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The Complaint Dept.: The Agony of ‘Blocking’ and Other Tales of Woe

MONDAY, JULY 11, 2011

By Burt Olhiser

The recent endless whining and posturing by our political “leadership” on one side of the aisle or another, complaining that they haven’t gotten “enough” from the “other side” and thus are not inspired to action—as if that’s believable—have led me to wonder, what’s the most common complaint you hear from your customers?

And yes, dear readers, my mind does work in strange ways.

But seriously, what is it that your customers try your patience about? Is it the color or sheen of the coatings you apply, your and your crew’s timeliness, the job’s cleanliness, your pricing? What complaints do you hear most often, and what do you do about them? Or is the problem, in your view, insurmountable, and so you let it slide, like water off a duck’s back? Curious minds want to know.

I recall client complaints about a myriad of things, many having to do with my employees or the way the paint “looked” or acted.

One employee-related incident I’ll never forget led to me being called on the carpet big-time because a new hire working on a traveling crew that worked on gas stations was acting a bit unruly; so much so, in fact, that I was forced to fire him on the spot.

What this young man did was to take a shine to the young lady who was working in the food mart at a particular station. To demonstrate his affection, he, in a most mature manner, chased her around and around the food kiosk with a field mouse he had captured in hand. Just then, the station owner walked in.

Needless to say, some strong expletives and objections were aired to the corporate chiefs I worked for, who in turn felt the obligation to extract a pound of my flesh, I can assure you.

Another memorable incident was connected to the appearance and functionality of the coatings we applied. This occurred in the early 1980s, when early VOC restrictions went into effect here in California, causing a switch from alkyd enamels to latexes, which we all hated.

In our first real experience with these paints, we applied gallons and gallons to a brand new, million-dollar custom home, including all the doors. Neither the client nor we were happy with the “ropy” look that these early latex-enamel formulas produced, no matter how skillful the painter.

But what really sent us over the edge was the phone call from the owner one hot Saturday morning, when he could not open any of his painted doors. I showed up with my best attempt at a blank stare—the one suggesting I didn’t have a clue—and learned in time about the phenomenon of “blocking.” This, it turned out, was what had occurred, as the paint in all that heat had glued itself to the rubber weatherstripping. So we unstuck the doors, repaired the ruined paint line, and smeared the rubber weatherstripping with Vaseline, a practical if totally undignified way of solving the problem and complaint.

So, can you top these horror stories? Yes or no, let’s hear about the most common kind of complaint you get from customers:

• Wrong color or sheen?

• Timeliness of you and your crews?

• Cleanliness of your job sites?

• Price of your work?

• Uneven coating appearance?

• Or, do you get no complaints?

Many contractors feel that customer satisfaction is the number one rule on a job. What's the #1 rule for your company on a job?


Burt Olhiser

Burt Olhiser founded Vantage Point Consulting in 1991 after a 15-year stint as a successful Northern California painting contractor. He initially provided safety, training and business consulting services to fellow contractors. He was an instructor at UC Davis’ EPA Western Regional Lead Training Center until the program’s closure, at which time he moved to UC Berkeley's Center for Occupational & Environmental Health program where he still serves today. Burt also served as Environmental Health & Safety Director and Quality Control Manager for one of California's largest industrial painting contractors. A member of SSPC, CSI, PDCA, and NACE, Burt is a CDPH Lead Related Construction Professional, Certified Asbestos Consultant, Certified Professional Estimator, and NACE Certified Coatings Inspector. Burt is a contributing editor to D+D.



Tagged categories: Brushes and rollers; Paint application; Purdy; Contractors; Good Technical Practice

Comment from Paul Graham, (7/12/2011, 9:22 AM)

The most uncomfortable situation is when you are trying to help a friend, neighbor, or family member (for free)and something goes wrong. I tried to help our elderly neighbors one time fix a leak over their enclosed front porch. I tried for six months to fix this low slope roof, and finally called a Roofing Contractor that I did business with. He couldn't find a leak. Finally- by total accident, he put his hand above a second story window and found a hole bigger than his fist. We fixed it and our neighbors were finally happy. Never, ever give up. You heard the saying? "No good turn goes unpunished".

Comment from Jorge Jimenez, (7/12/2011, 11:09 AM)

About one hundred years ago, no, it just feels like that, around 28 years ago we painted the exterior of a home in beautiful, sunny Sherman Oaks, Ca. for an extremely generous and hospitable homeowner, yeah right, anyway all her windows and doors were made of wood and had from 24 to 64 true divided lights around 4" by 8" so it seemed, there were 20 something doors and 40 something windows, so you can imagine hundreds and hundreds of individual small glass panes. Because of this, my father, who started my brothers and I in the trade, bless his heart, insisted on doing all the hand sanding himself and left us to do the priming and finishing, seem he did not wants us to scratch the glass with the sandpaper. About 2 weeks after we completed the project, got paid and were complimented on doing a great job, I got a call from the distraught homeowner telling me she was going to sue us for scratching all her glass and that she wanted all of it replaced at our cost. I asked her if I could come by and take a look and she said they were leaving on vacation and would not be back for 2 weeks, it was then that I could come by and inspect the damage. Well, after 2 agonizing, sleepless, never again will I paint anything and hellish weeks I showed up to her house to see what went wrong. After close inspection I showed her that all her glass was in fact scratched, but from the inside and not the outside as she originally thought, thank God almighty, guess concentrated praying and whining really works. What I did was I took the corner of a razor blade and ran it across the scratches on several panes in the inside and it makes a sound as it hits the scratch, I then took her outside and did the same operation but this time there was no sound from the blade tip. She finally consented and apologized for putting us thru the wringer. Talk about dodging a bullet!!

Comment from Joseph Schinner, (7/13/2011, 11:06 AM)

Sometime in 1987, my paint company sent a batch of my alkyd formula to an industrial finishing line customer in the Deep South. At that time I wrote up and sent the MSDS's on my products myself. Also, Lead was allowed, even in toys, at <0.06% which I made sure my product adhered to with my Pb drier level. The paint was applied to goods not used in the house. 2 days later I got a call from the warehouse foreman at the customer telling me he would not unload my paint because it contained lead. I tried very gently to explain that the paint was okay for him to accept and safe for the sprayers as it met all criteria. This good ole boy re-informed me that he would not accept my paint if there was ANY Lead on his MSDS- PERIOD. So, we took the paint back and I reformulated a batch without Pb drier and wrote up another MSDS and stated that, "There is 'No Lead' in this product". Again, 2 days after shipment I got a call from this foreman calling me a "smarta--, wisea--, Yankee, trying to play games with him"! Dumbfounded, I ask what could be wrong this time since I did everything he asked. "No", he proclaimed, I told you I didn't want any 'Lead' on my Sheet! And you went right ahead and put the word 'Lead' on it to play games with me!" My protestation that 'NO Lead' was meant to emphasize my adherence to his request was lost to a deaf ear. He was going to kick our truck out of his receiving dock and charge us storage if I didn't FAX him a 'no Lead' MSDS by the time he got back from lunch. My compliance was not cheerful.

Comment from Lindsay Blacksmith, (3/30/2021, 6:19 AM)

This is why I take double measures when helping a friend or a family when it comes to concrete. I make sure that I make disclaimer before.

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