A letter from one of our readers, David Newton

It’s that time again! Plumbers take cover. The ‘stuff’ is flying thick and fast off the fan on the back of a survey carried out by a pump company. Its sensationalist headline screams the message: women and elderly fleeced again by plumbers.

I believe there is yet another aspect at play here too, much as society doesn’t like to hear it. I have just over 3,500 customers. The vast majority are women because I deal with older people (and men die earlier). Most simply, they hate stuff like this. Overwhelmingly, they used to leave it to their men to deal with, so generally they have no idea when you question them at this type of call, they just want it fixing – which is why I find it’s always best to go look. While there are many instances of quite the opposite, I am stereotyping because it’s a truism for my customers.

Why is this relevant? Just suspect this may be a contributory factor. As a jobbing plumber, my experience is that generally, certainly not always, men are far more ‘likely’ to give an accurate state of play. This translates to, largely, having an objective overview and being able to rely on the information. With my female customers, my experience is that it’s much more frequently understated or overstated, so I find myself automatically ‘edging my bets’ if forced to price over the phone – a rare event. The other thing I do if pushed like that, is that I ALWAYS put in place a ‘get out of jail’ clause. Something along the lines of: “This is of course is sight unseen. The price is simply an estimate.”

A literal survival skill you learn when a tradesperson, is management of customer expectations. It took me a while, but now I ALWAYS err on the side of caution when pushed for a budget price – i.e. price a little higher than I think, because is easy to reduce the price, but almost impossible to increase it without some form of confrontation.

Lastly, and hidden in the press release, was that a statistically significant proportion of plumbers simply refused to be drawn on a price over the phone. This leads me to ask: just how many of those who did price over the phone demonstrated their professionalism by saying ‘no’ at first, but were then badgered mercilessly so the surveyors could tick their box? If it were me being pressed, I’d give a ‘silly’ price just to get them off the phone – then I’d enter their details as a NO entry in my contacts list.

In my opinion – unfortunately the email address at the foot of the press release has failed to respond to my emails so this is all it can be – this survey was conducted with perhaps the right intentions but:

  • Was hampered by pre-determined beliefs
  • Was carried out with both naivety and lack of understanding of the vital nature of backstory to the decision and estimating process
  • Has no notes to indicate how many plumbers gave a range of prices (as many do)
  • Has no notes to indicate how many plumbers were pressed for a price, any price.

In my view, a survey conducted with proper understanding, with rigour and that was objective would more likely lead to a headline of: “No Shocks! Plumbers largely professional and considerate.” No change there then…

Happy to be proved wrong if the survey conductors wish to contact me.

David Newton
Founder and director, TapMedic Limited

You can read the news story David Newton is referring to, here.