I got a call the other morning from a disgruntled customer. He complained that a soffit we'd installed had come loose. He sounded both wary and annoyed. He probably thought he was going to get the runaround and some cheap excuse.

“I expect you to back this,” he said, with some exasperation.

I told him I'd talk to my crew chief and see that it was handled right away.

A little later, I pulled his file. The file showed we'd installed soffit, fascia, and some gable trim. His job, from 1997, was one of the first 200 siding jobs I put up. We're coming up on our eighth full year in business.

That afternoon I handed our crew chief the address and the job file, and he told me he would stop and fix the problem on his way home. Early that evening, I happened to be walking past our telemarketing room when one of our employees waved me over. She had mistakenly contacted the gentleman I'd spoken with that morning, and now, since he was on the phone, he wanted to speak to me again. When exactly was I going to schedule that service call, he wanted to know. I asked if he was on a cordless. He was. I said: Why don't you go outside and have a look at the right side of your garage?

I heard a door bang. Then he said:

“Oh, Jesus.”

“It's fixed, isn't it?” I said.

He sent me two referrals during the next three months, and at least one of them became a job.

In Florida, where we're located, the law requires contractors to provide a one-year labor warranty. We provide customers with a lifetime labor warranty on the window and siding products that we install.

To me, the reason is simple. The products we install today are made to withstand the elements. They're not built to fail. Why should I send a guy out to install those products if his performance standard is somehow different?

Our labor warranty policy is printed on a sheet included in the pitch book. Salespeople stress this aspect of our operation when they're making their presentations. We also include this warranty in all our contracts.

Expensive? Not really. Of the 1,250 or so jobs we have done — 80% are siding — we have received service calls on fewer than 80.

Of course, if you're going to offer a lifetime labor warranty, it's critical to deliver on your promise. That is, you have to respond, quickly and effectively, to that service request. That means we almost always send someone out within 72 hours.

My subcontractors are the ones responsible for the repairs. All my installation is subcontracted, but I've been in this town for 20 years, and I know the guys who know how to install. I tell them that what they do out there, I back for a lifetime. So I'm highly selective about who pulls up in a pick-up to do my work.

If the installing subcontractor isn't available to do the repair work, I send out someone on my staff or another subcontractor. I'll send them out on a Saturday and pay out of my own pocket.

This is about integrity and consistency. The products I sell are also on my own home. We represent a product with a lifetime warranty, and I can't in good conscience give customers a workmanship warranty that's less than that. Would I do that to myself? People shouldn't have to spend money twice.

Just because we live in a throwaway world is no reason to offer a throwaway labor warranty. —Dave Howard is president of Lasting Exteriors in Jacksonville, Fla. Contact him at lasting exteriors@bellsouth.net.