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A $7,400 business mistake

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Wide White: A $7,400 business mistake

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

A $7,400 business mistake

How do you respond when a business doesn't handle a situation the way you feel it should have been handled?

Our air conditioner stopped working while we were on vacation this summer. We returned to a home temporarily housing my mom and a number of siblings along with the 4 of us in my family. We cooked through a few 90-degree days before we called Hoffman Heating and Refrigeration of Minnesota to come do a performance check.

I assume a performance check is supposed to tell you whether your unit is working. Our house was built in 1987 and still had the original A/C and furnace. That said, we've never had an issue with either one.

Here's a timeline of what happened next.

8/13 - At our $100 performance check, the Hoffman technician told us the A/C was working properly and was just struggling to keep up with the heat. This seemed like an odd response since the unit had never had a problem with hot spells before and it was failing to cool the place even when temperatures dipped into the 70s at night, but we accepted his verdict. In the review he left us he wrote, "Normal operation at this time."

8/20 - After temperatures dipped to normalcy and the A/C still refused to produce cold air, Jamie called Hoffman about the problem. She was told it would cost $90 to send someone back out.

8/20 - I sent the following note through Hoffman's site.
Our air conditioner doesn't seem to be working. Someone came to look at it on 8/13 and said it was under "Normal operation at this time." We'd been on vacation for 2 weeks with it off and in 5 days since returning from vacation the temperature hadn't cooled below 78 degrees. We were told that the air conditioner was functioning and just wasn't able to keep up with the heat. While this has never been a problem in the past, we accepted it and replaced the filter as we were recommended to do.

Now, 7 days later and with daytime highs in the mid-70s, we're still having the same problem. The temperature inside the house is currently 82 and the air conditioner still doesn't seem to be working. We've checked the fan to be sure that air is being moved through the house and can't find any malfunction there at all. In fact, when I put my hand in front of the fan I don't feel any cold air at all. The furnace is older so it wouldn't surprise me if there's a problem, but it was working just fine until the end of July and didn't have any problems until we turned it back on when we returned from vacation 2 weeks ago.

My wife, Jamie, called to ask about it earlier today and was told that we would have to pay $90 to have someone take a look at it again. I have no problem paying for parts and labor if something needs to be fixed or even to pay for a new one if it needs to be replaced. However, it doesn't make sense that we would have to pay $90 for someone to come and take another look at it since it appears that the problem wasn't correctly diagnosed by the first person who looked at it.

Could someone review this and let us know what options we have for resolution? Again, I have no problem paying for any service or maintenance that may be needed. My only concern is that we just paid someone to take a look at it and were told that everything is working properly when it's clear that it's not working.

Thanks for your help!

8/21 - I received a reply from Hoffman's president. This came on a Saturday just 16 hours after I sent my email, which impressed me. (This is the last time I would be impressed by Hoffman.)

I looked at the info and noticed that we were there for a performance check. A performance check does not include any repairs and it is not a warranty for future problems. The reading indicates that unit was operating fine when we did the check. You indicate that there is a problem with the cooling abilities of the unit; at this point the problem is unknown. We would have to send service over there to diagnose the problem, at that point we can give you the findings and you can make your determination on how to proceed. There is a fee to diagnose the problem, which is 90. If you do the repair we can wave the repair fee, once again I do not know what is wrong or if anything at all. The unit might be failing and need replacement, I don’t know, I am telling you that it could be anything, just so you’re aware if there isn’t a repair that could enhance the performance, you would still pay the 90.

Thank You,

Scot Hendricks
Hoffman Refrigeration and Heating, LTD.
5660 Memorial Avenue N.
Stillwater, Mn. 55082
(P) 651-439-5770
(F) 651-439-0812
It's important to note that while they offered to waive the repair fee for any repairs, the technician had specifically recommended that if repairs are needed, the unit be completely replaced rather than repaired, so this seemed a rather pointless offer. Still, as frustrated as I was, I wanted to try to reason through this.

8/21 - 5 hours later, I sent this response.

Thanks for your quick reply, I really do appreciate it. Just to be sure I understand, are you saying that a visit to diagnose a problem is different from a performance check? I assumed that a performance check would identify the reason my unit isn't performing, but maybe I'm confused.

Also, just to clarify, I didn't expect that a performance check would include the cost of repairs or was a warranty for future problems, but this problem is clearly not a "future problem" since the unit wasn't working before and hasn't worked since the performance check. I'm happy to pay the cost of repairs or replacement if that's what's needed, it just seems pointless to keep paying for more diagnoses when the first diagnosis seems to have been incorrect.

8/27 - After 6 days of waiting, I sent this follow-up.
I still haven't heard anything back, just checking to see if this made it through the first time.

After another 2 weeks with no response and temperatures turning unseasonably warm, we turned to Standard Heating and Air Conditioning. They sent a technician out who quickly found that the coolant was leaking (and expressed surprise that another technician could have possibly missed the problem). They refilled the coolant and offered to apply the cost of the service towards a new unit if we decided to purchase one.

10/4 - Here's the last email I sent to Scot Hendricks at Hoffman Heating and Refrigeration.
For what it's worth, we had another company come take a look at our unit. It turns out, the coolant was leaking. I still can't believe that isn't something that should have been found on the performance check. Our furnace and A/C were both original to our 1987 home and we knew they'd need to be replaced soon, so we decided to replace both. We spent $7,400 (before rebates and tax deductions) on a $9,000+ package. All it would have taken was for you to send someone back out to address our concern that the work wasn't completed the first time and that job would have been yours. I'm not a cheapskate, but I do expect a job to be done right and don't expect to pay to have someone come do what should have been done the first time.

I thought this was worth passing along for future reference when dealing with a similar situation.

I've heard it said before that the customer is always right. I don't believe this for a minute. However, right or wrong, the customer needs to be listened to. It doesn't take an expert to see that Hoffman didn't do a thing to fix the problem that existed, yet they refused to acknowledge that. In spite of their failure to locate the issue the first time, I still gave them an opportunity for our business and they failed to take it.

So, I'm out $100 to Hoffman and $7,400 to Standard. Aside from the fact that Hoffman's $100 performance check was worthless, there's just no excuse for the co-owner and president of a company to flat out refuse to respond to an issue from a customer.

And the next time someone asks me who to use for heating and cooling, there's no question who I will recommend. Standard was phenomenal.

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Anonymous Bill Roehl declared,

I can't say I'm surprised by this. Too many companies these days forget that the people now have communication mediums which are far more powerful than the small word-of-mouth networks which used to exist. While dangerous in small towns, those word-of-mouth complaints are ignored by the general population in an area the size of MSP.

Unfortunately for Hoffman Heating and Cooling, there are now blogs, Twitter, and Facebook along with plenty of other social networks which make those WOM complaints more widespread, faster moving, and forever archived.

I'm glad that Standard Heating and Air Conditioning did the work for you and that you were able to replace an aging system. I'll be sure to consider them as one of the first companies I go to when the time comes.

10/06/2010 8:17 AM  
Blogger w00dz declared,

I would clarify exactly which Hoffman Heating you refer to (this company actually operates under Hoffman Heating & Refrigeration, Inc.

By naming Hoffman Heating and Cooling of MN, you have pretty much bashed the wrong company, one that belongs to a relative of mine.

Could you please update your post to reflect accurately who you are referring to.

10/06/2010 10:15 AM  
Blogger Joey declared,

Thanks for the clarification Tim, I'm not sure how that slipped past me. I even published the guy's email signature and linked to their website, neither of which says "Cooling." I've updated the post.

10/06/2010 11:28 AM  

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