Service, a Dying Art

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It continually amazes me how poor the service is at most companies. It has become so bad (for quite a while), that even when a company can clearly differentiate itself on service alone, it might not be good enough. Why? Because consumers have become so jaded, that they often will continue to shop for a bargain, knowingly giving up good service, to save some money (often, a trivial amount).

Of course, providing good service can come at a greater cost, but it doesn’t always have to.

In this post, I described the broken dampers on our heating system. When they diagnosed the problem the next day, we asked how quickly they could come back and fix it. We travel a lot, and even when we’re in NY, we split our time between the house and the city, so scheduling can be problematic.

It took two days, and a signed contract on our part, to get them to commit to coming 10 days later (which was yesterday). We had the first appointment of the day, 9am. The day before, mid-afternoon, they called, and I had the misfortune to answer.

The guy explains to me that they have an emergency that has to be taken care of first thing in the morning, and would it be OK if they didn’t show up at our place until noon? In these kinds of matters, I’m a relatively easy touch, for a number of reasons. I said “No problem”, immediately.

A minute later, Lois walks into the room and asks who just called. I explain, and she gives me the look. If you’re not married, let me translate: How could you be so stupid?

There are two reasons why Lois reacts differently than me in these types of situations:

  1. In general, she doesn’t like to be taken advantage of.
  2. Specifically, she knows that things go wrong, and if they have a problem at the emergency, they might miss our appointment.

Given our schedule, and Lois’ general protectiveness of our environment, this request was not as reasonable to her as it was to me.

Lois called them back two minutes later. She couldn’t get the same person who called me on the phone. After vigorously discussing the situation with someone else, they agreed that they would be here by 11am. That said, Lois extracted much more information from them than I did (because I didn’t even try).

At first, Lois was told that there was no heat in the house that needed the emergency visit. Lois is no dummy, so don’t ever tell her something that simply doesn’t make sense. She’ll skewer you, instantly. She asked him why they weren’t over there working on it now, given that there were still a few hours of daylight left, and the people might freeze overnight?

He then admitted to her that the house was empty, and that they were working on the system that morning, and screwed something up. They wanted to finish it up before starting our job. After some more haggling, they reached the 11am compromise discussed above.

At 11:45am yesterday, 45 minutes after they were supposed to show up, Lois called them. When she gave our information, she was told that there was no appointment scheduled for us whatsoever. Not the right thing to say to her. 😉

I got a piece of her mind as well (after the guy promised to look into it), given that somehow, it was my fault for agreeing to this delay to begin with. I assured her (hollowly) that the guy answering the phone had no clue, and that the crew knew to come here after the emergency.

Five minutes later, the doorbell rang, they were here. Whew! I’ll spare you the back-and-forths over how this crew gave us different feedback from the first two people who had been here, giving us real comfort (not!). In the end, they did a very good job, and we have brand new dampers, that have been working well now for 24 hours.

Everything about this job reeked of poor service, and poor customer communications. This is not atypical for this company, even though their work has never disappointed us over the years. Our neighbors stopped using them years ago, after getting tired of fighting with them. We were happy to switch to the company that they did, but we have a York system, and their company won’ touch it. Oh well.