Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Mr. Rooter, chapter 2

Way back in February, I wrote about my unhappy experience with a plumbing outfit called Mr. Rooter. You can read that post here, but the story in a nutshell is that a Mr. Rooter plumber showed up at our house to clear a clogged drain, and collected $492 for his work. The next morning the drain was clogged again, the plumber returned, but said it would be another $600-$800 to clean the drain, and he got belligerent when I suggested that I should get credit for the money I had paid the day before. He eventually left, and we had a local plumber clear the drain (which has had no problems since then.)

Fast forward now to sometime in March, after I posted my blog about the incident. I got a call from a warm, friendly woman in Mr. Rooter's office in Rochester. She couldn't have been nicer, and said that they had reviewed my situation. She stressed that what I had written was "very accurate," and she apologized over and over again for the trouble. She said the plumber in question had been spoken to, that he had been told he acted inappropriately, that he should have honored the coupon I offered, and that all Mr. Rooter services come with a free return visit if the problem persists. She apologized again and again, and said that I would be receiving a refund.

It was GREAT customer service, and I thanked her for her time.

Then a month went by...no refund.

And another month went by...no refund.

Finally, on May 18, I called back to Mr. Rooter, using the phone # that they had called me from on my cell phone. Again, I got to talk to a very pleasant woman, and explained my situation. I said that I didn't know who had called me, but that it had been someone from this number. I had been promised a refund, and that I hadn't heard anything back in two months. Could I please speak with the woman who called me back in March?

This warm, friendly woman asked me my name, and I could hear her punching something up on her computer. Apparently she started reading some notes that were associated with me, and said something like, "Oh, the person you talked to back then doesn't work here anymore."

I said that I understood, and explained the situation to her. She said, "Yes, it looks like you were supposed to be sent a refund. I'm going to talk to the owner, and one of us will call you back."

Well, it's now been another two months, and I still haven't gotten my call back from Mr. Rooter. So apparently are they notso-hotso at plumbing work, but they aren't all that great at following up with their customers, either.

I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Blood on San Francisco's hands

It was three years ago this week that a beautiful, brilliant young woman named Clarisse Grimes was killed in St. Paul by an illegal immigrant who had already been deported, but returned to the U.S. illegally. I wrote about Clarisse and her tragic end here.

So it was "deja vu all over again" last week when another beautiful young woman, Kate Steinle, was shot to death by an illegal immigrant on the San Francisco waterfront. The killer, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, has several felony convictions on his rap sheet, and had been deported five times, but continued to illegally enter the U.S.

All of this was known at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which recently had custody of Lopez-Sanchez, but turned him over to San Francisco authorities so they could prosecute him on a drug charge. ICE also filed a "detainer," instructing San Francisco authorities to turn Lopez-Sanchez when they were through with him. Here's where the outrage begins.

San Francisco ignored the detainer, and let Lopez-Sanchez walk free. Why? Because San Francisco is a "sanctuary city," where officials have decided they will ignore requests from immigration so that illegal immigrants are free to move about their city. Lopez-Sanchez has reportedly admitted that he returned to San Francisco specifically because he knew of the sanctuary city status, and knew he wouldn't be hassled about being in the country illegally.

Oh, but that's just loopy, crazy, San Francisco you might think. Surely no other big city is dumb enough to hang out a "Welcome" sign for criminals from other countries.

Wrong. There are more than 200 "sanctuary cities" in the United States, including - here in Minnesota - both Minneapolis and St. Paul. That's why the guy who killed Clarisse Grimes was on the street: He had been arrested for driving without a license just a short while before killing Clarisse, but St. Paul's sanctuary city policy let him go.

Imagine that: The same government that expects you to pay your taxes, obey the speed limit, shovel your sidewalk, etc., etc., etc., suddenly decides that the law doesn't apply to them if an illegal immigrant is involved.

