Last week, while retrieving the fan from our basement closet, i noticed my foot steps made a sloshing sound. I stepped back and turned the light on to confirm my suspicion. Our 8 year old General Electric water heater was leaking. Two years after the warranty expired. Great.
This was the last thing I wanted to have to deal with while suffering through the summer's hottest day and as a single parent with a houseful of kids. If anything good could be made of a bad situation it was that I was able to stew in my frustration while the high-pitch sound roaring from my wet-vac muted the squeals of delightful children happy to be running amuck without much parental supervision.
Once the task of sucking up the water was pretty much complete, I sat down at my desk and began to do my homework online. I quickly studied the anatomy of the heater, and experimented with various D.I.Y. problem solving tricks of the trade. But to no avail. Defeated, I returned to my desk and started looking up plumbers.
If you ask me plumbers are like auto mechanics, if you don't know one personally or know what you're talking about, you are pretty much held captive at their mercy. While I lacked the necessary knowledge on the mechanics of plumbing, I still had my online peers to go to for support.
As you can imagine there were thousands of comments, reviews, opinions, all expressing their likes or dislikes of this company or that, the company who got the most positive reviews got my call.
They were friendly, like everyone said. And they were quick to respond to my call, like I had read on the post. Long story short, it took them no time at all to say..."it's broken. you need a new one." Really, no testing or tightening anything? No let's empty it to see where the problem is coming from? Nope, only "It's broken. You need a new one."
After the song and dance about how GE heaters are bad and that the kind he's going to give me are the best. And priced very well. Well, I found his quote to replace and install a new tank less than priced very well. And after pushing back, he shaved off $250. Yet something just didn't feel right. But I don't know much about plumbing other than "It's broke. You need a new one."
When they arrived (nearly an hour late) the next morning I was already armed with information and a price list that I found online. I showed it to the guy who said he paid nearly $550 for it, which included tax but not disposal fees. I was feeling pretty smug thinking this guy might be ripping me off, but at least someone is getting him back. But in less than an hour the old tank was gone and the new tank was boiling away. I couldn't help but ask how he was able to justify charging twice as much as a lawyer ($600) to do a job that required a the effort of unscrewing a few pipes and turning on a few knobs. Not happy with this, he responded with "I am a professional." I'm not sure what he meant but I assumed he meant professional con-artist.
But here's my point. Here I had a stranger in my home. Someone who came to help me in a difficult situation. And here I was, dedicated to treating strangers as if they were Jesus. Yet knowing Jesus would never charge a weeks pay for one hour of service I did what I thought was best, I called him a liar. I totally disregarded him as a human, who like myself was only trying to make a living. However he chooses to go about it is his choice. After a hearty exchange of colorful words and accusations, he pulled out the trump card. Holding up the paper that had my signature agreeing to the quoted price. I had no room to argue. And that's when I remembered my promise to this experiment.
While my credit card information was going through, he asked me where I got the prices for the tank. Here was my time to redeem myself. you see, this stranger and I had something in common. I didn't understand plumbing and he didn't understand how he could use the internet to his advantage.
I showed him how a post or a review could make or break his call volume, I showed him how finding parts beyond his typical supplier could increase his bottom line, and I showed him how D.I.Y. videos that are posted are revealing the trade secrets that have kept prices at a disadvantage. The consumer is fighting back using the internet, and those like him who don't embrace it are going to be shocked to know that they will soon be extinct. We exchanged private business cards and with any luck I can make my money back by getting his company dialed into the 21st Century. While I was still out too much money for a new water heater, Iperhaps the next person he responds to might benefit better than just "It's broke. You need a new one."
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An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”