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Inspecting Complaints

I OFTEN get people telling me that I must have a cushy number just driving around looking at complaints. My response is that if you are looking for a quick route to a nervous breakdown, then it’s a great job. Otherwise forget it.

When I first started out doing this type of work I always took things personally and could never understand why some people were so rude. But having done this job for many years, I have become a lot wiser and more thick skinned. I have also developed a much better understanding of why people react in the way that they do.
A typical investigation starts once my fees have been accepted and both parties agree on how I carry out my site visit. It is amazing how many people tell me: ‘I am paying you, so I want the report in my favour.’

I simply just tell them they are employing the wrong person, and that they should look for someone else. At the end of the day, if you have done everything right then you should have no worries.

Generally I set out from home at around 7.30am and drive to the location of the first inspection which can be anywhere in the UK. My thick skin has prepared me for raised voices the moment I arrive.

Most people just want to get things off their chest. It could be that the complaint has been going on for months. Usually the client is meeting me for the first time and see me as a new ear to bend. So they let fly. Often I just stand there with my mouth shut and let them carry on. Then I remind them that I am here to help resolve the problem so – as the advert says – I tell them ‘calm down dear’, and let me inspect the issues.

After a while the client is better able to understand my position and feels a little embarrassed for their rant. I then often receive an apology. But I fully understand their frustration, especially if the matter has gone on for a long time.

Depending on the nature of the complaint I can be on-site for several hours. I never take my mobile on-site as I think it is rude to be inspecting a floor with the mobile phone strapped to your ear. That is not professional at all.
On completion I often get a stream of quick fire questions on why the problem has happened and what I think should be done. I always tell them that as an independent, I will not discuss my findings on-site. My report will be in writing, so there are no misunderstandings.

That response sometimes doesn’t go down well. But it is the only way to work if you are professional and independent. Otherwise there will be Chinese whispers across the trade.

I then get back in my car and check my mobile which can have around two dozen answerphone messages for me to deal with. Most of those messages are from people or companies asking me to specify a job for them over the phone. A couple are from installers wanting advice.

I don’t mind giving advice to an installer or retailer, but you would be amazed at how often I get calls from someone who has won a large contract and tells me he hasn’t a clue. Would I help him specify, he asks, and what smoothing compound should be use, what glue and how much expansion should he leave. The questions go on, ‘do I run it this way or that way’, ‘how much should I charge’, and so on.

Trying not to be rude, I tell them that I am not a free service. It is hard to believe that any installer would take on a job he doesn’t know that first thing about doing. I even get contractors phoning me saying that one or other manufacturer has told them to give me a call and that I would help them sort out their mess … free of charge, of course. I work for myself and for no other company.

Most compound and adhesives manufacturers have great technical teams, so contact them for advice, assuming you are using their products. I certainly do not recommend discussing your project with one manufacturer and then using someone else’s products.

I am always happy to help any installer, retailer or contractor anytime, but keep it simple. Remember I am not on site, so I can’t advise on how to spec your job. It would be crazy for me to do so.

So having done my first inspection of the day and spending about two hours contacting as many as possible of the people who have left messages on my phone, I set out to my next job. That could be another two hours’ drive.

I then go through the same procedure again inspecting floor. On completion I get into the car, check my mobile and respond to the voice messages.

All in all a typical day involves around 8-9 hours on the road. Believe it or not, a few weeks ago after being on-site for four hours, I returned to my car to find over 60 answerphone messages. Many of those were bookings, so happy days.

Having set out at 7.30am, on an average day I get home at around 7-8pm, have some dinner, and go to my computer and start my reports.

People assume that my whole day just involves site visits. They forget that each visit means me having to do a report which may take hours to write. In the evenings I generally do a couple of hours writing reports until I feel too tired to carry on. Then it is off to bed.

The next morning I start again. One thing I will admit, spending so much time with myself on the road and writing reports, the conversations I have with my shadow keep me amused.

Once completed, each report goes out. It is no surprise that some people who feel that one of my reports is not in their favour, let me know in no uncertain terms. That’s when I need my thick skin to put up with abuse.

My response is always that I can only work to industry standards and manufacturers standards. If their installation has not met these standards, then whose fault is it? If a manufacturer says install the wood floor shiny side up, then install it shiny side up. Don’t install it upside down and complain when an independent says they have done it wrong.

The rewarding side of my work is that I meet a lot of good guys out there who have made a mistake and need help. These are people who have realised their lack of knowledge. They take criticism on the chin and want to learn the correct way. I listen to them and I have all the time in the world for them. OK Sid, how do I do this next time, they ask?

If possible, I always aim for a positive result, even where something looks like turning nasty with possible court action. But for that to happen it is important for both parties to work with each other and with me.

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This article has been reproduced from the Contract Flooring Journal website. You can find them at