Contractors Please Read This!

“The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem.”   – Theodore Rubin

More years ago than I care to admit, on my first paid (and part time) super job, I once made an appointment with a plumber to do non-emergency work in one of the building’s apartments.

Management had given me a specific contractor to call. Although I had strong reservations about this particular plumbing company based as much on the company’s sheer size as on a previous experience with the firm, I made the appointment. I explained that I had a full time job elsewhere and other buildings that I was responsible for, and requested that this work be scheduled so that it could be finished before 2pm, when I would have to leave the building and get on to my other job (the one that paid the bills).

I was led to believe that my predicament was understood, and we agreed on a very specific range of time when a crew would show up the next day, which would, if strictly adhered to, have give me sufficient time to finish the job and be prepared for my 2nd job.

“Time is the scarcest resource and unless it is managed nothing else can be managed.”  – Peter F. Drucker

After the plumber was a full hour and a half late, I called the office to inquire when I could expect them. Inexperienced I was aplenty. I should have known, nevertheless, that it was bad form to tick off the scheduling guy, and I MAY have been a tad frustrated and it MAY have shown – just a tad little bit.

“Look, dude, I have over a hundred trucks out there – you’re not the only customer we have – understand?” was his response. “We’ll get to you when we get to you.”

It was all deal with it or get someone else, I don’t care.

I realized it was no use to detail (again) my reasons for having requested a certain slot of time and, silly me, having actually expected them to keep their appointed time, and for being somewhat less than nonchalant when they were late. I swallowed hard and rescheduled the appointment.

One of the regular occurrences that is continuously frustrating to me as a now long time professional resident manager is that a contractor will rarely show up when promised.

“Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance or a stranger.”  – Franklin P. Jones

“Call me if your crew is running significantly late, Mack,” I plead. “No problem,” my current plumber’s scheduler invariably says. Each time it’s no problem, and every time it’s me who ends up calling him to inquire, only to be told that the crew can’t possibly arrive at my building today because they’re taking care of a real emergency, or will be three hours later than originally promised.

An hour, two hours late, I’m not making an issue of such tardiness. I have plenty on my plate and don’t have to kill time thinking of things to do and waiting for a contractor to make himself visible.

I think, however, for even the most inattentive and careless, there should be a cutoff point after which the contractor will call if he’s running late, a point at which he will either reschedule or cancel altogether, putting our heads together on a new appointment.

No apology or explanation needed – just call. I shouldn’t always have to pursue him. It’s just common courtesy, no?

The stickiest problems arise when work is scheduled to be done in a resident’s apartment, the resident and the super are both expecting the contractor to show up at the appointed time (again, give or take an hour or so) and it all turns into a no-show. Complications crop up when the contractor doesn’t call to make us believe he cares.

“Fix the problem, not the blame.”  – Japanese Proverb

“I’ll be there at 7am on Monday,” a kitchen installer told me last week after I promised I would get him into an empty apartment ahead of the normal building opening time – IF he would promise to make no noise before 9AM. At 8am he still hadn’t shown. I called him. He picked up his cell phone on the second ring and instantaneously spilled a story of co-workers in the hospital and how he couldn’t make it today. Fine.

All I could think of (but didn’t say for the sake of speed, efficiency and getting on to the next item on my too-long to do list) was “Why could you pick up the phone immediately when I called, but could NOT pick up the phone anytime before that to call ME and let me know you wouldn’t be showing today? What – too complicated for you?”

The fact that I didn’t bother to protest and was little surprised demonstrates long experience, if not patience or understanding, with contractors: it just happens, and it happens so much and in such rapid, almost daily succession that we hardly notice it, and indeed come to expect it. Even plan for it at times.

“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.”  –Carl Sandburg

We shrug our shoulders, work around it and think little or nothing of it for the most part, except for the most outrageous cases.

Truth be told, in the case of the kitchen guy I was so sure it would happen based on my past experience with contractors in general and this fellow in particular that I didn’t bother to notify the residents of the 2nd apartment scheduled to get cabinet work done on the same day. And, well, I was right.

“No problem, John,” says my current plumber’s office person each time I remind him yet again to give me a quick jingle if his plumbing crew is running late by an hour or more. He promises, and each time I believe this will be the time he keeps his promise. Each time he fails the simple test.

Today the plumber was 3 hours late when I finally called to reschedule. We made a new appointment for the next day between 10 and 11am. But not before I jokingly yanked his chain, chiding him for forgetting me so easily.

“There ought to be so many who are excellent, there are so few.”  – Janet Erskine Stuart

Am I the only one who finds this to be tedious, mind-numbing and unacceptable behavior for professionals? Where’s the professionalism? The common courtesy? The consideration by one professional for another, for which your company would like to earn further work in the future?

Perhaps we tend to get so little respect when we frequently expect so little. Or possibly we come to expect such disrespect because we are so often treated with such slight care and little respect.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Life is like that. Sometimes you think you know something, then you don’t. Sometimes it’s all relative, and occasionally it’s all relatively silly.

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