News Alert – Exceptional Service is alive & well at Valet Park of America

It may sound cliche, but its true. A really bad customer experience offers an opportunity for creating a POSITIVE outcome and GOOD word of mouth for a company. Case in point: Valet Park of America. These guys manage the parking garage at Albany Medical Center. On a recent visit to the hospital, one of the parking attendants got into a fender bender in the garage while parking my wife’s car.  Not good.

Upon returning to the car, the attendant immediately pointed out the damage, apologized for the incident & assured my wife that they would take care of the expense of the repair. This was later followed up by a phone call to the house. A cynic might think that this was nothing more than  VPA playing CYA, but its not like there was a threat of a personal injury suit here. This was just old fashioned customer service.

Our body shop faxed the estimate to Valet Park of America & VPA quickly made a direct payment to the shop. No jerking around. No money out of pocket. Sweet!

This was followed up one more time with a letter from Michael Chagnon, Director of Quality Control, Valet Park of America. In the letter Mr Chagnon apologized again for the “unfortunate experience” and thanked my wife for her patience. He also included a gift card to a local restaurant and his business card with an invitation to contact him in the future. IMPRESSIVE!

Isn’t it ironic that while Toyota is cutting back on QC, a company like VPA takes it seriously?  It takes a lot to impress me, but I am thoroughly impressed by the actions of Michael Chagnon and Valet Park of America. I would strongly encourage every company to follow their lead when it comes to Quality control and customer service.

Alex DiMeo – A small business hero

I still vividly recall the first day that I met Alex. It was in the summer of 1987. Looking for a Barber Shop where I could consistently get a decent hair cut, I figured a good place to look would be near the hospital. (Hey – doctors need to maintain a professional look, right?) Sure enough, right across the street from the hospital, sat Alex’s Barber Shop.

As I walked in, I found a shop full of patrons waiting for a haircut. Not known for my patience, I turned and walked out, intending to return later. Little did I know that Alex was hot on my heels, and caught me outside the shop. (Mind you, he was in the middle of a hair cut at the time:)

“Hey – where you going?” he asked with a booming voice and pronounced Italian dialect? C’mon in – it won’t be 20 minutes before you get a chair”. I’m not sure if it was the shock of his being so direct or a profound respect for a man so passionate about his work, but I did as Alex asked. I came back in and waited my turn. In less than 20 minutes, Alex had a customer for life.

Alex was another one of those guys that really “gets” customer service. His Barber Shop is the real life “Cheers” where everybody knows your name and they’re really glad you came.  It’s hard to believe that 22 years have gone by.

I fondly recall my young daughter accompanying me to the shop. Alex would make her day by pointing out where the lolly pops were and allowing her to take two! As a right of passage, my son got his first haircut from Alex and delighted in sitting on the child’s carousel style kids chair.  As the years went by we would exchange stories about kids, grand-kids, mortgages, employees, small business, politics, horse racing – just about anything that you would discuss with a friend that you saw every few weeks for 20 + years.

On the morning of  my flight to Las Vegas to attend the PubCon Internet Marketing Conference, I needed to make a quick  trip to see my buddy Alex Dimeo. Despite having a lot less hair than I did 20 years ago, the cruel reality is that it needs to be cut more often (yeah .. counter intuitive, isn’t it). I didn’t see Alex, but it wasn’t uncommon for him to make a coffee run for himself and everyone else in the shop, first thing in the morning.

Since time was tight, I decided not to wait for Alex and took a seat in another Barber’s chair. Not long into my cut, I got a gut check from the guy next to me. “I wasn’t sure that they would keep the shop open after Alex passed.

WTF? Alex was only 59 years old. He was in the last year of his Mortgage. He was looking forward to selling the shop and retiring. How did I know all of this? Alex was more than my barber – he became my friend.

So as it turns out, I was indeed a customer for life. In the 20+ years that I knew Alex he never lost the passion for customer service. If he ever had a bad day, I never knew it. He didn’t just have customers, because everyone that entered that shop was his friend.

I’m going to miss Alex and I feel for his family and friends. He was larger than life and he can not be replaced.  He represented the best in small business and humanity. Rest in peace, my friend.

Contractor from Hell aka John Anderson dba Pro-Tech

As a reader of this blog, you know that I hate getting ripped off. This post deals with a problem that affects many people – a contractor horror story. As a former remodeling contractor myself, getting ripped off by a fellow tradesman REALLY rubs me the wrong way.

