What a great day. Awakened before the alarm went off by the melodic chatter of birds, the smell of coffee brewing and the early morning sounds of family members stirring as they begin their day. The weather has started to change for the better, and with that, no more 2 a.m. heating calls or frozen pipes until the next winter, I hope.
The 12-, going on 20-something, not quite a teenager yet is in the bathroom combing his hair, and the smell of soap, shampoo, deodorant and shower water still lingers in the air. A tantalizing kiss from your “bride” lingers sweetly as you make your way through the angry traffic all too commonplace in today’s society of road warriors.
Mid-morning. “Dave, it’s Mrs. Dimbulb on the phone, regarding her bill.”
You remember her: She had an emergency with a sewer that was backing up in her newly remodeled basement. Practically cried with relief when you told her you’d pull the men off another job to give her immediate service. A new customer and you were sure she’d become a loyal one after having provided such stellar service. You had taken the time to explain your rates; she was only too happy to give you the work — “Could you please hurry?”
“Good morning, Mrs. Dimbulb, how nice to hear from you again.”
“You people!” She shouted into the phone, just in case you were deaf.
“You people! I have this bill you people sent me and I want you to know I’m not about to pay it!”
Quickly, you reach for that roll of antacids in your pocket, while taking a look at the worksheets and the bill that was sent. Your mind races as you look for a misplaced decimal point in the total amount billed. You remember the customers, who over the years have started off a conversation regarding a bill with the You people phrase. Your ulcers start doing a fan dance in your stomach and two antacid tablets pass your lips.
“My cousin knows a friend whose cousin was a plumber for two years back in ’54, and he told me you overcharged me. I’m going to tell all my friends never to call you for anything.”
“Well, Mrs. Dimbulb, I’m sorry you were not happy with our service. Let me explain how we arrived at the amount you were billed.”
“I’m not interested in anything you people have to say. This is just awful how you people try to take advantage of a poor old widow woman. I have to live on a fixed income, after all.”
By now, of course, you know there is nothing you can say or do to appease this customer. In fact, it’s doubtful she’d even accept a check back in excess of the original billing! “Mrs. Dimbulb, if you will just tell me what I can do to make you a happy customer, I will do my best to make it happen.” This almost always works and, for the most part, customers are taken aback by such a straightforward, no-bones approach.
“Well, you sent two mechanics where one could have done the work by himself, and one man didn’t do anything but watch the first man work. And another thing, what’s the idea of charging me to use that machine, don’t you own that thing?”
Now you know the answer Mrs. Dimbulb is looking for. Knock off 1.5 hours and the sewer machine charge and she’ll pay. You know in your heart that she is being unreasonable. But, if it will get her off the phone and out of your hair (what little of it you haven’t pulled out by now), you’ll reluctantly make the offer to go along with her assessment of what you should have charged in the first place. You do, she agrees, and your once perfect day goes on.
Many years ago, we looked for a way to deal with the emotional carnage one “you people” call can produce. The phrase was so offensive because it sounded like they were referring to an alien species. We settled on an imaginary planet called Toiletron. Now whenever a you people call comes in, we can smile at the notion that we are really from the planet Toiletron.
At some point, we all receive and handle complaint calls of this nature. Each case is handled according to that customer’s track record.
If they’re a first-time customer, as was Mrs. Dimbulb, any attempt to defend your billing practices will probably escalate into a shouting match or end up in small claims court. Either way you lose. Settling with the customer’s demands, even when you know they are unreasonable, is often the best course.
If they come back in the future, you know that they are a potential problem and require a firm contract for any substantial work. If they find as much fault with the second go-around, it’s time to send them packing. No need to hesitate. Simply tell them that it has become obvious that you cannot satisfy their needs and that they should call someone else in the future.
So here you are, at the end of the day and Mrs. Dimbulb’s call is still ringing in your ear. The men have all gone home for the day. The phone rings, “Good evening, XYZ Plumbing at your service.”
“Hello, this is Mrs. Flowers. Your service man was here today. (You cringe.) My husband and I wanted to call and personally thank you for the excellent work. Your mechanic was polite, he took the time to explain the job to us without treating us like stupid people and, best of all, he cleaned up after himself. If anyone ever asks us who to call, we’ll be giving them your name.”
Now it really is time to call it a day and, all in all, it’s been a good one. Suddenly, the memory of that kiss comes back to your mind.