Thursday, March 31, 2011

IT'S CUSTOMER SERVICE, STUPID

The first 3 days of this week, I've felt like a priest hearing confession.  I'm up to 7 emails from modular home builders talking about the lack of customer service from their factories.  The main culprits are 5 different factories in PA!  That said, it appears that their is a disease running rampant in our industry. 

Here are the symptoms in order of most mentioned:

1.  Drywall cracking and finishing.  Transporting a home over the deteriorating highway system we now have in the Northeast is never easy but try hauling a 16' wide by 54' long module.  You would expect some cracks to appear.  What these builders are complaining about is the severity of those cracks.

One builder in VA received a home with ceiling cracks so wide he was able to put finger through it.  Another had lateral cracks on the walls in every room and another builder received a house with two rooms that were not sanded or painted!  In every instance, the builder was told by the Customer Service rep that drywall problems were the builder's responsibility.

2.  Electrical.  Most of the problems that these builders experienced occurred during final the final electrical inspections before getting their CofO.  Polarity was a major problem along with mislabeled circuit breakers, pinched wires and bare wires inside walls that were connected to the circuit box.  Again, all the CS reps but one told the builder it was the builder's responsibility.  The one that didn't say that credited the builder with $50 on his next house. 

3.  Plumbing.  Hot and cold water running to the wrong side of the faucets, drain lines that weren't glued, showers that leaked onto the downstairs ceilings and water lines that weren't clamped or glued properly were the most common complaint.  Here, most of the CS people told the builder to make the repairs per predetermined dollar amounts and send an invoice to the factory.  After the builders made the repairs, those invoices were never paid.

4.  Wrong materials.  This was a big one.  One builder got the wrong kitchen.  Another builder wanted GBG and got no grids on special order windows.  And yet another received a refrigerator he didn't order but it was put into the kitchen without being strapped down and fell onto the counter top.  The CS rep agreed to replace the counter top but for some unknown reason wanted paid for the damaged frig.  HUH?

I could go on but it would simply be a waste of time.  Customer service is the key to continuing business and these 5 factories are in for a rude awakening.  All these builders are looking for new factories and none of them want anything to do with PA.  

Anyone who reads this blog knows I have a special place in my heart for PA modular factories but what the hell is going on out there. 

Most of the builder's complaints could have been avoided all together if the factories had just some some good quality control before the units left the factory.  Maybe it's not the Customer Service Department that needs fixed, maybe it's Quality Control.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

I would agree. The problem is with Quality Control. And third party inspection.
Every company had a Quality Control manual that has been reviewed and approved by third party agencies and state agencies. Inspections for some of the problems you note are covered in that manual. That manual should be a manufacturers bible and it should be up to date with a manufacturers current practices and materials. In addition, most every state requires a procedure be in the manual for dealing with quality control issues AND for periodic review of those procedures to assure that they are working.
Unfortunately, there has been a lot of employee turn over in the past couple of years and very often new QA people do not even know that the manual exists. Many people see that manual as a necessary evil and something that needs to be submitted periodical to keep their certifications.
The third party's job is to make sure that the Quality Control Manual's procedues are being carried out.
Strict adherence to good Quality Control methods would do much to keep, not only the builders and home owners happy, but would also raise the average potential home buyers perceptions of modular housing.

Anonymous said...

Coach:
As a rep, I have told my builders that when they get this razzle dazzle from customer service, go right back to the standard one year warranty and hit them with it. Excessive sheetrock cracks, electrical problems and plumbing problems are not what the builder paid for and if it means sueing the plant, then so be it!

Anonymous said...

I have worked on both sides of the industry and have seen first hand guilty parties on both sides.

Also, I can tell you that the approach you used in obtaining this information is going to draw all the negativity out of these builders and you are only going to hear it the way they want you to hear it. I do agree the manufacturers sometimes make bone headed decisions, but I have also seen the builders abuse factories to the point where they become gun shy of just taking the builders word for it.

