Getting to know your customers

It was an early Saturday morning, and I was responding to a call from a new customer. I spoke with the woman on the phone and she quickly described to me what the plumbing problem was.

“My son couldn’t get the shower to work so he began to play with the handle on the shower body and before we knew it there was water everywhere! I have to run out for a bit to bring my son to the airport, he’s going away to camp for a few weeks, the maid will be in the house and I will return shortly,” the woman said.

Hmm, I thought. “OK, sounds good. I will be there soon,” I told her.

She gave me the address, and I hopped into the truck and made my way over to the house. As I approached the neighborhood, the houses began to grow in size.

“Wow, what a nice area,” I said to myself. “These people must be living the good life around here. 262, wow! Nice house. 264, wow! Another nice house. 266, this is it!”

I couldn’t believe my eyes! It was larger than the other huge houses on the block. I turned into the driveway, which easily stretched the length of a football field and eventually made my way to the front of the house. I immediately began to shake my head in amazement. I grabbed my tool bucket and drop light and headed to the front door. I knocked a few times and the maid opened the door and welcomed me into the house.

“Come this way, the bathroom is all the way on the top floor,” the maid said.

As I followed her around the house, I couldn’t help but to look around in each room. There was an arcade room with games, a pool table, ping pong table, and across the hallway was a huge movie theater with arena style seating, a popcorn machine and a cotton candy machine! I thought these homes only existed in the movies. We eventually made our way to the bathroom where the woman showed me the plumbing problem.

“This is it,” she said as she pointed to the parts on the expensive marble top. “Good Luck!”

I chuckled and said, “Thanks!”

After catching my breath from the mile-long walk to the bathroom, I began to dissect and reassemble the foreign shower parts. I was praying that the parts simply just got pulled off and needed to be tightened. Because the only way I was getting replacement parts for this shower was to call the manufacturer, which was probably some place overseas.

I managed to conquer the task with only a few, “Why the ****?”

“Is this not fitting?”

“These stupid expensive pieces of junk!”

Let’s be honest, we’ve all had these moments. If you say otherwise, you’re simply lying. I had the water back on and the shower functioning properly in about 20 minutes.

After patting myself on the back for a job well done, I began to wrap up my tools and head back out to the truck to fill out the invoice. Just as the thought crossed my mind the front door opened and a yell came from downstairs.

“Sean! Are you upstairs!? I’m back from the airport, how are things going up there!?” the homeowner asked.

She could have whispered and I still could have heard her voice from the echoes within the McMansion.

“Everything is going well, Mrs. Green. Just wrapping up!” I replied.

“Wonderful! I’m making some coffee. Would you like a cup?” Mrs. Green asked.

I paused. “Sure!” I said.

I had nothing lined up for the rest of the morning, so why not? Plus, it would give me a chance to find out what this lady was all about, how she got this home, and hear some of her, I’m sure, very interesting stories. Before I knew it, I had a cup of coffee in my hands and I was standing in her beautiful living room looking out her giant windows that overlooked the Hudson River. We began our small talk and started to discuss the effects of Hurricane Sandy on her home, which sat only 50 feet from the shoreline.

“Come with me down to the river and I will show you some of the damage. Bring your tools because I’ll have you fix a leak underneath the outdoor kitchen sink,” she said.
We made our way down the winding stairs, which opened up to a beautiful outdoor seating area, bar, grill and kitchen. She showed me where the leak was coming from, and I began to squeeze underneath the sink to fix the problem.

“So, Mrs. Green, how long have you lived here?” I asked.

She replied, “About six years.”

“It’s a gorgeous home, I must say,” I replied.

“Thank you, it’s becoming too much for me though, I think I will be selling it shortly,” she said.

As she answered, I was cautiously looking around under the sink for any unusual creepy crawlers.

“So, you have any kids?” I asked.

I heard NO response! “Oh, no,” I said to myself.

I managed to wiggle out from the tight cabinetry and remove the cobwebs from my hair and mouth. I looked up at Mrs. Green, her head was hung low and tears began to fall from her face. She turned away embarrassed and looked out towards the river.

“I had two sons…I lost my 16-year-old about a year ago,” she explained.

She began to wipe her eyes and try to collect herself.

I took a deep breath and shook my head, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t know.”

We then began to share stories about life and I shared my tough times in losing my mother at such an early age. We had a wonderful conversation for the next 10 minutes while I fixed the sink. I never thought that I would share something in common with Mrs. Green that Saturday morning. I will admit, I immediately judged her and chalked her up to be this wealthy, stuck-up, I’m-better-than-you customer. Boy was I wrong!

I learned a very valuable lesson that morning. Never assume what kind of customer you’re going to meet and encounter. Yes, she owned a beautiful home and I never thought for second I would meet this mystery wealthy woman. I thought I would accomplish the work at hand, leave an invoice, and receive a phone call wondering why the job cost that much. However, the job was finished, Mrs. Green personally handed me a check with a huge smile on her face.

“Sean, it was wonderful meeting you. Your mother did a wonderful job in raising you. You made my day today. Thank you for listening to me,” she said.

I never thought for a moment that this call would end with a comment like that, some tears, and a giant hug.

As my father always told me and my co-workers, never judge any customer on their appearance or their home's appearance, regardless if they live in a McMansion or if they live in a cockroach infested hole in the wall. You should always give your all and apply your professional plumbing skills and good manners to each job. Always, respect the customer and clean up behind yourself.

I know for a fact the next time Mrs. Green needs plumbing work done in her home, she will not hesitate to pick up the phone and call us. Spending that little bit of extra time talking with her that morning and listening to her, will only lead to good things and possible referrals from people she knows.

Sean McCormack is co-owner of BMC Plumbing and Heating Inc. He can be reached at, or (845) 596-7770. Visit Sean’s website,

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