Over years of owning a home, you get used to cultivating a list of reliable tradespeople to take care of those odds and ends tasks that you either are not qualified forÂ or don’t have the time or desire to do. Frankly, I know that I’ve been very fortunate with aÂ majority of the tradespeople I’ve hired.
The first ever task that I hire out is plumbing. Short of plunging a toilet (assuming the husband isn’t around to do it) or changing out a shower head, I refuse to attempt it. Plumbing holds too many crazy screw-up possibilities for me. Namely leaks. Fortunately, I have a terrific plumber who happens to be a neighbor. He’s owned his own expanding business for several years, but he always takes care of his neighbors and earliest clients himself. I like that.
After last week, IÂ can no longer rely onÂ my electrician. Over the years, I’ve changed out many, many light fixtures, ceiling fans, and the like on my own. I have no problem with that level of electrical work. However, anything requiring a breaker shut-off and testing to ensure no power is going to the area? That I hire out without question. In part, because we have the screwiest wiring system of any house I’ve ever seen. A breaker labeled “kitchen” may turn off half of the living room (two rooms away), all of oneÂ bedroom upstairs, but only a quarter of the kitchen area.
Unfortunately, but hardly surprising in our 32-year-old house, a bathroom exhaust fan finally died recently. A second exhaust fan was sputteringÂ whenever it turned on. The third bathroom fan was running well. Still, I figured the prudent thing to do was replace them all at the same time. I bought the replacement fans thinking I’d get to it soon. I didÂ a quick check of the fan install requirements. Not simple, but not overwhelming either. However,Â as is typical for most people, life got in the way. Realizing I had little spare time to deal with it myself, I went ahead and called theÂ local electrician I’d relied on for years to schedule the work.
We’ll call the business owner Bill. That’s not his real name. Bill (or an employee) hasÂ done myriad tasks for me over the years. Adding a 220 outlet in the garage, replacing sockets as they wore out, installing an entire garage door opening system. The work had always been scheduled and completed in a timely manner, usually in a week or so. I would call Bill’s cell phone. He would call me back later that day or the next morning to schedule.
This time, however, we playedÂ several sessions of phone tag, each taking a couple days. I would call and leave a message in the morning. BillÂ wouldn’t call back that day or the next, unless it was late. When I missed the call and called back the next morning, the process started over. After almost a week of this, I called him a second time one day and he actually picked up the phone. He said he was “calling people back today” as if this was a once a week occurrence rather than a daily one. He said that I was on his list of people to call back.
He couldn’t get me scheduled until two and a half weeks out. He said he was really busy. I get that. It’s Austin. Lots of construction and tons of people moving in, buying, and renovating homes means a lot of work for all the tradespeople. But when the week arrived to install the fans, Bill texted me late the night before to say that they were “running behind” and could they do the work in the afternoon rather than the morning. I said that wasn’t convenientÂ because I had to take my dad to the doctor. So we settled on the first appointment of the day, 10 am, the day after the original appointment.
As I mentioned, over the years,Â BillÂ has had various electricians working for him/with him and all have been competent, on time, and done excellent work. All of these traits are what kept me as a returningÂ customer. ThenÂ last week happened. Oh, last week.
The day started out on a positive note. The electrician called (a guy BillÂ hired about a month earlier) at 9:40 am to tell me that he was on his way but probably wouldn’t make it “right at 10” as scheduled. This isn’t a surprise and happens all the time. I wasn’t worried. He mentioned that he was coming from the south end of town. We liveÂ on the north end. I said it was fine. He double-checked whichÂ main road to exit from the freeway. I told him to call en route if he needed furtherÂ directions as he got closer. It didn’t sound as though he had GPS or a good map, which I thought was odd. Directions to our house are simple, clear, and availableÂ on any of the mapping sites.
An hour went by with no word and still no electrician. I tried to call him back butÂ the call went straight to voice mail which the system said had not been set up, so I couldn’t leave a message. I called Bill after an hour and a half who, of course, didn’tÂ answer the phone either. I left him a message explaining how late the electrician was,Â asking what was going on, and requesting that he call me back. Even in traffic (and it was long past rush hour by then), the electrician should have arrived long before. After anotherÂ 30Â minutes, he called again. He claimed to still be on the road. I tried to get him to pin-point his location. He wouldn’t say. Just that he was on the freeway.
Bottom line. The electrician finally showed up THREE HOURS LATE and with no real excuse as to why it took him so long. He did the three-hour estimated job inÂ two, but my day was already shot from waiting. To this day, almost a week later, BillÂ has not called me back about my complaint. That lack of responseÂ just adds insult to injury. It says that he doesn’t care that his employee screwed up. It’s the absolutely worst message you can sendÂ to a customer.
I had mentioned to a friend whenÂ I was getting the work scheduled. She asked if I liked my electrician. At the time, I said they had always done good work and been on time, etc. I had to contact her again after this incident and tell her not use them.
Any business owner worth their salt will bend over backwards to try remedyingÂ a bad situation even if there is little they can do.Â Giving it your best shot; being contrite;Â hell, any show of remorse for the situation your customer has sufferedÂ through is how you keep customers. Don’t do anything. Ignore your customers’ complaints. You will lose customers. Period. I’m sure Bill isÂ busy now. Clearly.Â But when the business goes away (whether due to a construction downturn or abysmal customer service) I hope heÂ reflects on what he’s done to lose those customers.