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Many people in the service business grew up in an era when life was simpler, slower, and people more trusting of one another. Unfortunately, too many companies act as if we are still living back in the 1950s. Progressive home repair firms operate much differently than they did in the past.

What follows is a list of customer services that the average home owner has a right to expect from any home repair company in today's world.

1. Real humans answering the phone. Isn't it maddening to reach someone's answering machine when your basement is filled with water or your heating system isn't working on the coldest day of the year? You begin to think - how long will it take for someone to call back? Should I leave a message or call someone else?

There are some small contractors who do good work but can't afford to hire fulltime office staff. This is understandable. Yet what you as a home owner have a right to expect is that they at least have an answering service and paging system that enable them to get back to you quickly - within minutes if it's an emergency.

2. Polite, professional customer service representative. Reaching a live human isn't much comfort if that person is surly or incompetent. Ever get the feeling that the voice on the other end of the phone thinks s/he is doing you a favor by listening to your troubles? Ever get into an argument with someone you are trying to give your business to?

You have an absolute right to be treated with courtesy and respect by all employees of any business you deal with. If you don't get it, call someone else.

3. Convenient scheduling. The Ozzie & Harriet era is over. Most households now have two wage earners and progressive service firms try very hard to accommodate them with evening and weekend hours.

Furthermore, top-notch service firms don't say, "We'll be there sometime soon." They try to schedule visits at your convenience and pinpoint the time of arrival as close as possible. If they are going to be delayed, they will notify you by phone.

Some progressive firms offer priority scheduling to service agreement customers. In fact, another sign of a progressive firm is that they...

4. ...Offer service agreements. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." This applies to your home's health as well as your own. Many modern service companies offer preventive maintenance agreements to guard against catastrophic breakdowns and keep your home's plumbing, heating, air conditioning and electrical systems functioning at peak performance. This is good for them as well because it helps even out the workload over the course of a year.

5. Prices quoted ahead of time. Many progressive service firms have turned to flat rate pricing. This means they quote you the full price of a job before they begin the work, no matter how much time it takes. No more guessing games. No more "watching the meter run."

Most firms that operate this way charge a modest diagnostic fee for evaluating the problem before work begins. In most cases, this is a worthwhile price to pay for the assurance of knowing exactly what the job will cost.

6. Guaranteed performance. A good service firm will guarantee its labor for a least 30 days and any product it supplies for a least a year, sometime much longer. If anything breaks down within the guaranteed period, they will come back to fix it at no extra charge.

These guarantees do not apply to products you might buy at a home center or other retail outlet. I'm sure you can understand why they decline to guarantee something they did not sell. It would be like taking responsibility for the behavior of your neighbors' children.

Some modern companies also offer extended warranties that cover products for additional periods ranging from one year to a lifetime.

7. Protect your security. Top service companies in today's world are aware of the rampant crime rate and pay close attention to their customers' security interests. They carefully screen service technicians and avoid hiring anyone with criminal backgrounds. Some do drug testing.

They also supply their service technicians with company uniforms, identification badges and business cards. Also, for your peace of mind, they instruct their employees to park the company vehicle where it is readily visible, so the home owner gets an inkling of who's at the door.

8. Respect for your property. Anytime a mechanic shows up at your house with muddy shoes and greasy overalls, don't hesitate to shoo him away. Progressive service firms pay respect to customers by keeping their vehicles and equipment clean and enforcing rigid personal appearance codes for field employees.

Likewise, their service technicians are instructed to leave each jobsite as clean as it was then they arrived - usually cleaner! Progressive service firms supply their service technicians with rubber gloves, booties, drop cloths, entry carpets, vacuum cleaners and anything else needed to avoid leaving a mess after the job is done. You have every right to expect this.

9. Continuing education & certification. Technological advances and environmental regulations have made the job of a service technician much more complicated than it used to be. Plumbers of today must know quite a bit about electrical wiring due to the proliferation of whirlpool tubs and electronically activated fixtures and faucets. Heating and cooling technicians must deal with the complexities of high-efficiency equipment. They also must be certified in proper handling procedures for CFC refrigerant gases. This is mandated by the EPA to comply with the Montreal Protocol, an international accord by industrial nations to help repair the earth's damaged ozone shield.

Good service firms pay for many kinds of advanced training for their service technicians and other employees. Unlike the gruff mechanics of yesteryear, service technicians who work for the top companies of today receive training in customer relations as well as technical work.

The company that does not invest in continuing education for its employees, is not a company you want to do business with.

10. Complaints handled promptly and courteously. No matter how good the company might be, human error may rear its head from time to time. Perhaps the ultimate sign of a progressive service company is how it responds to customer complaints.

Do they seek facts, or do they argue?

Do they listen to your story, or do they immediately circle the wagons and become defensive?

Do they remain polite (even though you may be angry), or do they tell you in so many words to go take a leap?

Will they come back and do whatever re-work is required. or do they give you the run around?

The best companies work just as hard at resolving customer complaints - even if it costs them money - as they do at attracting business in the first place. The best companies look to recruit customers for a lifetime, not for just a single job.

By the way, don't be offended if a service company actively seeks testimonials or referrals from you. That's their way of saying, "We'll do all we can to please you."



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Noritz: Your tankless water heater specialist

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