Wednesday, June 24, 2009

New Poll: What to do about the deck cleaning company?

Alright, I'm gonna toss this one out to the peanut gallery and ask for your inputs how to proceed.

Our deck was in need of cleaning and sealing. I called around a few places and got a few estimates.

I called one business to schedule an appointment for the cleaning and sealing. The secretary on the phone said I could sign up for Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday the following week (the week after Memorial Day).

The company said they would remove a barbecue grill, a table, and four chairs from the deck, and anything else above and beyond that would have to be removed before they arrived. I knew I had another commitment on Tuesday night and wouldn't be able to clear the deck off that night, so I did not want Wednesday. I asked for a Thursday appointment so I could clear the deck off Wednesday evening.

This was all done over the phone. No email or other written contract was provided to document the agreement.

For two reasons that aren't really pertinent to the matter at hand, I decided I needed to cancel the appointment. Since Monday was Memorial Day, I couldn't get ahold of the company then. I was very concerned to get in touch with them first thing Tuesday morning to get my job OFF their schedule for the week.

Tuesday I called the company, gave them my name and address and said I would like to cancel my appointment for Thursday. The secretary on the phone searched their records and said she could find no appointment for me on their agenda.

Uhhhh... okay. Well, I guess this whole telephone reservation thing didn't work out with them and I don't have anything to worry about then.

Wednesday afternoon, my phone rang at work, and my very confused wife reported she just got home to find all the stuff had been moved off our deck and it looked like someone had cleaned our deck, and there was an invoice from the company hanging on the front door.

I called the deck cleaning company and left a message there, and I sent the owner an email expressing my concern that his company (a) wasn't supposed to do any work until Thursday, and (b) wasn't supposed to do any work PERIOD because I called to cancel the day before. The owner very quickly responded to my email via BlackBerry and said he would look into it.

That was the last I heard from the company for a couple of weeks.

...Then I received the bill in the mail for the deck cleaning.

I tried calling again and left a message again. I emailed again and said I didn't think I should be charged for unauthorized work.

The owner claims they maintain a log of all phone calls and have no record of me calling on Tuesday. He said he asked each of his 3 staff members if any of them remember me calling, and they all said no. Since he has no record of me calling to cancel, he said the charge for the deck cleaning stands.

So am I totally out to lunch here?

I think the company made four errors:

Error #1) They scheduled the appointment for the wrong day. I asked for Thursday, and they put it on their schedule for Wednesday.

Error #2) They didn't follow up with any sort of email or written form of contract to confirm the scheduled date the work was to be performed.

Error #3) When I called to cancel the appointment, the lady didn't see my name on the Thursday schedule, so she couldn't cancel it. This is error-carried-forward from Error #1 and 2 above. If I had something in writing with a job order number on it, then I could have referenced that when I called to cancel.

Error #4) When the deck cleaners arrived at our house and found a LOT more than just a barbecue grill, table, and four chairs on the deck, they didn't stop to ask if this was okay. I had: barbecue grill, patio table, 6 patio chairs, kid's picnic table, an end table, two large potted plants, two hanging baskets with plants in them, two metal hanging hooks for the plants, four tiki torches, and a tupperware bin with a bunch of kids toys in it. This would have been a great opportunity for the company to call and say, "Hey, we're here to do the work on your deck, but you didn't clear the deck off in accordance with your part of the (verbal, not written anywhere) agreement. Would you like for us to remove the additional items for an additional fee?" Then we could have said, "No! Stop! Do NOT pass go! Do NOT collect $200!" (literally) "You are NOT authorized to do work on our house!"

The owner continues to insist that he has meticulous records of incoming phone calls and claims that I never called, so therefore I owe him for the deck cleaning that was done.

So, dear peanut gallery, what say you? What's my next move?

Before reading any farther, please give it a moment of thought and jot down what you would do. I don't want your opinion to be biased based on my personal thoughts to follow.

(Intermission - Click on the "Post a Comment" link and tell me what you think.)

Here are my thoughts and ideas on potential courses of action:

- Don't pay him. Blow it off. I don't think blowing it off is a good idea. My concern with doing that is my continued efforts to get my credit score back up to normal, and what if he submits this to a collection agency and it adds another negative bullet on my credit report. Plus, the bill says they will start charging interest on past-due balances over 30 days old, so he's just going to claim that I owe him more and more money over time.

- Don't pay him. Tell him I refuse to pay and that I will file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau if he continues to harass me for payment of work that was not authorized. This could still result in him sending something to a collection agency and negatively impacting my credit score.

- Offer him a choice / ultimatum. Tell him I will pay him, but if I do, it will come with a complaint to the BBB and a negative-press campaign against his company on the internet via websites like Yelp and my blog. ("Watch out! He's got a blog!!!") Alternatively, if he waives the deck-cleaning fee, then I will agree not to file any public complaints on BBB, Yelp, or anywhere else. (Is that considered blackmail?)

