Smart Business

The story you are about to read is true. One name has been withheld to protect the innocent (sort of)—that of a major manufacturer of roofing materials, whose employee played a role in the chain of events described in this article. The company is not much of a villain, however, so rather than drag its name through the mud, we’ll just refer to it as “Brand X.”

This story was related by a friend of mine who works as a marketing consultant in the construction industry. The story is told in his words, as follows.

“We had a recent hail storm that required just about every house in our neighborhood to get a replacement roof. Our neighbor across the street is the regional sales manager for Brand X. I asked him who the most reputable roofers were. We selected one from his list of certified Brand X roofers (which I’m sure is more volume related than quality related), and told the roofer very clearly that the only reason we even considered him was because our neighbor sells Brand X.

“He tried to put a lower-cost shingle on our roof. Remember, insurance is paying for this.

“We told him that he could replace the roof with the exact same shingle or he could use Brand X. He tried to tell us that the shingle he was using was better. I said this was his lucky day, because he could use that shingle for the insurance company, then install Brand X. He called our neighbor to complain about pushing Brand X (remember, our neighbor works for Brand X). The irony was that our neighbor never pushed his own product, though he did suggest we consider a different brand from the one the roofer wanted to use.

“The roofer was going to replace three roofs on our street all at the same time. Two of them received Brand X shingles and the third got the other brand, which led to this neighbor’s asking why his were different. The shingles weren’t there a day before they were hauled off and Brand X was delivered.

A victim of soicumstance

“The customer service was, well ….

“When I left a message for the owner of the company to call back about a question I had regarding the brand of shingles, I left my mobile phone number. He called back several hours later, saying ‘Hey, what’s going on? Whatcha doing?’ I had no idea who it was. I’d never talked to him before. He never said his name until I finally broke down and asked who it was. (The way he talked, he assumed I should recognize his voice.)

“My wife wondered what the roofers did when they needed to use the bathroom, since they never seemed to ask anyone to use one. We found out in the form of a 2-liter Coke bottle they left lying in the street.

“On Friday, they finished the second house, leaving ours. This meant that the stack of material they left in the front of the garage, blocking it, had been there for a week. Good thing the cars were gone when they delivered it.

“They left their waste-hauling dump truck parked in the front of another neighbor’s house (who has yet to select a roofer). They stacked all of the 2-by-4s and particleboard that they used to keep from falling off the roof in our front yard. We called on Saturday to get someone to remove it. No one returned the call. It took me over an hour to toss it all in the back of the dump truck. They left four extension ladders stacked in our back yard. No one asked if they could do that.

“When they finally showed up at 10:00 this morning, they were two hours away from having the city called to tow away the dump truck. No one called to say when they would arrive, or even if they would arrive. They returned the call we placed on Saturday around noon on Monday.

“Their salesman, who was trying to sell the neighbor with the truck stationed in front of this house, complained to the neighbor that we were difficult to work with (because we wanted Brand X). Apparently, it never occurred to the salesperson that we might be friends with the neighbor, even though we lived next door and he knew that we were both on the board of the homeowner’s association.

“When my wife needed to tell the crew something, she had to call the office, where they could get someone on the phone who could speak Spanish. She gave him the message and then had to hand the phone to the crew foreman.

“My wife’s furious. Our Brand X neighbor claims this is one of the better roofers in the area. Maybe because I’m still at the office and don’t have to deal with it, I kind of think it’s funny—except when I’m talking to my wife.”

Wake up and go to sleep

This is not exactly a man-bites-dog story. The behavior of the roofing firm in question is, unfortunately, all too common throughout the construction trades. When times are good, as has been the case for many years, it’s not hard to find contractors who get plenty of work despite their best efforts to drive customers away.

Some of you might be inclined to spew venom at Brand X, the company that, after all, certified these clowns. Yet, I suspect most if not all vendors base certification mainly on technical training rather than customer service factors. I’d like nothing better than for some of the wall and ceiling industry’s VIPs to read this and decide that maybe customer service ought to play a part in who they select as their final link to the end user of their products. Yet, I suspect their response would go along the following lines:

Get real! In this tight labor market we’re lucky to find anyone who even knows Sheetrock from shinola.

Is there anyone out there with a different point of view? I’ll be happy to share any reasoned opinions in a future article.