Responsibilities of Both Customer and Service Provider
My home is an extension of myself. It reflects who I am (OK, my husband and kids, too, but let’s be honest, who REALLY does the work of taking care of it?!). It’s a comfortable and welcoming place, nicely appointed but livable. And like the rest of me, I keep it in order. My home is clean, neat, and well maintained. So when something is damaged or in serious disarray, it’s personally upsetting and I want to remedy the situation as soon as possible.
I’m not talking about the little things, like kids messing up the house or someone dropping and breaking a piece of glass. I’m referring to more serious problems, like a termite infestation, a tree dropping on the roof, or water leaking and flooding the basement. These issues take time and expertise to resolve and, yes, more than just a little money. We want to find the right experts at an affordable price, bring them in as soon as possible, and see the job done right the first time.
Ideally, this is how it would always play out. In the real world, sometimes – as I’ve recently experienced - it takes flexibility, patience, and more than a little determination to have a problem properly rectified. In a perfect situation, these expert providers would be on top of the customer’s problem, informing them of their availability and keeping them updated on their progress. In real life, though, most of these providers need to seriously improve their communications with their customers.
Case in point: we recently had water seepage in our basement. Fortunately, we caught the problem early and called in a well-regarded company specializing in waterproofing and foundation repair. Unfortunately, as we discovered after the fact, their onsite crew manager was having a bad day personally and neglected to properly vent a lot of concrete dust and debris. He also didn’t bother to cover or protect our furniture and other possessions where the crew was working. As homeowners, we weren’t even alerted to the mess that could be made so we could have moved what we could to other areas of the home.
And what a mess they made. A thick layer of concrete dust and debris covered everything throughout the entire area and even to other areas of the house. The crew made no effort to clean it up, either. Their attitude was that they had a job to do, they did it, and then they were moving on.
We were not happy. It took ten days for a field manager to respond to our complaint and come to the house to see for himself the extent of the mess. Concrete dust was still floating in the air; it was still so thick that we all had to wear face masks in the area just to avoid coughing. (At least with Covid, we had plenty of masks on hand.) He said that it was the worst mess he’d ever seen on one of their jobs and apologized for the inconvenience. He asked for our patience while he consulted with his company about how to best clean it up.
On that promise, we remained flexible and patient waiting for his response, dealing with the filthy and unbreathable area of our home as best we could. (This was not an unused basement.) Turns out we had to be patient for quite a while, because our emails and phone calls to the field manager and others in his company went unanswered. This was the point when flexibility and patience turned into determination to force the issue with the company. It seemed that nothing was going to be done unless we made it happen. We stopped payment on the deposit for the work, researched commercial-grade cleaning crews ourselves, and laid the groundwork for legal action.
Money talks, and presumably it must have in this case, because we finally heard back from the company after we stopped payment on our deposit. They said the long silence was because it had taken some time to present our situation to upper management and find the right cleaning solution. Perhaps so, but more likely not, because we learned afterwards that the cleaning company they called in is their standard go-to solution for many years for cleaning up similar messes.
Much good will and aggravation could have been saved if the waterproofing/foundation repair company had just been communicating with us over the month that we had been waiting for an answer. Just a call to say that they hadn’t forgotten about us, that they’re working on a solution, would have alleviated our concerns. Simple respect for the customer and the voiced desire to make things right would have salvaged our relationship.
In any industry, with any product or service, things can go wrong. But it’s how the situation is handled by both sides of the customer/provider solution that makes all the difference.
I’ve worked in the business world long enough and in a number of different capacities to know that a level head and honest communication are the best ways to go about resolving a problem. Each side has an implied responsibility to give the other the information and opportunity to bring about a favorable resolution:
The customer can clearly and concisely state the complaint and give the product or service provider a chance to respond. Flexibility and patience are in order, as long as the provider is trying to correct the problem.
The provider, in turn, can maintain a line of communication with the customer, assuring them that they have received the complaint, that it’s being addressed, and at what point they would be able to answer the complaint with a plan of action. It’s basic customer service, or at least it should be. Most of the time, the customer just wants to know that they are being heard, their concern respected, and that the provider will stand behind its product or service.
In our case, the cleanup crew did an excellent job, both in the final result and in their manner of handling the situation from start to finish. They took our concerns seriously and only considered the job complete when we were satisfied that it was done well. Too bad the waterproofing/foundation repair company left us with a different impression.
I’m so often in the role of the service provider (the voice actor) that it felt a bit odd to be the customer in this interaction. And I was so disappointed in the initial non-responsiveness of this company, which ran counter to their reputation. Could it be the size of the company that makes the difference? For the best companies that offer top-notch customer service, it shouldn’t be. Sadly, there seems to be less and less value placed on customer service and care for the individual with every passing year.
That’s why I so appreciate those businesses that still value their customers and prove it when things go awry. My work ethic is similar to that of the cleaning company: I’m happy when my client is happy. I’ll go that extra mile to make sure that the job is done right. And I treat my customers as I would want to be treated myself, especially if something needs to be improved. It all comes down to my personal and professional reputation. After all, my business – like my home – is an extension of myself.
If nothing else, this experience will remind me to always think of every transaction from the perspective of the customer. My particular story, however, is not quite over, though I truly wish it were. We just had a major rainstorm and – you guessed it – there’s water again in our basement, in the very same spot. Here we go again … (sigh). At least, I may have the pleasure of interacting with that excellent cleaning company again.