Monday, July 9, 2012

If I Wanted to Get Screwed

I knew I was in trouble the minute he stepped out of his shiny new van and approached my house. He was wearing pressed khaki pants, a crisp white shirt (with his logo on it) boat shoes and a clipboard.

Now what plumber wears boat shoes and carries a clipboard to the job site?

I’ve used Joe the plumber for years before he retired. He always came ready to work in work clothes. And he didn’t wear boat shoes. I thought I knew what plumbers and other trades people are suppose to look like and how they act. Not any more.

The worst boss I ever had used to say: “If I’m going to get screwed, at least I’d like to enjoy it.” What he meant was if the remedy to the problem was painful or expensive, at least there should be some satisfaction in a job well done.

There’s a new business model among a lot of trades people nowadays. And it isn’t designed to provide better or more reliable service. Blame it on the recession. Everybody else does.

First there’s the trip charge. Some will take it off the repair bill. Some won’t. A friend of mine recently paid $150.00 for an appliance guy to walk into his kitchen to fix his frig. Instead the guy took one look at the appliance, pronounced it DOA, and then stuck out his hand to collect his trip check before he turned and walked out.

Other trades folks want to charge you a lot of money to tell you what the problem is. Somehow they always seem to find more issues than you expected. I guess they see it as part of their job. Their intention doesn’t seem to be to fix the aforementioned problem but rather to find new (and more expensive ones) in the process.

If there was a guarantee that their work would be done well or that they took pride in their repair skills that might be some compensation. But sadly that often isn’t even a part of the solution equation. 

The aforementioned plumber marched through my house and found over two thousand dollars worth of repairs. I guess my first hint at (“Seriously, you’ve got to be kidding”) was $350.00 for a shut off valve and another $300 for an outside faucet. I politely demurred and reluctantly paid him his protection money so he would leave our home. The only good thing that came out of his visit was finding several potential issues for the future, which we intend to address – without him.

Then there was our lawn man. At my wife’s insistence, we got another lawn service company this year. I dropped the last one because I observed their lawn technician sit in his truck, fill out the paperwork then take all of a couple of minutes to spray my lawn before he stuck the bill in my front door and left for his next rip-off.

When I complained about the lack of service, I was informed that he probably didn’t feel the lawn needed much work at that particular visit. I insisted he return and do the job properly. He came back the following and by accident I was in my office writing when he arrived. He did the exact same thing and that was the end of that contract.

This time it took the lawn service company two applications before I was informed there was a big problem in my back yard. I had bugs and insects back there. ‘Oh, heavens, insects in my back yard, what shall I do?’

They, of course, had the solution. They would inject my trees with a solution to stop the bugs and prevent oak wilt if it should ever happen (or at least for the next three months).
When said technician insisted on coming over and showing me the disaster that was my back yard, I acquiesced and agreed to meet him the next day. He never showed up. I guess my bugs and insects are safe for another season.

A friend of mine wrote a number of books on customer service back in the 80s. What a concept? Treat the customer fairly and with respect. Tom Peters had it right.

Peter Drucker has stated that there are two things a business needs to survive. To make a profit and to treat the customer fairly so they will continue to buy your products or services. Now that’s a concept.

Dusty the doorman was what I expected in a tradesperson.

My garage door began opening and closing only on an intermittent basis. Sometimes it would work and other times, it refused to open or close.

Dusty came over, examined my door structure and the operating mechanism. In his opinion, it was the electronic eyes that were failing on an intermittent basis. He replaced them, examined the rest of the bearings, oil all the moving parts and moved on. Quick, efficient, and done properly.

Dusty got paid on the spot. I appreciated his professionalism and even sent an e-mail to his company to praise his work. What a concept, a happy customer.

I guess the lesson here is simple enough. Let the buyer beware. It’s a new ballgame out there and you’ve got to be more than a spectator if you don’t want to get screwed. Know whom you’re dealing with and do your homework.

There is a whole generation of skilled professional tradespersons who have retired and left the business. Their successors don’t always live up to the legacy those folks left behind. Now you have to be part of the solution and not just calling up the problem.

Joe wouldn’t be coming back. I no longer expect to see his grubby overhauls coming up my driveway again. And with it the confidence that my problem was about to be fixed.

I don’t have the same feeling with the freshly starched imitators I see today in their shiny new vans.

So buyer beware and watch out for those boat shoes under plumbers pants.