Pay Attention

By Dan Johnson, Retiree

Are you busy?  Of course, you are.  The industry is busy.  Even though our resources seem stretched to the limit now, we’ll find a way to build the pools, spas, and water features that are on the books.  The timing could be an issue though.  There is a concern – can we give all our customers the level of attention they expect and deserve? 

Recently I was talking to a service technician who runs warranty calls for a large local builder.  He was prioritizing his schedule of calls and mumbled about moving a call regarding a dripping filter to the bottom of the list again.  I asked how often he had moved it down the list.  “I’ve been backing this one up for about a month now – it’s low priority,” he said - “Just too many to handle”.  It gave me a shiver when he said that.  I remembered Jack Royale (not his real name).  Here’s what happened to Jack some years ago – a true story.

Jack and his wife had lived in their new house in an exclusive neighborhood in Sarasota just three months when she began to have trouble breathing.  Jack suspected mold due to water intrusion between the first and second floors so he called his builder, U.S. Home to see where it was coming from.   The builder’s representative performed a cursory inspection and then stonewalled Jack, telling him the house had been properly finished, and sealed with stucco and that U.S. Home would accept no responsibility for the mold.  Jack hired another contractor, and an engineer, and had a section of the side of his house removed for inspection.  What he discovered set off a chain of events that had ripple effects across the country.  The bracing attaching the upper wooden half of the house to the lower concrete block half was not in accordance with the code.  The two halves had separated and the house was leaking badly when it rained, causing the mold.

Here’s the short version of the consequence of his discovery.  Over 30 front-page articles over the next year and a half in the newspaper.  Word spread and investigations were started in U.S. Home developments in Tampa, California, and Colorado over reported defects.  Multiple lawsuits were filed.  The vice president of the company was investigated.  One building official was fired, another one quit, and another was reassigned.  New inspectors were hired.  U.S. Home spent millions buying back homes and repairing others.  They completely redesigned their two-story homes implementing a new construction method.  The county even re-wrote the standard for the application of stucco.  U.S. Home has since been bought by another national home builder.

The very expensive lesson they learned is this:  Take care of every customer, no matter how trivial you may believe their concern is or how important you perceive that customer to be to your business.  As U.S. Home learned every customer is important to your business.  And if we’re smart, we’ll learn from their experience - pay attention.