I'm undecided as to whom to support for President next year, but the first candidate who pledges to withhold all federal funding from sanctuary cities has my vote.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Meeting - and saying goodbye to - Mr. Rooter

Regular readers will know that over the years I've used the blog a number of times to point out remarkable customer service, whether it came from Sprint, Northwest Airlines or whomever. This, however, is NOT one of those stories.

In front of our house sits a beautiful dogwood tree that is at least 40 feet high and spreads wonderful, cooling shade in the summer over the entire house. The downside of this great tree is that it has a deep, complex root structure that sometimes causes problems with my plumbing.

The problem first reared its head about five years ago, on the same weekend that my daughter Erin was getting married. We woke up to a basement floor that was flooded with some really yucky, smelly backed-up water just a day before a number of guests and family would be at the house. A quick call to a plumbing acquaintance brought some help, and was quite instructive. He ran a camera down the offending drain and showed me how roots from the tree had worked their way through the underground pipe that runs from the house to the street, and he then used something called a power scrubber to blow away the roots and open the drain. He also explained that this was only a temporary solution, and that over the years, the roots would grow back and eventually cause the same problem.

Fast forward five years, to a couple of weeks ago, when the drain began to back up onto the basement floor again.

Luckily - or at least we thought it was lucky - we had just received a postcard in the mail from an outfit called "Mr. Rooter." It had a local phone number, as well as a coupon that promised $51 off of "any plumbing service." So we decided to give them a call.

Within a few hours a fellow from Mr. Rooter arrived. I explained the root history problem and he said that for about $350, he could run a cutting blade down the drain that would cut away some of the roots and get the water flowing again. It wouldn't be a permanent solution, he explained, and said that eventually the pipe would need "hydro scrubbing" again. Which I understood, and acknowledged that we would have to have that done later, perhaps this summer.

So he went to work, and within a few minutes he said there was a problem. On the basement floor there is a metal cap that needs to be opened in order to access the drain, and he said he was unable to open that cap because it had become "fused" to the floor. Instead, he would have to take out the downstairs toilet and access the drain pipe through there, and it was going to be another $145 or so. Again, I said "fine" and left him to work.

A couple hours later he finished. It was, he explained, a difficult job because the roots were getting thicker, and the hydro scrubbing should definitely come sooner, rather than later. For the time being, however, he said the drain was "50 percent clear" and would at least get our daily plumbing functioning normally again. I was happy with the service, and we sat down at the kitchen table to settle up the bill.

Except there was no bill to show me, because the Mr. Rooter guy keeps track of everything on a little tablet computer, and without a printer, there was no paperwork. But he said the total came to $512, and that didn't seem horribly out of line and I was okay with that. As I took out my checkbook I showed him the coupon THAT HIS COMPANY HAD SENT TO US and said, "Well, this will take a little bite out of it."

No, he explained, that coupon wasn't valid because "that's only for plumbing." I sort of half-chuckled at the notion that taking out a toilet, cleaning a drain and re-installing the toilet wasn't "plumbing," (What WAS it? Carpentry? Masonry?) but I said okay and started to write the check.

He then said that there WAS an internet coupon that would let him take $20 off the bill. That mollified me a little, and so I wrote a check for $492 and some change. He couldn't give me a receipt, however, because all his "paperwork" was on the tablet, but he offered to email me a copy of the bill later. Again, I was fine with that.

Later that night the email arrived, and I opened the attachment to look at the bill.What jumped out at me was the first item on the bill, which was a $15 "fuel surcharge."

I'm familiar, of course, with fuel surcharges. UPS, which I use to ship a lot of items, will tack on a fuel surcharge when gas prices get up in the $4.00 range. The airlines, and some trucking companies, use similar charges, and I'm okay with that during times of high fuel prices.