- Pay him for the work performed, and post my comments about his business on BBB, Yelp, my blog (i.e. add the name of the company to this here blog post).

- Pay him for the work performed and call it a done deal. They did DO the work, the economy isn't doing so well, and it's not like I don't have the money to pay it - it's just the principle of the matter.

P.S. Don't let this information sway your input one way or the other, but interestingly enough, when I went to the BBB website, I discovered this company has a grade of "C-" due to:
    Reasons for this rating include:
  • Number of complaints filed against business
  • Number of complaints filed against business that were unresolved
  • Length of time business has taken to resolve complaint(s)
Hmmm... Note to self: Next time, look up the BBB rating BEFORE scheduling the business to do the work.


Ruth said...

Before reading your options, I have several thoughts:
(1) What phone did you use to call the company on Tuesday a.m? Can you get the phone records to prove you did call them?

(2) Is there a TV station with a "Call for Action" type service? Publicity of that negative sort may well be something company wants to avoid.

(3) Finally, when neither of these works, there is the legal route.

Hilary said...

OK.. I'll post what I think, then go back to my Reader to finish the rest of your post.

If they did a good job - one that you did intend to pay for once a convenient time was established, I'd pay for the amount that had been agreed upon in your original phone call. I would insist that they absorb the additional cost charged to you for removing items that would have been elsewhere if you had been expecting them. I'd ask them to kindly check their phone records for the two additional phone calls for which you should be able to supply precise dates and approximate times to confirm your cancellation and attempted cancellation.

If you're fair and reasonable in your approach, they will hopefully treat you as fairly in return.

Jeff Putnam said...

It's pretty clear he doesn't much care about his BBB rating, or he would have cleared up earlier problems. It's also clear he's lying - he's quite aware that his customer service has issues, or he's living in la-la land.

That said, it's not kosher to blackmail. Either file a complaint or don't, but don't threaten to.

I personally would pay the bill - you did get the work.

kelly said...

Something to think about... this spring we ordered custom cabinets. The owner came out to measure and we paid half down. When the cabinets arrived it was realized that she measured wrong. She said she didn't measure wrong, wouldn't come and remeasure and avoided all calls from us. Finally my husband found her at the shop and said "either you measured wrong or I shrunk the wall" A replacement cabinet was ordered and when it arrived, it was the wrong color. The delivery guys had a bill in hand for the 2nd half, payable right then. I called the owner and said I would pay the bill minus $500.00 (the cost of the wrong cabinet) and would pay full on delivery of the correct cabinet. She said if I didn't give the delivery guys a check for the entire amount, she would go to the courthouse today and file a lien against my house. Guess what, she could legally do that even though we were not satisfied with goods and service. Our only recourse was BBB and word of mouth. I don't know if VA law differs from CO, but a lien on your house from this punk would be no bueno.

Sagey said...

The thing that irks me the most is that we would have had the guy complete the job if he had actually returned Blunoz's phone calls. When we didn't hear back from him, we hired someone else to finish the job and then we received the bill, so now we have to pay twice? This whole thing is just a big mess.

Hilary said...

Now I'm confused. I was probably confused before but now I'm just more so. ;)

Which company did what work? Did the company which you refer to throughout the post just clean but not seal? And did a new company come to do the sealing? That sounds like two different billable tasks that either of these companies would consider as individual expenses, so I'm not sure how it's paying for the job twice. In what time span did company B come around after your phone calls to company A? It's sounding more complicated .. to my confused brain, that is. :)

Sagey said...

Sorry Hilary... Company A that Blunoz is writing about was initially hired and then cancelled. But they showed up anyway and only power washed the deck. We tried to get in contact with them and after about a month of not hearing from them and a month of constant rain, we hired Company B. They power washed again (I wouldn't have sealed it after a month between the power wash and the seal, especially with all the rain we had). So basically we had the deck power washed twice because Company A never got back to us.

blunoz said...

Unfortunately, I made the call from work, so I don't have a call log to prove that I made the call.

C said...

I read everything before posting here, but I'd definitely pay the bill and then call the BBB to file a complaint. Then blog about it and review the company on Yelp, Google, etc. Don't threaten a BBB call... That won't help anything and will just frustrate all parties.

C said...

Also, I'd complain to the city's chamber of commerce.

blunoz said...

Oh, another odd thing I just remembered.

When I called to make the initial appointment, I gave them my credit card number to pay a deposit.

When I called to cancel and they said they didn't have a reservation for me, I thought that was odd. So I went to our online banking system and looked for the credit card charge for the deposit.


They never charged us the deposit, so I figured they just lost my reservation altogether since there wasn't anything on their schedule and they didn't charge me the deposit.

blunoz said...

I've received a LOT of responses to this poll on Facebook, here in the blog comments, and on private email. The consensus among the peanut gallery seems to be:

1) Pay them so they don't put a lien on our house or refer us to a collection agency and damage our credit score.

2) File a complaint with the BBB, Google, Yelp, my blog, and the chamber of commerce.

All in favor?

Hilary said...