Believe it or not, but I have witnessed builders blatantly lie to the factories:

Here is an example: I saw a builder sign for a delivery, went to set it on the foundation and dropped it with the Crane. Needless to say, the interior took a beating and had major drywall cracks throughout, some even exploded off the walls. They reported it to the factory as, "Thats how it arrived", and when the factory doubted them, they blamed the transportation company.

I could give you numerous stories like this that I have witnessed over the years, so I don't really blame the factories to the level you do.

If you want my true opinion, Lazy & Dishonest Builders/Dealers have made the manufacturers this way.

Coach said...

My point in writing this article was to start a good discussion about factory service. I agree with anonymous 1:31 that there are some builders that take advantage of the factory but after being a general contractor for years followed by a decade as a factory sales rep, I can tell the difference between something the factory could have done and what was done in the field.

I really tried to remember some of the bigger problems I encountered as a sales rep when I was writing this article. I would say that 90% of the problems had their beginnings with the factory. I was fortunate to have worked in the industry before the recession as well as during it and when times were good, service was not a major issue.

Today service is a hot spot with builders and factory owners alike. There isn't a factory in the whole U.S. of A. that intentionally builds a defective house, but when a problem arises at the job site, the factory has to be assured that the problem is their fault and not the builders. That's why the factories need to ensure tighter quality control and a more responsive customer service department. The sales rep has to be the first line of communication between the factory and the builder.

I have never and will never say anything negative about our industry. It just has to step up and figure out a way to let the new home buyer know that modular is the best way to build a home but alienating their builder base is not the way to do it.

Anonymous said...

Why not now go back and look at the other side of the table. Speak with Manufacturers to hear some of the good and the bad that each faces. There are just as many comments about things the "builders" are doing, or not doing. There is an expectation gap that exists i with most builders and the homes they receive, and that comes back to the training that they get, OR in most cases don't get. There was a company, the one with the airport.......that required the sales rep and the builder to sit and go through the Procedure manual and sign off on it. Seeing how some other places operate these days, as long as the check clears life is good. There doesn't seem to be any focus on making sure the builder is prepared for or priced properly.
Thats not to say that factories are perfect, they are far from that, there are alot of new faces, turnover, and lack of training on the floors of these factories can cause alot of the frustration.

Anonymous said...

I am going to build a 5,000 sq ft custom home this year and had spent time and money at looking at modular, after reading all the builder and factory comments, I have decided to go stick-built. I really dont want to be a babysitter to all the bickering that goes on between factory and dealer.

Thanks for helping me decide

Coach said...

I have a hard time believing that one article changed your mind about building a modular home. You were trying to find a reason to justify your preconceived notion that modular wasn't as good as site built and are just using this as the reason.

What you should be asking yourself is whether you want a home built by a general contractor that uses "pick up" labor, buys materials for the lowest price (and quality) and finds the cheapest subcontractors to work on your house or do you want it built in a factory setting by skilled craftsmen and women.

Modular construction is the way to go...always!

Anonymous said...

You need to re-read your articles and comments. There is endless debate about factories and dealers not getting along, not knowing ther marketing and service always an issue.

Posting my comment and then critically commenting, by using the worn-out cliches about modular, is really not right. Perhaps if mod factories actually worked with customers instead of being insular, and actually listening to customers, there would be more houses built modular.

Anonymous said...

There is more to the story about modular dealers and factories not getting along than just service. Once they decide to start really working together instead of against each other, modular will overtake stick built homes.

Modular kitchens manufacturer said...

Great post.......

Darlene said...

to anonymous 5:54. What else would you like Coach to say. You are a bonehead if you change your mind about building a modular house just because a couple of hotheads had some problems with their factories. Are you going to stop buying cars and go back to riding a bicycle because of some factory recalls. Toyota did not go out of business and neither will Ford or GM. Didn't you ever notice the big service departments at car dealerships?
I build modular homes and yes, I've had some problems, but they were taken care of by my factory.

john Haddad said...

