A good distributor should respond to contractor concerns. Contractors rightly expect their door and hardware supplier to be their door, frame and hardware expert. But when a contractor calls with a field installation issue, what is the best way for a good distributor to respond? The stark reality of business is that there is very little time to drop what you are doing and visit a jobsite every time your contractor calls with a door or frame fitting issue. Likewise, the contractor can’t wait. He needs the problem solved right now. If you wait, when you do finally get to the jobsite, everyone is more stressed, and solving the problem gets harder. The contractor calls you because he needs help. He needs service. He is depending on you. With your thoughtful and professional guidance, he often is able to find the solution, especially when the door and frame problem actually turns out to be an installation problem! And how many times does the real issue turn out to be very different than the situation described originally? But before you grab your keys and head out the door, maybe the problem can be figured out over the phone or by text. If so, the solution is faster, less costly, and is often in place before you could have driven to the jobsite. If you can address the problem right away, everyone wins. Doing so requires that you bring all of your experience and expertise to the initial conversation.
The Initial Call
To be prepared when the initial call comes in, consider these basic guidelines for that crucial first conversation:
- Listen first
- Take notes
- Ask systematic diagnostic questions.
- Be committed to solving the issue.
- Do not assign blame or accept responsibility until you know all of the facts
There are countless things that can go wrong with even the simplest opening, and what appears to be the issue may only be a symptom. Getting beyond the symptom requires a series of diagnostic questions that will help identify the real issue while eliminating other possibilities.By thinking through these questions in advance, you will save valuable time when that emergency call comes in and you need to quickly get at the real problem and find a helpful solution. Start by getting this basic information:
- What seems to be the issue?
- Has the person you are talking to actually seen this issue, or is he just relaying information?
- Can you talk to the person who has seen the issue?
- Is the door or frame in the correct opening?
- Has the tag/mark number been verified?
- Is the correct hardware being used?
- Can the contractor send a digital picture that shows the issue?
- Are there any visible signs of damage?
- Does the door, frame or hardware seem to be the issue, and why?
When you get the initial call, or before you reply, take the time to gather all of the relevant documents so you can compare the answers given with what the answers should be for the opening in question. This will immediately identify those cases in which the wrong door or frame is being used, the rough opening is made a different size than what is needed, or even when the material is supplied by someone else! As a case in point, just last week I spoke with a contractor (on behalf of our distributor) who rejected a frame delivered to his jobsite. “I need a 3-0 frame and this is 3-6 wide!” he emphatically explained to me. After a few questions, which included him checking his plans, he discovered that he had cut the wrong-sized opening in the wall. The correct opening needed a 3-6-wide frame, and that is what the project manager had ordered for the job.
As you know, not all issues get resolved that easily. Often more specific information is needed. It is good to review a list of deeper questions for when the problem is tougher. The list of questions that follows is a great start toward understanding the opening and determining if the installation has been done properly. I have included an illustration with each sample question to more fully explain the information you need the installer or contractor to carefully check or verify.
If locations for hardware preps were identified as an issue, then top-to-top measurements are best for checking most hardware preps in the field. Locks and strikes are often measured to centerlines by manufacturers, but in the field, the centerline is hard to measure directly. Also note that some cutouts on doors and frames include clearances of up to +/-¹/₆₄”. These clearances can be verified by measuring the overall dimension of each cutout. For example, a cutout for a 4½” hinge will measure up to 4¹⁷/₃₂”. A quick trip to the opening by the contractor with his trusty tape measure will quickly clarify most hardware location issues. When locations for doors and frames are mismatched, get measurements for each and compare them to the plans, purchase orders, and order acknowledgements to find where the discrepancy came from. This may seem like a lot of work, but it actually goes pretty quickly, and a photo from a phone or digital camera can paint the picture even faster. These steps are going to be needed at some point, so take the time to work through them up front. That is the fastest path to the solution. Remember that your customer is paying you because you know these steps and you are able to help him solve his problems quickly. By working the problem right from the initial call, you are delivering the best possible customer service and adding the most possible value. Frequently, this is better than visiting the jobsite after some delay. Or, if you do end up visiting the jobsite, you are bringing the solution, not just starting the process of problem solving. If you do identify a potential manufacturing defect or just need help with symptoms you don’t understand, involve your suppliers in the problem solving. Speaking as a manufacturer, we have seen, heard and solved many issues over the years. This experience and expertise is part of the service that a good manufacturer delivers to a good distributor, just as contractors call on good distributors for the same.