I usually end up writing about customer service when I am over in the USA and this time I had barely arrived before a striking comparison between how things work in the US and the UK arose.
On this trip I am working with my logistics hat on, but when my local contact and I arrived back at base after a field visit we found the small team there melting; the air conditioning had failed. It was just after lunch and the system had been down all day, but efforts to do anything about the problem were going nowhere and, with my own sanity at risk, I offered some suggestions.
Firstly we needed to know who was responsible and asking the right questions helps a lot in terms of getting the right answers. By 1400 local time we had established that the problem was ours to solve, that no contract was in place for such work and that we had a budget to work to before we had to seek approval, but the form to obtain that had already been obtained having warned the guy at HQ that it could be well beyond the devolved authority.
A quick hunt round established what equipment was on site and a fiddle with the controls pointed to the likely source of the fault. An on-line trawl had found a few likely contractors so I picked up the 'phone. The first call was to the company that installed the system, but they managed to cut us off during the check for details of the original job, so they went to the back of the short list. Company number two however established where we were, what we wanted and that we did not have a contract with them. They confirmed that they could be there that afternoon and what the call out charge for a full system check would be. They were also happy to accept my diagnosis and said that if I was right the necessary part would be on the engineer's van and that he would, if he could, remain on site until the system was working.
We were called a little later to say that he was on his way and he arrived on schedule. He listened to my diagnosis as I showed his the system and we left him to start his checks. These took around 45 minutes, but he confirmed my suspicions that the control panel was faulty. He also showed us two other problems, one needing urgent attention, the other something to do within the next year. All three problems were costed, but he explained that the first two were things that we could do ourselves cheaper. The third job was an all-day one requiring specialist tools, chemicals and knowledge, but one that we could schedule for a cooler time of the year.
Doing the first two jobs ourselves would have saved about 40% of what the contractor quoted, but the quick option was to get our new friend to do them for us there and then, so that was agreed. He finished the work and then took pains to show us what had been done, suggest ways of preventing a recurrence and ensuring that we knew how the new panel worked. Just four hours after we had got the clearance to find a solution we had a comfortable working space again.
The contractor has found a new client and several advocates for the employees at that office are also all likely to use that firm if their home air conditioning needs service. I, too, am a bit of a local hero, but could I work that magic back in the UK? I sincerely doubt it; attitudes are different here.
John Bowen is an FM consultant