Maybe my plumbing system is paying me back.



Last month’s column about how not to sell plumbing (“Don’t Blame It On The Economy Or Cheap Customers,” November 2009) got tons of responses from PM readers. Most of you saw your techs in my description or knew of others just like him: A mild aversion to selling a customer, even one who virtually handed him a Visa card, with upselling hints as subtle as Paris Hilton’s nightie.

My saga continues. After the water heater received some love, apparently other parts of my plumbing system were getting jealous.

The toilet in my children’s bathroom started making some sort of gurgling noise. Mostly at night, when I was the only one awake, just to be creepy. I’d be blissfully reading my Road & Track, when at 1 a.m. the sound of someone strangling a bullfrog would emerge through the walls. Most unsettling.

The toilet in their bathroom was from the “Pre-Stupid Era” when men were men and toilets were resource-wasting ceramic cyclones. You could flush a full-grown coconut tree - nuts and all - down this thing without a whimper.

Yet yesterday morning, telltale leakage spelled the end. The whimpering was mine.

So, we called a different plumbing company this time, hoping for a dose of professionalism and long-term concern.

The appointment was painless enough. The CSR’s lack of enthusiasm had me imagine she was past president of the insomniacs club, but she got the facts right. Oversights: didn’t ask if we had an account or if we were “agreement” members. (Both “yes” to our commercial property, but not at home. I’d have thought this important.)

Plumber arrives an hour after stated appointment window, sans apology or explanation. Don’t ruin my wife’s day or anything, but during Christmas, schedules are tight.

After a brief description followed by three grunt-filled responses, he skulks upstairs to survey the problem. Seems the whole company has a “Let’s Have a Lethargy Contest!” attitude. Question: How enthused are you in the face of full-fledged sourness? Just a thought.

Finally, after pondering the situation, he utters a gravely misleading comment that he thinks is doing us a favor. It isn’t.

“Yeah, this thing is worn out,” he said. “We can replace it. I’d recommend a to replace it.” So far so good. My wife is nodding in acceptance.

Then he said it: “You could go to Lowe’s or something and get it cheaper. Then we can reschedule for next week and put it in.”

My wife, queen of budgetary sense, thought this was a nice thing to do. I, however, staggered for words. Still am, if you can believe it.

I speak with contractors every week who wonder what happens on jobs, what happens with the CSR, the upsell, the agreement program, customers leaving … and they never know stuff like this goes on. They never know the risks being taken, the words being said, the sales being given away.


Undeniable Truth

The tech thought he was doing me a favor to save some money. That’s how he buys. Ever had a waitress at a five-star restaurant say, “You can get that steak cheaper if you cooked it yourself”? Please tell me the difference.

The point is to deliver on the request. The company’s mission is to solve the problem.

1. The lead and the job was theirs. It was “in the bank.” A referral source.

2. If I’d wanted the ultimate in money savings, I’d have gone to Big Box Enemy of Mankind and called Larry the Halfwit to install it. Four bolts and a wax seal. I get it.

3. If I’d wanted to go to mountains of trouble to save $50 or $100 or whatever, would I have called a legitimate service company?

4. Oh, and let’s not forget … there are other plumbers who actually install toilets.


Since I was already going to Lowe’s, I stopped to see the stunning array of toilets. After seeing 47 variations on waste evacuation - fully expecting to find one that’d turn the magazine page for you - I asked the very helpful Lowe’s Lady for her opinion. She had one, by golly.

She was clear, concise, informed. Talked me out of a more expensive one and actually chose the exact same model as Mr. “Please Don’t Make Me Sell You Something.”

Then she asked, “Are you putting this in yourself?”

After turning around to see who she was talking to, I answered, “You can bet your rear I’m not.” Guess where this conversation is going.

Smiling, she said, “I’ve got a list of plumbers here who’d be glad to get the work; all qualified, all reasonable.”

And therein lies the trouble. Not only did I try to give my money and my business to the company that came out, they willingly sent me into the clenches of their competitors. Lots of them. All to “do me a favor.” But, I don’t want a favor, I want a toilet. The same way the plumbing contractor who came and installed my new toilet obviously wanted my business.

Questions for you:
  • How do you train your techs to handle a situation like this where the equipment isn’t “on the truck”? Are they actually doing it?

  • Have you ever asked your techs if they offer “money-saving options” to customers?

  • Do you have a policy on selling what you sell … and not what others sell?


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