This post was inspired by John Anderson of Mechanicville New York. Mr. Andersen was advertising his company, Pro-Tech Masonry on craigslist, the best website on the whole interweb. The heading: AFFORDABLE STAMPED CONCRETE (Saratoga/Capital District), was exactly what I was looking for, so I gave him a ring.  He listed two numbers for his business business: (518) 899-4780 and (518) 466-5439. He came to my house, presented himself very professionally, quoted a fair price & I signed a contract with his company, Pro Tech. (Note that I failed to mention the part where I checked his references or checked out his reputation online. Unfortunately I failed to mention it because I made the classic rookie mistake of not doing it. My bad – aauugh!)

Pro-tech was hired to re-antique & reseal a patterned concrete patio. The sealer bubbled up immediately and the patio was a mess. The contractor from Mechanicville agreed to power wash & redo the job.  Less than one week later, the job was redone, with the same result: a bubbled up mess. John Andersen then agreed to do the job a third time – using a different sealer. His failure to completely strip the sealer from the previous two jobs left the surface with a crazed, pitted and uneven gloss finish. The bubbles also appeared again. Mr Andersen was slow to respond to the third botched job & would not return my calls. He finally did come to my house (when he knew I would not be not home) & left me a note refusing to acknowledge the problem nor honor his guarantee.

Furthermore, John Anderson of Pro-Tech Masonry informed me that if I were to take action against him in small claims court that he would retaliate with a counter suit which would seek to recover court costs and attorneys fees. I’m not sure if Mr Anderson is naive to the rules of small claims or merely bluffing and hoping that I didn’t know any better. Either way, this did not set particularly well with me.

Should you find yourself in this position, I suggest that you follow the same steps that I have taken:

1) Ignore the threats of a counter claim. Courts take a dim view of contractors that ripoff homeowners and I have yet to see a homeowner lose a suit like this. I am not aware of any provision for the party being sued to reclaim his defense expenses in a small claims action.

2) If you are in New York state, file a complaint with the attorney general.  If enough homeowners file a complaint, these guys get shut down and / or sent to jail. I hope this homeowner filed a complaint after getting ripped off by John Anderson.

3)  File a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. Although they have little influence over a lousy contractor, the point is to get the word out & to spare others from suffering the same abuse.

4) Alert others online. Websites like the Ripoff Report , Complaints Board, Yelp and Angies List do a great job of alerting unsuspecting homeowners of the practices of predatory and shoddy contractors like pro tech.

5) Take the contractor to court! If your claim is $5,000 or less you can sue him on your own, without the expense of an attorney. If you are in New York,  check out this Guide to Small Claims Court.

6) Tell all of your friends & co-workers  about your experience. The contracting business relies heavily on word of mouth.The more people that learn about a bad contractors reputation, the better off the community will be.

7) Blog about it:)

I will keep you posted as events unfold. I sure hope that John Anderson treats his customers at Pro Tech Marine, 382 Route 67 Mechanicville, NY 12118-3110, (518) 899-4780 better than the homeowners that hire Pro-Tech Masonry.

Penn & Teller “Get It”

I was in Las Vegas last week for Pubcon, an event dedicated to internet marketing. I happened to be on the same flight as Todd Malicoat, aka stuntdubl. Todd has a reputation as one of the smartest internet marketing minds in the business. He is also widely recognized as being the nicest guy in the world of internet marketing. Todd once again showed his generosity by treating 40 of his friends & colleagues to the Penn & Teller show at the Rio. Thanks Todd!

Penn and Teller are not only great magicians, but they are great marketing guys, too. They aren’t afraid to push the envelope – going so far as to yell “FIRE” in a crowded theater (no kidding) and even blowing up the American Flag (which they make sure the audience recognizes as an illusion). Not many people can get away with that!

At the end of the show, both magicians bolt for the exits – not to escape the crowds, but to GREET the audience as they exit the theater. Both Penn & Teller HAPPILY signed show tickets & posed for autographs with their fans. These are two guys who really understand who pays their way. Sure its old school – and it works! There was a time when most businesses in America treated their customers the way that Penn & Teller treat their audience. Customer service standards seem to be steadily eroding, as I have eluded to in previous posts. It’s a shame that Penn & Teller stand out as the exception, not the rule – but for that very reason – I would encourage you to catch their act the next time you find yourself in Sin City!