I used to think that failure at the organizational level was about the individual. Someone who can’t—or won’t—do his or her job. Recently, I changed my thinking on this. Here’s a little background.
We were about to begin a fiber cement siding job. It was a combination job and the homeowner, who’d done some research, said that he’d like insulation installed behind the siding. I checked into it and contacted a manufacturer that makes an insulation product that, once installed, gives the new siding an R-3. I called that manufacturer, who suggested a supplier in our area that carries the product. We contacted the supplier and told them that we needed 26 squares. The local branch said that they didn’t have it in stock, but they could get it from another location.
Not Our Fault
The product eventually arrived on the jobsite—but it wasn’t the insulation for fiber cement siding. The foreman didn’t realize this until he started putting it up. With five squares on he recognized, by the way the nail was hitting it, that he didn’t have the right material.
We stopped the job. I immediately called the supply house that shipped the product and explained what had happened. The representative on the phone said, “It’s not our fault you ordered the wrong material.”
I emailed him a copy of the original order assuming that there would be a swift apology and the right product dispatched. The representative read the email and said, “Well, who’s going to know? Why don’t you just put it on?”
I said: “Are you kidding?”
He said: “Well, it’s the fault of [the other branch] for not getting the order right.”
I said: “It doesn’t matter who got the order wrong, when can you get us the product?”
Culture of Careless
Soon enough, the manager was on the phone. Her first words? “Are you sure you ordered the right product?”
I said: “Here, I’m forwarding our actual original email.”
There it is. Clear as vodka.
She said: “You can’t use what you've got?”
Meanwhile the job is still stopped. I called a higher-up I know at the supplier. Luckily, they found the product that we needed—but it was $300 more than the original botched order. Which, with the cost of removing what was already up and replacing it, would add about $500 to the job cost.
I said: “I already quoted the homeowner a price on the basis of what you told me, because I assumed you knew what you were doing. I don’t think I should have to pay for that, or for taking it down.”
He said: “Let me see what I can do.”
He could do nothing.
Point of Principle
The delivery truck with the material arrived on a Friday afternoon. The homeowner was there and wanted to know if the product could be stored in his garage over the weekend, since it wouldn't be installed until Monday.
“It’s been sitting out in the yard for two months,” the company’s delivery man said. “I don’t see where putting it in the garage is going to make a difference?”
I don’t know who owns this company. What I do know is that at every single level in my dealings with its people there was obfuscation, shortsightedness, and an absolute refusal—bordering on point of principle—to take responsibility. This company, and its employees, needs a lesson in how to treat customers.
I normally don’t do business with this company. I buy from its competitor. And if at some point early on in this process someone had called and apologized, made good on their mistake, and maybe offered to take me out for a cup of coffee to explain things, who knows, I might’ve become a regular customer. I might have shifted our half-million dollars worth of materials purchases to them.
Instead they saved themselves $500 by refusing to make good on what they were finally forced to acknowledge was their error. This may be one way to run a business but it’s also a way to run that business into the ground.