Thursday, October 8, 2015

The 9 best things I learnt from fixing a leaking sink

I've been part of the services industry for over 15 years now, playing different roles from being a trainer, consultant, project manager, architect, directly and indirectly managing projects, and also providing services to internal and external customers.  I'm often intrigued by several factors that potentially affect the customer satisfaction or even dissatisfaction.  In my experience I have failed and also succeeded to provide the 'Wow' factor.  I find this to be a never ending learning process.

In a recent experience of being a 'customer' myself for a home improvement project, I had the unique opportunity to understand see the different 'point of view'.   Obviously there were loads of learning and opportunities to reflect several aspects of this project, the men who provided the service and finally how it affected me as a customer.

The problem

My wife was extremely unhappy with the way our home kitchen sink was installed by the interior designer before we moved into our new apartment.  It was a bad design and a shoddy work ultimately leading to water leakage through the gaps between the sink and the granite platform.  This also started spoiling the wooden structure beneath the sink.

The hunt for the "RIGHT GUY"

For many months this was a dream maintenance project for us.  Finally, when the right time came, I started calling few contractors to get this done.  One considered this project as a 'too small job'.  Another said 'I can do it, but your house is located far away!' .  The third one said 'available after two months!'.   Some visited, took measurements; some interested in making money; few others talked about the labor involved in cutting the granite; polishing it; mentioned about material and the hardship in moving them; estimations included separate line items for cutting, polishing, carpentry, someone even had a line item for 'cleaning the debris'

The hunt seemed to be a never ending one.


Fayed, an innocent looking young man, talked something very different from all the others.  He asked many questions, wanted to understand the problems, the changes we wanted and how we wanted them.  Fayed took his notebook, drew pictures, used for explaining his ideas, took measurements and also carefully written down all the work involved.   I thought he could be an expensive guy to deal with.  He behaved like a true consultant who knew his job very well.

He finally came up with some convincing ideas, a quotation and talked completely a different language that no one else spoke.

Fayed said "Sir, before I start the work, I would like you to call few of my customers who I worked with in the past.  Please call them and ask them about the quality of work that I did".

This approach certainly surprised me.

He continued, "I'll also give you guarantee for the work that I'm delivering - you will not have any leaks for the next several years and the finish will be one of the finest ones"

Suddenly, he appeared to be the RIGHT GUY for my job.  He was talking about the value that he can deliver

The confidence plus the promise; I was convinced; I hired him.

The Start

We marked a long holiday weekend in early October to complete the work.

He was supposed to start the work on a Thursday.  We were really nervous and also apprehensive about this since we decided to compromise a long weekend for this maintenance project.  Our children were not happy either.

Fayed called me on Wednesday afternoon and said Hussain, his granite craftsman, was sick and recovering.  He requested me that he would start the work one day later.  He apologized for the delay.

I thanked him for his promptness and accepted the delay.  I too wanted Hussain to recover.  Moreover, I did not want someone at our home with viral fever with the presence of our children.  At the same time, I seriously started worrying about messing up with the long weekend.  In the evening I received a message from Fayed which read "Sir, we will start the work tomorrow at 11.00 am" and brought me a good relief.

The next day, he called me at 10 am and said he was running late by one hour and requested to start the work by noon.  I again thanked him for informing me about this.

Fayed, Hussain and an assistant finally arrived with their tools and raw materials at 12.15 pm, apologized for late coming and started the work.  I was finally happy to see the work commencing.

Day 1

After starting the work, Fayed called and said he had to break the a smaller section of the first granite platform (original plan was to reuse it) because it was stuck to the wooden cabinet with Araldite instead of metal paste.  Usually metal paste is used and the granite top can be easily removed with a small but careful effort.  It wasn't a problem to me since Fayed had purchased some extra granite that could be used.  His men had to finally smash and pound it into smaller pieces and also cut it with an electrical grinder.

He also warned me that his men had to do the same thing to remove the second granite platform (larger in size 5 ft. x 2 ft.) and that would cost me an additional Rs. 8000/- to buy a new one.  I had to accept it with a reluctance since I did not have much choice.  He also removed the kitchen-pantry door and kept aside which was a hindrance to their work.  I was worried about the mounting expenses.

Late in the afternoon, I went out for buying some groceries and when I came back, Fayed said, "Sir, you are very lucky today.  I took some extra care in removing the large granite platform, we can reuse it and there is no need to buy another one."   Later my wife also confirmed and said the men did a lot of thinking before removing it.

At around 6.00 pm most of the work was completed.  I asked them to stop the work at around 6.15 pm - told them that there was a hard deadline to wind up labor work before 7 in our apartment.  We already received a complaint from one of our neighbors for the irritating noises coming from our apartment.

Fayed said - "Sir, we need just about 15 mins to cut some material and prepare them - keep them ready so that the next day morning the work can be completed without any cutting efforts"   Since we had another 15 mins to go to hit the 7 pm deadline, I allowed them to continue.  I appreciated his dedication.

He agreed to come at 8.00 am the next day.

Day 2

I was pleasantly surprised when I received a call from our apartment security about his arrival at 7.55 am.  The work continued and all the finishing actions were in full swing.  Once everything was done (as per his definition of completeness) he asked me to come and inspect.  My wife and I went around and checked, suggested some minor corrections and changes.  Fayed agreed to few and did not agree to few others.  Finally, after discussing the reasons, we made some compromises and with a smile he carried out those changes.  He called us for an inspection again.

