Never mind the national shortage of plumbers faced by today's consumers- if you schedule a visit with a local plumbing service, you can encounter a wide array of experiences. From mom-and-pop companies, to one man operations, to national franchises, plumbing companies operate as uniquely as plumbers themselves (and one of the first bits of sage wisdom I ever received about overseeing a plumbing department was that managing plumbers is like herding cats).
From an administrative standpoint, there may be many different paths to the same end. From a customer service standpoint, however, there are some basic standards that can help a homeowner know if they have called the right company, and if they are getting the best value for their money. I have chosen four of what I consider to be the most important aspects of basic customer service in the plumbing trade; understanding the process can help you make an educated decision the next time you call a plumber.
1) Communication. When you called to schedule service, were you asked if an open appointment suited your schedule, or did the dispatcher give you a single day and time along with a "take it or leave it" attitude? You should expect to be a given an arrival window- for example, "Andrew should be at your house between 12:00 and 3:00 PM tomorrow." The office should notify you when your assigned technician dispatches on the day of the appointment. If a technician is earlier than the promised arrival time, or if they are going to be late, the company office should notify you ahead of time and offer to reschedule if the updated time doesn't work for you.
Plumbing is unpredictable, every repair is different, and it is virtually impossible for every plumber to know when they will arrive on a job at the beginning of a workday. That being said, the best companies work hard so that you know within a reasonable window when your plumber should arrive. If the plan changes, you should be notified promptly. Telling someone "We'll have someone out within a week or so" simply won't cut it.
2) Professional Decorum. Plumbing is difficult and often dirty work. When your plumber arrives, do they have a professional appearance, or are they wearing a filthy uniform? Are they wearing shoe covers or offering to take their shoes off to protect your floors? If a plumber arrives in his sweatpants and an avalanche of Slim Jim wrappers cascades onto your driveway when he gets out of his van, what are the odds of his plumbing work being neat and meticulous? It's difficult for service plumbers to stay clean, but it's not difficult to keep a spare uniform on your van. Anyone who wants your business should be willing to respect you and your home. Find a plumber you like and request him or her by name in the future.
3) Up-Front Pricing. The reality is that plumbing is expensive, because its expensive to be a plumber and expensive to employ plumbers. As a customer, you have a right to know what your final bill is going to be when your invoice is filled out. At Backup Plumbing, flat rate pricing is utilized to make sure that pricing stays fair. Flat rate pricing means that for the most common tasks, a single price which includes labor and materials is offered to every customer who needs that repair. It's like a price menu. Even contrasted with plumbers who price based on time and materials, a price should be offered before the work begins. On rare occasions I have had something unexpected or unforeseeable come up in the course of a repair, but I always stopped, informed the customer of the situation, and got their approval on an updated price before continuing my work.
You wouldn't take your car to a mechanic who tells you "We can repair it for $500 to $2000 dollars." In the same way, every experienced plumber should let you know what to expect as far as the cost of a repair, and with the exception of rare circumstances, should honor the price that was agreed upon once the repair is complete.
4) Warranties. Every company I have ever worked for warrantied repairs for 6 months to a year, and warrantied replacements (i.e. a new water heater or faucet) for 1 year. As a customer you should be informed of the warranty included in the price of your plumbing services, and if a technician is not willing to warranty something be sure to have them explain why. They should document this on your invoice. At Backup Plumbing, we offer a 2 year warranty for repairs and a 3 year warranty for replacements. A warranty is an indicator of how confident a company is in the craftsmanship of its technicians.
If you manage to find a Plumbing Company who meets all of the above criteria, you can reasonably expect to pay for a plumbing service that will last beyond its warranty, performed by a technician who respects you and your home and works to ensure that you get an excellent value for the price.