October 18, 2012
By Jason Cramp
A recent episode of CBC Marketplace, the hidden-camera current affairs program that puts consumer experience to the test, focused on the swimming pool industry, specifically service professionals and their method of response to a staged pool operating problem.
A 30-year-old pool in Oakville, Ont., set the stage for this episode titled, “When the Repairman Knocks,” which aired on Sept. 21. According to Pentair Aquatic Systems’ Phil Bach, an industry veteran of more than 30 years and this episode’s resident expert, the challenge in staging this service call scenario was creating a problem that would be simple to fix, without presenting any grey areas. However, with the pool’s existing 10-year-old pump, which had a leaking seal, and poor plumbing schematics, which had at least 10 clamps between the pump and filter, a simple fix would not be possible; therefore, a new pump was installed and the plumbing was cleaned up prior to filming the show.
With everything now in place, an ‘easy-to-fix’ problem could be staged. This involved removing the o-ring (i.e. seal) from the pump’s lid, which would prevent it from priming, and reversing the lines on the chlorinator, which would stop the flow of chlorine.
“The pump should be an easy fix,” said Bach. “However, fixing the problem with the chlorinator would depend on how much information is given to the technician.”
The next stage for CBC was making the service calls, which Bach says he was not privy to.
“Calling for a service appointment in the middle of June with a time frame of two hours—I didn’t expect anyone to show,” he said. “To the pool industry’s credit, however, they did get a response in using the traditional channels (e.g.Yellow Pages and referrals). Three service companies responded to the problem and they all did a great job when they had the right information up front. It really showed how important it is to get as much information up front and how to respond to new information.”
In talking to dealers afterwards, Bach says many received calls but were too busy to help out as they were already pre-booked with their current clients and there simply was not enough hours in the day to make the additional service call.
“Many said they tried to help out over the phone as no one wants to make a service call and bill for a missing o-ring,” explained Bach. “If a call comes in regarding a pump that is not priming, most service technicians will ask the customer if the water level in the pool is above the skimmer and advise them to check the pump’s plugs and make sure the o-ring is in place. It is better to solve this type of problem over the phone.
“It would be interesting, however, to find out how many dealers tried offering assistance over the phone and save the service call, but that doesn’t make good TV.”
Then, there is the Internet. Many pool owners unfortunately resort to finding a service technician online who can fix their problem the cheapest. In these circumstances, however, it is buyer beware as most will get what they pay for.
According to Bach, the program received a number of responses from service technicians that were sourced via the Internet. And, out of the two that showed up, they had to be called more than once.
“I was surprised how far some of these contacts were willing to travel to make a service call in Oakville,” he added. “The first person who responded to the call was harmless. He came in, looked around, but could not figure out the problem. After he was told the service call was part of a television program testing the skills of pool service technicians, he said, ‘If it is easy I fix it and make a few dollars, if not I tell them (customer) to call a real pool company.’”
What is the lesson learned for those who watched the program? Bach says the show relayed the message that the pool industry does a good job.
“I would call the first three service companies as they are members of the pool industry,” he added. “The last two were from the Internet. It just goes to show how getting trained personnel who are Pool & Hot Tub Council of Canada (PHTCC) members to perform service work is always best.”
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