When it comes to customer service of any kind, some people are just better suited for it. The issue is not simply knowledge, but also the ability to put yourself in the place of the customer. In the case of the Gypsum Association’s technical services department, that means being able to listen to and understand the full range of professions that make up the design and construction community. From the architect or GC in the office, to the construction superintendent or specialty contractor in the field, most of these players are primarily concerned about cost and schedule. While no one wants to build improperly, it falls to other entities to ensure they don’t, namely code officials and building inspectors. The GA serves all of these audiences in addition to the occasional homeowner.
Greg Woolley recently passed the one-year mark as the Gypsum Association’s Technical Services Specialist. While he has other duties, answering technical queries—be they emails or calls—is Greg’s primary charge. To illustrate what the GA’s technical services department has to offer, I sat down with Greg and asked him to reflect on his role and interactions with callers.
SH: You have a degree in film from New York University and you worked in Hollywood for several years. I bring it up because it seems like a very different industry and I’m curious about any parallels with the design and construction industry.
GW: After graduating from NYU film school, I started working in set construction and design in Hollywood. While stakes are high in construction, they are even higher on a film set in terms of money and time and the need to work with others collaboratively. Every job was a new situation and I learned a lot about finding solutions in a deadline driven environment because my next job depended on it.
SH: Sounds like Hollywood is an exaggerated version of ordinary life in every respect. What have you done since that made a role at the GA a good fit?
GW: I have more than a decade in sales and service of construction materials and products. I have worked for large international companies, such as Home Depot and Lafarge, and I have worked for local companies in the construction industry. As a result, I understand what skill sets and levels of effort are required when working with architects, construction company employees, and code officials. I understand what a struggle it can be for contractors to get skilled people who are connected with their tools. Having held several positions on all sides—in sales, in the field, and in manufacturing and supply—helps me understand different perspectives. I have learned that being a good listener upfront really helps me guide the customer to the best solution, which in turn helps them avoid grief.
SH: What kind of information should callers have at hand if they want to get an answer or solution quickly?
GW: The majority of the questions we receive are answered either the same day or within 24 hours. Contact the GA at firstname.lastname@example.org to receive the best response time. I am not always at my desk, but I always have my phone. Providing detailed information including the GA file number as referenced in the GA-600 Fire-Resistance and Sound Control Design Manual for an assembly you are working with, or the fire or sound rating you are seeking, or even qualifying the type of stud you are using is very helpful information. In other words, the more details a caller can pass on to us, the better we can serve them.
SH: What are some examples of typical calls?
GW: Well, a project manager or construction superintendent may call and say an architect designed this wall or partition and has now left the project. The caller needs help finding a system in the Fire Resistance and Sound Control Design Manual [GA-600] that meets the project’s objectives. After listening to the caller describe the situation, I help them hone in on solutions that will meet code requirements. It would be beyond my scope of work to make a recommendation per se but I can say, “Here are three assemblies that meet your requirements.”
Fasteners and More
SH: What do architects call about?
GW: Architects will often call to ask if a proposed substitution is valid. If a contractor is asking if they can use different fasteners, an architect will want to know if that substitution or alteration is allowed in a specific situation. These types of calls can usually be answered by drawing a caller’s attention to GA-600’s General Explanatory Notes.
SH: Such as the note allowing screws to be substituted for nails if the length and head diameter of the screws equal or exceed those of the nails specified?
GW: Right, substituted one for one, and not exceeding the spacing specified for the nails. Also the screws need to meet ASTM C1002.
SH: Speaking of compliance, what about code officials, why do they call the GA?
GW: Code officials call to verify that installation, or a repair, has been made in accordance with a code referenced document or a GA standard. This is especially true in retrofits and remodeling work where unforeseen conditions arise and designers must approach the situation creatively. It is the building inspector’s job to ensure that the design solution meets appropriate building and safety standards.
SH: The GA doesn’t get many calls from homeowners but here we are in hurricane season again. I remember last year calls from homeowners came pouring in after Harvey and Irma. What was that like?
GW: Shortly after Harvey hit, local services became maxed out quickly. At the same time, homeowners wanted to prepare for meetings with code officials, insurance adjusters, and contractors. I understand that need to feel like you are doing something productive in a time of chaos. Concerns about mold were very high and people started to call in order to educate themselves about clean up, damage, and preventing mold growth.
SH: What guidance did you provide?
GW: I found myself directing them to GA-231 Assessing Water Damage to Gypsum Board and GA-238 Guidelines for Prevention of Mold Growth on Gypsum Board. Callers would share these documents with their neighbors and they helped everyone understand the importance of replacing wallboard exposed to flood waters and keeping wallboard purchased for repairs dry.
SH: I guess proper storage is of particular importance, given that the 2017 hurricane season saw some areas of the country hit repeatedly over several days and weeks.
GW: Yes, GA-801 Handling and Storage of Gypsum Panel Products and others such as GA-235 Gypsum Board Typical Mechanical and Physical Properties, and GA-1000 Identification of Gypsum Board helped prepare homeowners not just for clean-up, but also rebuilding. Using these documents as a basis for conversations helps manage the expectations of both the contractor and the homeowner as they come to an agreement on how to proceed. The GA is an authoritative, unbiased source and we are charged with providing technically sound recommendations on the installation and use of gypsum panel products, so our publications became an important neutral reference point for all parties involved.
SH: What questions are beyond the scope of the GA?
GW: We do not provide engineering judgements. Through the General Explanatory Notes in GA-600, the technical department can help qualify alternatives, additions, or substitutions of materials but we are a strictly by the book organization. At times, speaking directly to the manufacturer is more appropriate. Where answers fall outside our published standards and scope, we always defer to code publications. If an engineering judgement is really the best solution, a fire protection engineer should be consulted.
SH: Can you sum up your job in three words?
GW: Qualification, navigation, and solutions.
SH: I think I know where you are going but please explain.
GW: I help callers to the technical services department by asking questions to make sure their issues can be appropriately addressed through our standards—qualification. Then I help them navigate through GA publications for the applicable standard that provides a solution.
SH: What is the most interesting thing you have learned since joining the GA?
GW: How important it is as an industry to work together to develop standards so people receive quality solutions and quality products. Standards are incredibly valuable because they are developed over time by seasoned professionals, and are consistently reviewed for relevance. Since joining the GA, and taking on the role of technical services specialist, I am reminded of this every day.