Not Working

Perhaps you’ve noticed that way too many things don’t work, no matter how many elaborate systems and procedures are in place to assure that they do and no matter how many people are employed to troubleshoot them.

I’m talking about ordinary things like trying to get an adjustment on your cable TV bill or having something delivered when you need it or undertaking a simple home improvement. Even when you actually get what you need, you’re likely to spend more time and energy than you intended.

Take my new kitchen floor. Please. It’s a nice floor, bought from a nice store and installed by people who are courteous and efficient. So what’s the problem?

Well, what should have been a pretty easy, one-day installation project dragged out over three weeks because several bits of crucial information were not communicated to the people who needed them.

I wanted a new floor, but knew that the existing floor needed repairs and some preparation before the new one could go in. There was a soft spot from an old washer leak and the floor wasn’t level. I told the salesman about the repairs. Would that be a problem? Absolutely not, he said. Someone would come out to take the measurements and assess the work needed.

But the guy who came to measure was not a problem-assessor. And he didn’t particularly want to hear about my problems because it wasn’t his job to solve them. The actual installers would take care of anything that needed to be done, he assured me.

So the flooring gets delivered, and a couple of days later the installers show up. But guess what? They are surprised to learn that repairs and floor-leveling are needed – nobody told them; and they don’t have the materials they need.

Several hours and several hundred dollars later, the workmen are ready. They move the washer and dryer into the den and begin work. Of course they can’t finish until the next day, because the concrete-like substance they are using to level the floors needs time to dry. I sulk and eat takeout Thai for dinner. My cats sneak into the kitchen and leave little paw prints in the floor-leveling goo.

My husband is conveniently out of town. (“Sorry to go off and leave you to deal with all this,” he says, insincerely, as he backs hurriedly out of the driveway headed for a fall weekend in the mountains.)

The installers return the next day and assure me that the cat mischief will not adversely affect their work. Fortunately, the relocated appliances in the den are not blocking the TV screen, so I can have company over to watch football as the hammering in the next room signals progress on the new-floor front.

At the end of the day, Georgia has soundly trounced Auburn, and I have most of a new kitchen floor. But there are some “transitions” missing – those are the little strips that go over the thresholds where the new flooring meets the carpeting in adjacent rooms. Seems that nobody thought to order them.

There follows a lengthy period, punctuated by many phone calls and many promises, as people try to locate the transitions and get them to the house. But nothing happens.

I remind myself that we are actually paying for this – this is not pro bono work on the part of the retailer. As the third week approaches, I determine I’ve had all the conversations I need to have with intermediaries and go to the top.

I call the store manager. He is surprised, contrite and determined to make things right. Before I know it, there is a flooring convention in my kitchen. The installation manager himself shows up with the installers and no less than five different transition selections from which we can choose.

Within an hour, it’s all done. The store manager calls the next day to be sure I am happy and to hope I will patronize his store again. I tell him we’re taking a break from home renovations for the foreseeable future.

Nothing really terrible happened here. Nobody got hurt, just inconvenienced and frustrated. But this kind of experience – with different specifics, perhaps – is commonplace. It’s not that anybody sets out deliberately to foul things up; but somebody drops the ball, and there is a breakdown in communications compounded by another and another. The combination of high-tech systems and chain of customer-service command and plain old good intentions just can’t compensate.

The end result? Nothing works, at least not the first time.

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