But on the day in question, gas here in the Red Wing area was $1.89 a gallon. Not exactly sky-high prices. And Mr. Rooter had come from Zumbrota, a town about 20 miles away, meaning that even if his truck got a measly 10 miles per gallon, the round trip had cost less than $8.00 in fuel, which makes a $15 "surcharge" seem a little shady. So now, in my mind, there were two little "strikes" against my Mr. Rooter experience - the failure to honor their own coupon, and a fuel surcharge.

Strike three arrived two days later, when the basement floor was once again flooded from the same backed-up drain. Now I was out $492 - including the "fuel surcharge" - and I still had sewage in my basement. Once again, the call went out to Mr. Rooter, and my expectation was to hear something like, "Oh, we're sorry, we'll get right out there and fix it."

That's not what I got.

What I got instead was a promise that the NEXT day, Mr. Rooter might be able to get someone out there in the afternoon, and a warning that in the meantime I should be careful not to run the dishwasher, washing machine, or take a shower.

On the scheduled afternoon, I had to be at a client's office in St. Paul, but Penny was home with her day-care kids and I asked the Mr. Rooter scheduler if she could have the plumber call me when he arrived at the house so I could discuss what we were going to do. And shortly after noon he did call to say he was parked in front of the house. He also said that he had brought along his "hydro scrubbing" machine and was ready to clean out the drain. I asked for a ballpark estimate on the cost, so that I could have Penny ready to write a check. He said it would be "$611 for the first two hours, and maybe about $800 if it takes me longer."

Again, I wasn't terribly upset by the number, but I did ask if I was going to get some sort of allowance for the $492 I had just paid him for work that only left me with a still-clogged drain. That's when he started to get belligerent.

"No," he said. "I told you it needed hydro scrubbing and that you had a real root problem. This is a $50,000 machine, and it costs money to run it and that's the price."

I told him that - as someone who own and runs a business - I completely understood the cost, but I also understood that I felt an obligation to stand behind my work, and I would have a hard time charging one of my clients if my work had been unsatisfactory. Shouldn't a "50% clean" drain stay clear for more than 48 hours? 

"I never said it was 50% clear," he said, in what was a bald-faced lie. "I said right on the write-up that it needed hydro scrubbing."

Of course, if there even was such a "write-up," I never saw it. The only paperwork I had gotten was an invoice with a fuel surcharge on it.

At that point, his attitude and demeanor had gotten so hostile that I decided I didn't want him in the house with Penny and her day-care kids, especially when I wasn't around, so I told him "never mind, thanks for coming out and good bye."

Later that afternoon I called an acquaintance of mine that owns a plumbing company in Red Wing to ask his advice. I hadn't called him originally because I was under the impression that they only did commercial and construction plumbing. Turns out I was wrong, and that they do residential work as well. "We'll come out and power scrub it for you," he said. "It will probably be about $400 and it will get you by a few more years before you have to do something about the pipe."

A couple of his guys showed up the next morning - removed the floor cap that Mr. Rooter guy said was "fused" to the floor - and blew the roots out of my pipe. It was quick, clean and simple, and hundreds cheaper than what Mr. Rooter wanted to charge.  Most importantly, it actually worked, and the drain is flowing free again.

I asked my friend about how I should address the long-term problem of the pipe and the tree roots. Mr. Rooter guy had said they could install a liner in the pipe that would keep the roots out, but that they would need 2-3 days, and it would cost between $4,000 and $6,000. My friend just chuckled.

"We do a lot of jobs where we have to take care of problems from those liners. We'll come out and dig up the old pipe, put a new one in and your problem will be solved forever," he said. "It will take us an afternoon, and I would guess about $3,000."

So I guess this summer or next, we'll have that done, but in the meantime I'm out $492 for a plumbing call that solved nothing. I guess conciliation court is my only option, but of course that means giving up a day to file papers, then go back for court, trying to collect, etc. I'll see if it fits in the schedule, or else I may have to just chalk it up as tuition in the school of "Don't ever call Mr. Rooter." Consider yourself warned.