The word sales originated from the word service. The "rep" who stated their are builders dropping modular homes on the foundation (rather than gently setting them on the wall) should visit more sets to understand the frustration of the builder after the home is set. I have been to a number of sets as a sales rep to act as a promoter for the builder. When things go wrong at a set, the best place to be is in the factory processing orders. It is imperative for sales, engineering, production, ship loose, the builder and service department to work together. My favorite expression I learned in the modular world is the fish stinks from the head down.

Not all factories are the same, and it is wise for potential builders and home buyers to visit their potential factory before giving a deposit. In addition, builders should always put in a fluff factor in to cover unexpected problems. Site builders and sub contractors do this when they price their homes and so should modular home builders.

SPeterson said...

To Anonymous on Mar 31 at 9:43 AM: I disagree that "The problem is with Quality Control. And third party inspection." Just as Mr. Haddad said, "the fish stinks from the head down." It's easy for a manufacturer to blame a single person/department or an outside entity rather than take responsibility for their own problems.

The phrase "Quality Control" is an illusion that comes from the Mobile Home World. A single person or department cannot CONTROL quality, nor can it be INSPECTED into a modular home. Quality in any modular home starts with the manufacturer's GM and ends with, if necessary, the service department. And it revolves around the customer.

The role of the 3rd party stops when the structural aspects of the home are complete. Cosmetics and the pretty stuff is NOT the 3rd party's responsibility. What goes on after the home is shipped to the site is between the homeowner, manufacturer and builder. Unfortunately, some GMs live in the Mobile Home World and so do some dealers.

"The third party's job is to make sure that the Quality Control Manual's procedues are being carried out." True, but there is more you are missing. The 3rd party is not the catch-all cure to a manufacturer's problems in the field. Procedures can be followed, but it is not inspection reports that design and build houses.

People build houses, good and bad.

When manufacturers hold themselves accountable to their end consumer, the homeowner, perhaps then the builder will also be held accountable by the manufacturer. In this day and age of digital video and pictures, it is hard to fathom why thiese medias are not being used to a manufacturer's advantage. One picture will stop "It's the manufacturer's fault" or "It was like that when it got here."

Anonymous said...

When I worked for a modular company in the mid nineties, we video taped each box while it was still in the factory awaiting final close up. I thought that was a standard in the industry. How 'bout it Coach and factory personel, is this still done as a CYA by the factories.

Salesman said...

I have worked for different factories. I notice that the factories that only use 1 person to look at a home before it is shipped had the poorest quality. The Quality control person can be intimidated by the factory management and workers if they complain about an issue needing to be fixed. Factory workers do not like to stop the job their doing to go fix a home that is outside waiting to be fixed. (Getting it right is their job!) Every home built should be inspected by the final supervisor, quality control and sales person (or sales coordinator) for issues before leaving the factory. A paper with things that need to be fixed is given to the division mgr, service mgr, sales mgr and plant mgr so they know what needs to be done before shipment.

Once a week the management team (listed above) should pick 1 home to walk together that is out in the yard waiting to be shipped. This pick should be random. They will actually see for themselves areas that need tweaking.

boster15@comcast.net said...

We lived in a modular home for 25 yrs. in New England and could not have been happier with it. The home's cost was lower than a comparable stick built and it did better than a lot of nearby stick builts during major hurricanes and blizzards while sitting on a hilltop 2 miles from the ocean. It also was easily modified when we decided to do a kitchen/dining room major upgrade as well as a finished walkout basement rework. I would have another modular in a skinny minute. As a matter of fact, we are currently living in a factory pre-cut framing home where the unit's frame is delivered to the site and the rest of the build is done on site. Based on the cost differential (modular much lower per s.f.),and the integrity and soundness of the finished product, I see modular as the clear winner hands down. As with any other product, buyer beware!!!Do your homework, select a factory, builder, and sales center carefully, and you will NOT regret buying a modular.