The missing 5%

The second time when I went to look around, I noticed that he had done a great job indeed.  Everything was in place, the new sink inside the kitchen, the old one shifted outside in the utility area, the wooden doors, handles, edges were trimmed, debris cleaned and collected.

I waited for him to complete and said "Fayed, first of all, thank you so much for completing 95% of the work"  

"Why Sir, I have done a good job" he was visibly upset

I showed him the uneven edges produced by the metal paste filled between the granite and the sink.

Fayed said with a chuckle "Sir, why are so worried about it, this will disappear as you start using the kitchen".  

"This can cut someone's hand Fayed....!" I said to him.

Fayed instantly understood my concerns and said "Sir, within 10 mins I'll make them smooth"

He called me again for the final inspection.  This time I was impressed by the work and said 'yes'  I looked at my wife for her acknowledgement too, even she said "yes" bringing a big sigh of relief to both Fayed and us.

The reward

My wife and I decide to pay him 10% more fees for the good work and the experience he delivered.  When I handed over the money his eyes were nearly in tears.  He was so delighted, thanked me while holding my hands with a firm grip.   Before leaving he mentioned that "Sir, I'm going to take my family out for dinner, they are already waiting for me"

The OOPS moment

After Fayed left our home, an hour later I realized that he did not put back the door in its place.  I made an attempt to fix it myself but found that one of the hinges were broken.  I was little puzzled by this carelessness and immediately called Fayed explained him the problem.  He said "Sir, I'm already running late, my family members are calling me continuously - can I come and finish this tomorrow?"  I agreed.

But, within 30 mins, there was someone at the door and Fayed rushed inside with a big smile.  He said "Sir, I made a mistake of not fixing the door and also concerned that the door was broken"  He came inside, checked the door and I realized that the hinges were not really broken.  He fixed them, shook my hands once again and left my home.

All of us had a peaceful sleep on that day night for bringing this project to a successful closure.  I closed my eyes and started reflecting on the experience.

9 best things

As a customer, dealing with the fix for a poor quality kitchen work, had left me behind leaps of learning points.  This experience gave me a feeling of going back to the best business school to learn about the secret ingredients of providing the best customer satisfaction.  I learnt about the importance of the following 9 aspects that Fayed and his men provided to me to bring the best experience at the end.
  • Communicate the value:  I don't think anyone cares about how a job was done at the end.  Certainly the success testimonials, plan, the process and controls are important to instill confidence.  Fayed was unique and spoke convincingly about the value that he was going to deliver.  Others spoke about efforts or even the difficulties involved in completing the work.  It is important to communicate and deliver the value or even more than that to leave behind a long lasting impression.
  • Look beyond the scope: The goal of a service provider is not to find opportunities to bill the customer.  It is not always needed to deliver more than what is promised.  Identifying opportunities to save some $$$$ is also important.  This comes only with an extra passion and care towards the customer and the work that one need to deliver.  From this experience, I don't think I will remember the money that I spent on fixing the leaking sink, but I will certainly remember the Rs 8000/- that Fayed helped me save.  He looked beyond the scope.
  • Respect time  Fayed cared for his time and also mine.  He took efforts in calling me to inform about the inability to start the work on time.  He communicated every little delays and he was punctual.  I want to respect time and I respect anyone who respects time.
  • Take care of your people: After removing the large granite carefully, cutting it carefully, fixing and completing the job, Fayed spoke proud about about Hussain, he also said said "Sir, I'll reward him for his good work".  He also cared about Hussain's health and requested to start the project one day later.  It is common to find employers pushing their resources to stick to customer commitments even if they are indisposed.  But Fayed certainly knew how to take care of his men.  Hussain will certainly like to work with Fayed for this caring attitude.
  • Communicate We often come across poor commitments, delays and missed opportunities to identify risks and failing to deal with issues.  Fayed called me one day in advance about the delays in starting the work.  He also warned me about additional costs in case if he had to break the stones.  He called me to show the progress and inspect after completing every part of the job.  He had my sign off on every single change, issue, delay and risk.  His communication (not the language though) was the best.
  • Be responsible - Fayed could have come the next day to examine the broken hinges and fix the door.  His conscience did not allow him to go home to have the best moment with his loved ones that he was waiting to have.  But instead, he apologized, came back, proved he did not break the door, fixed it in its place and went.  Every project will have its own OOPS moment.  Sometimes the customer might come back with questions after the project was closed or could even say that the project had issues later.  Pay closer attention, listen to the problem and see if you can go back with the correct explanation or even a fix to ensure a proper closure happens. Fayed was responsible.
  • Be cheerful:  There were few occasions I had to be very strict about what I wanted, I made him repeat some work and also challenged the finish quality.  They were annoying but Fayed responded to them with a smile in his face.  Even though he was running late, he was still cheerful, came back and fixed the door for me.  I really don't know how much troubles he took, but he did not show his annoyance at me.
  • Learn: Knowing everything is great but also turning every project into a new learning opportunity is exceptional.   Fayed did not know about the concept of 5% finish.  In his line of profession he delivered 95% where others would have delivered only 70% and call it the best service.  He is certainly regarded one of the best.  He was open and learned something new. He will certainly deliver 100% or even more in his next project.   He was open to learning.
  • Deliver the last 5% with style:  He meticulously took efforts in finishing the metal polish, cleaning the work area, and took care to come back and fix the door, apologized for delays and mistakes - that's the 5% I'm talking about.
I'll certainly remember Fayed and the experience that he provided for my life time. I’m also confident about applying these learnings as a service provider and strive to provide the best experience to my customers.

What is your experience as a customer and the learning from it?

What is the remaining 5% that you are going to complete today?

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