The other day a Business News staff member asked my advice on who to call to give her an estimate on a new furnace and central air conditioner. Since I didn’t know any contractors in her immediate neighborhood, I suggested calling on my contractor (who has serviced my furnace and central air unit in the past) and ask him who he might recommend.

She did, and called a couple of other contractors too because she wanted at least three estimates. It turned out to be quite an interesting story that shed some light on the problem with some industry contractors.

One of the contractors she called on (let’s call him “Contractor A”) told her the time when the company could send out a sales representative. Note the phrase told her. The woman on the other end of the line said the latest she could schedule an appointment was 3:30 p.m.

When my coworker stated that both she and her husband worked during the day and would prefer an evening appointment, the voice on the other end of the phone said her company did not schedule evening appointments.

This coworker then asked about a Saturday appointment.

The response: “We don’t schedule appointments on Saturday.”

To that the coworker said, “How are we supposed to do business with you?”

The response: “I don’t know.”

And we’re supposed to be in a service industry.

“Contractor B” said they didn’t come to her side of town but they had an office near her home that she could call. The coworker wanted to know if they were open on Saturday and was told, yes.

So she called. The phone rang, and rang, and rang — no answer and no answering machine. She called the company office on the other side of town and asked why no one was there or why there was no answering machine.

The response: “They’re in and out a lot.”

Now I know what you’re saying — that these are isolated cases and it wouldn’t normally happen. I know that — but they did happen. It’s no wonder our industry gets a shiner every time a customer gets treated like this.

Fortunately, there is a happy ending.

My coworker was referred (by my contractor) to another company, “Contractor C,” on her side of town, a consolidated contractor no less, who performed exceptional service. The sales manager called on them at night and made a professional presentation.

Armed with a “ballpark” phone estimate from Contractor A, who managed to take the time to give a quote over the phone, our coworker now made her decision to go with Contractor C. She said C was exceptional and professional and the work was done to her satisfaction.

Should we base perceptions of our trade on these examples? I say, definitely. Contractors are constantly fighting against the garage and back-of-the-van businesses that lowball them and give them a bad name. But here were two “brick-and-mortar” businesses that didn’t go the extra yard for this prospective customer.

That’s the stigma we must fight to remove, and I hope other contractors who know of this poor customer service in their market take this challenge:

Don’t see poor customer service from a competitor as an opportunity for new business — see it as a squeak that needs oiling, and be kind enough to remind your competitor that what they do affects everyone else in the hvacr trade.

We are a service industry.