You Would Think, In a Troubled Economy, Businesses Would Have Good Customer Service

….but you would be wrong.

My mother, in her 70s with leukemia and bad arthritis who is caring for an invalid husband at home, called her plumber on Friday because her hot water heater (that was placed in a closet in the house) had sprung a leak and was damaging the walls and carpets. She mopped and mopped all day until he arrived. He looked at it, said yeah it was leaking (she already KNEW that!) and that since it was a small 30 gallon water heater, he’d have to get it from a special supply place and would pick one up Monday.

There was no cut off valve on the hot water heater but he didn’t address that. He just left. In order to keep the hot water heater from filling up, she had had to cut off the water outside and then fill up buckets and carry them in for the water for flushing toilets, cooking, washing dishes. There was no pan underneath the water heater to collect the water. The drain for the hot water heater was in the back of it against the wall and inaccessible for draining. It continued leaking.

She was terrified that the leaking would ruin the carpeting and the sheetrock, which they could not afford to replace due to all the medical bills and medication bills. She mopped, wrung out the mop into a bucket, and mopped more until 2:30 a.m., when her arthritis was so painful that she couldn’t do it any more. She went to bed with all the towels around the water heater which were soaked through pretty quickly.

She called me early this morning asking me whether maybe she should go buy a wet/dry vac because her hands and arms were so sore she couldn’t mop. She wasn’t sure how much clearance they would need. She relayed that my stepdad was so sick that she was afraid he was going to die, but he refused to go to the hospital. What would she do if her carpet/sheetrock got moldly with my stepdad’s severe respiratory problems? When I heard the story and relayed it to SwampMan, we were on the way. Why didn’t she call us yesterday!?

Not being plumbers, we didn’t have the actual supplies on hand we might need to bypass her water heater, so we guessed on sizes and how it was set up. When we got there, we found that we’d guessed wrong (grin) and so off to the hardware store to buy $3.00 worth of materials to bypass the hot water heater, so she could have running (cold) water again. We released the pressure on the water heater so the rate of leaking slowed radically so that she could get some sleep tonight. She might have to use the wet/dry vac once an hour instead of mopping constantly, and towels should absorb the trickle overnight. We couldn’t move the damn thing outside because it still had a lot of water inside it despite all that leaking, and we hadn’t thought to bring a dolly along with us to move it with (probably because we don’t do plumbing for a living).

The plumber had a dolly on his truck to move heavy things. He also had the supplies to bypass the hot water heater, or at least he should have, as pvc pipe and fittings are the tools of his trade. He just didn’t do it. He didn’t even offer to do it. This was not a huge plumbing company where there was some jerk employee who was pissed off at his boss, so he was giving crummy customer service. This was the owner, the sole proprietor. What was he thinking? That if they were severely inconvenienced, that they would pay any price that he asked for getting that hot water heater replaced?

We went to Lowe’s, immediately found a smallish 30-gallon hot water heater (not a special order item at all, by the way), and came back home to check to see whether Mom wanted that hot water heater at the Lowe’s price which we could install Sunday morning, or whether she wanted to wait until Monday to see if the plumber could get her a better deal (but personally, I was pretty pissed off at him, and I don’t even know him). We’ll be back in Georgia tomorrow putting in a hot water heater. We figure it will take us @ an hour. The ride up and back will be far longer. She also won’t have to pay the probable several hundred dollars in labor and delivery fees.

You think that maybe this plumber was an aberration and that other service companies are being very helpful to their customers? Not hardly. An older lady that lives next door to mom had her refrigerator go out and called several repairmen. None responded for three weeks. After three weeks (with no refrigerator!), one called back and told her she just needed to get a new fridge and wouldn’t even come out and look at it. She and mom went off to Lowe’s where she picked out a new fridge. Daughter had thousands of dollars’ worth of new windows installed last year and, when they were under warranty, one broke (as in the frame came apart). It took THREE MONTHS to get the company to fix that broken window.

If you start a small business even/especially in these tough times and actually answer your phone calls and do what you can to help your customers in distress, you’ll be doing far, FAR more than your competition.

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1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    kcduffy said,

    When My Chief first retired, he had a one-man handyman service. Since he didn’t want to work 20 hours a day/ 7 days a week or hire anyone – except son-in-law now and again – it wasn’t long before he couldn’t accept any more clients. He was priced reasonably (in fact, nowhere near market value), showed up, showed up ON TIME, and finished every job, then cleaned up after himself. Your example shows that he was truly a rare commodity.

    You and the SwampMan are the kind of kids that make a parent proud. Thank you.


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