I had just crawled into bed, exhausted after a long day.
My four-month-old puppy tried to get comfortable in her crate next to me. She was still getting used to her new home and was full of pent-up energy. The torrential rain we'd experienced that day didn't help and she had worn me out.
A drop of water landed on my shoulder. I looked up and saw a patch of ceiling above me was soaked through. Dragging myself out of bed, I got a ladder from the garage and climbed into the attic.
There's not a lot space up there. Certainly not enough to walk around. I had to crawl over duct pipes and under beams to get to the right spot. When I got there, I found water dripping from the roof and pooling in the attic right above my bed.
It was a frustrating moment. The roof was just four years old and still under warranty. Two year ago, I had noticed a leak in the same place after an unusually powerful rainstorm. The roofer came out and told me he had fixed it. Apparently not.
I sopped up the water and laid towels in the attic to absorb the continuous dripping. Then I crawled back into bed even more exhausted, after making a note to contact the roofer in the morning.
The next day, I sent an email to the roofer with pictures of the leak. The rain had stopped, so it was no longer an emergency. I figured he would have his hands full with similar requests and might take a day or so to get back to me.
He never did.
Service failures like this are almost never just one thing. It wasn’t just the leak that frustrated me:
A new roof was leaking.
The roofer told me he had fixed the roof, but it wasn’t.
I was exhausted and trying to sleep when I noticed the leak again.
I worried about damage to the ceiling (it turns out, there was).
And now the roofer wasn't returning my message.
I tried calling. A recording said the number was disconnected. I went to the website, but the website no longer existed. I did a web search of the company name and saw it had gone out of business.
Damn. There goes my warranty. This leak was about to become an even bigger problem because I would have to find another roofer and pay for the repair out of pocket. Part of the ceiling would need to be replaced as well, after water soaked through it.
Out of curiosity, I searched the roofer's license on the state licensing board website. Perhaps the license was still active and the roofer had moved or sold the business. Or maybe I could just track the guy down and give him a piece of my mind.
The search result was not what I expected: "This license was canceled on the death of the contractor."
I'm not sure what happened. He wasn't an old man. I imagined his family missed him, deprived of his presence earlier than expected. He had employees, too, and I imagine they all lost their jobs.
Suddenly, my leaky roof wasn't as important.
We all face frustrations as customers. Some of us lose patience and rant and rave as though it's a matter of life or death. It almost always isn't. This experience was a reminder.
I've worked with a couple of clients where service really was a life or death matter. The service they provided literally contributed to saving lives. So I've seen the difference between that and a leaky roof, an undercooked steak, or a flight delay.
The experience made me reflect on a few things:
Customer service is not life or death, unless it really is, so act accordingly.
It’s important to treat others with empathy—you never know what they are experiencing.
Every job is a part of your legacy, so always do good work.
I'm still not happy. And I'm a bit conflicted between my empathy for the roofer's family, friends, and employees, and the knowledge that his legacy in my mind is a service failure. But I'll try to maintain perspective as the next storm rolls in.