Defending Against a Better Business Bureau Complaint

I’m embarrassed to report that we had our first Better Business Bureau complaint today. The first ever in our 28 years of business. What’s most upsetting is that I feel the complaint is unfounded and out of context. I think the Better Business Bureau is a great tool and I’m glad it exists to protect consumers against businesses who are dishonest and shady. But I feel strongly, enthusiastically and passionately that my business is neither dishonest nor shady! So I wanted to address the issues raised in an honest and open fashion because it truly upsets me that one of our customers felt that they’d been treated unfairly. The complaint is below (taken directly from the BBB website):

Complaint Details

We were having issues with our heat not always turning on, so we called Advance Heating on 12/13/2013. They came out and said they resolved the problem. I paid them $302.33. On 1/8/2014 again no heat, called Advance they came back on 1/8,1/9 and 1/10 they charged me another $1,186.99. I sent them a check for $1,074.99. On 02/08/14 yet again no heat. I called Advance, and was told I would be charged extra per hour due to it being a Saturday. I explained I shouldn’t be charged anything. I’ve already paid almost $1,500.00 and still don’t have a working heating system. The service Tech told me to call another company and hung up on me. I have placed a stop payment on the $1,074.99 check, and I did have someone else take a look at the heating system. They replaced the thermastat $53.11 and the heat has worked fine since.

Now I admit that this sounds pretty bad. I wouldn’t want to hire a company that doesn’t fix problems and then hangs up on you when you call. That’s absolutely terrible and inexcusable. And it’s definitely not what happened.

I always feel that it’s important to hear both sides of a story before passing judgment. So I want to tell you OUR side of the story and then you can decide if we did right by this customer or not.

Here’s the short version…on the first call, we found the unit was not well maintained and failed as a result of clogged filters. One month later the unit failed again due to a motor problem that we did not immediately diagnose. Because the motor was failing intermittently and never failed when we were actually present, we initially thought the failure was due to other worn parts, which were changed out. After changing these parts, the unit started and heated for several hours. When the unit failed again, we found the motor tripped, changed it out and the unit worked perfectly. The customer called and asked for a credit. We agreed to a credit for the parts that were changed before the motor. They were worn, but they may or may not have caused the earlier failure. The customer accepted and agreed to pay in full. Then, another month later, before the check arrived, it was canceled due to an unrelated thermostat failure that caused the heat to go out again. The unit was and is, to my knowledge, still running just fine. The thermostat failure is completely unrelated to any work that we did.

Troubleshooting, by definition, is a process of elimination…sometimes we guess wrong. But if you could be 100% sure after two hours of testing that a $100 part WASN’T the problem, you’d have spent $200 in labor to save $100 on a part. That’s not good math either.

Our after-hours dispatcher did, in fact, hang up the phone on the customer, but only after she yelled and swore at him. At this point, a Better Business complaint was filed requesting that the small amount we were initially paid to change the filters (which were very dirty and needed to be changed) be credited in full. Despite feeling like we behaved like a responsible business every step of the way, we wanted to resolve the compliant, so we grudgingly agreed to credit the customer in full. This leaves us completely unpaid for the work that we did, and she with a unit with clean filters and a new motor that is heating just as it should, without paying a dime. This doesn’t seem fair.

I understand how frustrating call backs can be. I get it. But a call back alone is not a good reason to not pay a bill. Troubleshooting, by definition, is a process of elimination. We rely on instruments and tests to help pinpoint the problem, but sometimes it’s impossible to know for sure which or how many parts are faulty until you change one or more of them. And believe it or not, sometimes it’s actually cheaper and more expedient to change out the most likely parts and let it run to see what happens. If you could be 100% sure after two hours of testing that a $100 part WASN’T the problem, you’d have spent $200 in labor to save $100 on a part. That’s not good math! Nine times out of ten, changing the part does the trick the first time and everybody is happy. One time out of ten, it doesn’t work and there is a call back. Does that mean that part wasn’t bad? Not necessarily. It might mean that more than one part was causing the problem.

Before you decide to throw away a bill – or worse, a whole company – over a call back, find out what was done and why. If the answers still don’t make sense, well, maybe you do need to part ways. But remember, there are probably hundreds or even thousands of moving parts to your unit and the controls that make it function. It’s not impossible that more than one part would fail at the same time. Sometimes the malfunction of one part can cause another part to weaken and eventually fail.