installation. The brief would be to make a completely independent and objective assessment of the installation. If the company is totally blameless it gives confidence to proceed with legal action. Often this action alone will spur the delinquent customer into paying.

It could be however, that the installing company is not completely blameless, in which case it is better to know sooner rather than later. The consultants' report would have included recommendations on how to rectify the situation. Therefore, these should be carried out as quickly as possible.

If the survey is carried out efficiently, the specification carefully prepared and the installation professionally carried out, the probability of failure to pay will be remote.


This chapter is supplied by Mike Constant and was originally published in CCTV Today. Mike is the author of 'The Principles & Practice of CCTV' which is generally accepted as the benchmark for CCTV installation in the UK.