Two faultfinding jobs in the past eighteen months have resulted in payment problems because the client perceived my speedy resolution to their power problems to be “too quick”. Let’s have a closer look at the flawed logic of that...


I read this urban myth long ago about a plumber who, being called out to fix a leak, simply replaced a washer and charged the homeowner £100. “What the hell is this?” cried the homeowner, “That’s too much for such a simple job; I demand an itemised breakdown of this invoice!”

The plumber then sent the homeowner an invoice which read:

Washer: £0.05
Knowing where to put the washer: £99.95

And that's the point about this story. What did it matter to the homeowner how long it took or what the cost of materials was? The fact is, they had an immediate problem, things were going to get worse and what they really wanted was a quick and efficient resolution, but when it comes to faultfinding speed and efficiency come with a price tag. Don't want to pay for one of those? Well, either wait days or weeks for your turn, or be prepared to pay for an inefficient solution, but don't ask for both and then complain about it!

Both my cases of client dispute have many similarities with the apocryphal tale above and with each other. They were both outside of office hours, they were both ‘showstoppers’, i.e. events where the client required a quick resolution to avoid further loss or inconvenience, I had to change my schedule or drop what I was doing to accommodate each of them in a timely fashion, neither asked over the phone about pricing, both are internet-savvy enough to have checked my advertised prices online, neither client had been able to successfully faultfind the problem for themselves, and both issues were resolved by me in a timeframe that suited them. So why the fuss when the billing landed? Well, in both cases I had apparently been ‘too quick’ to resolve their respective issues.

Indeed.

Job #1 was received on a Sunday evening and concerned lighting in a Leamington bathroom being inoperative. This was in winter, so the client faced using the loo or shower by torchlight. She asked me if I could attend site early on Monday morning so that, hopefully, I could find the cause before she went to work to save herself any inconvenience. To comply with this, I had to accept the inconvenience. I had to change my schedule which, as it stood, consisted of attending site in Coventry with me picking up both my colleagues, Nigel and Dior, en-route. To meet the needs of this client, I instead had to ask Nigel to pick up Dior to take him to the Coventry site so that I could get out of bed early to visit the Leamington loo-lady before finally meeting them both at the scheduled location. This meant I had to now pay Nigel mileage expenses and that I would be attending the Coventry site late, so I would be losing labour time for myself on that job.

So, not only did I have to get out of bed earlier, but I’m financially out of pocket before I’ve even peeled off my Winnie-the-Pooh pyjamas!

In the event, I attended site at the requested time where I was kept waiting for several minutes until the damn doorbell was acknowledged. Once eventually admitted into the house, I found and rectified the electrical problem inside of half an hour *and* I was done and dusted still with ten minutes to spare before my client had to leave for work, so she wouldn’t be late for her day even though I was already late for mine.

So, when I put in my bill for just a standard hour call-out, not an escalated or emergency call-out mind, imagine my amusement when the reply was a note of disappointment as it had only taken me half that time to find the fault! Here’s the actual response:

“Thanks for your invoice, advice, and for quickly finding the solution to the problem.
I must say, I am surprised that you are charging for a full hour. I understand that you would round up, but I believe you were there for 24-mins total.

While you were great at being so quick in your investigations and fitting me in, I wonder if you would consider charging me for a half hour, based on the same rate?”

Remember that I’m already out of pocket on my day simply by attending this job, so if I halve my charge then I end up breaking even at best, maybe even losing money. As for the 24 minutes, that doesn’t include my setting the alarm clock early, time to travel to site, waiting on the doorstep for the door to be answered or the time required to get back on track afterwards for the job I was supposed to be doing, all an inconvenience this client hasn’t factored in, so I stuck to my guns on this one.

Eventually, and after several weeks, she paid in full, but for the lost time, money, effort and the hassle of chasing her for payment, it wasn’t worth all the ruddy arsehole. With the benefit of hindsight, I could have had a lie-in, simply got on with my scheduled day and left her shitting in the dark, and I would be better off for it.

Job #2 occurred this summer and related to a client I had done previous work for who was experiencing an RCD trip. Now, this has been an unusually hot summer, and my client was concerned for the Iceland jumbo sausage rolls in her freezer, and besides that, her fella was missing out on some World Cup action between Russia and Egypt on the TV, so stress levels were high.

When the call came in on this one, I preferred not to have to load up the tools back onto the van and trundle out, not that I was watching any football nonsense myself, but my evening is my own and after a day on the job I’d rather be doing something else, as indeed I was, so when the lady called I correctly diagnosed the problem over the phone by directing her to look at any kitchen appliances using water and to unplug them to see if it helped, but a second call followed a short time later to say they had unplugged everything they could with no success and they were now requesting my presence on site to come and sort it out.

So, the gear went back on the van and I drove over to her. Once there, I quickly found a poor IR reading on the socket circuit and traced it to the washing machine which hadn’t been unplugged despite my telephonic advice. A PAT test of the appliance found it to be at fault. Removed from the circuit, the test numbers returned to acceptable levels, power was restored, the Findus Crispy Pancakes were back on ice, and her fella was able to catch the Novichok-chuckers beating the pyramid builders 3-1 in their silly football match.

As it turned out, the washing machine was under warranty, so there were no appliance repair costs for my client to fret over either! What a result!

Again, the invoice went in as a standard call-out rather than an emergency charge for this valued repeat-client, and again it was disputed as I was apparently too quick in resolving the issue. The response:

“Is this an emergency call out charge as you was only there for 10 minutes? I wish you had of mentioned on the phone before hand it was going to cost this much, I would have continued testing the equipment myself!”

Err... hang on, you called me because you had given up trying to find the fault yourself! In fact, when I arrived, I found them about to start dismantling fitted kitchen units to remove the integrated fridge which would have been wholly unnecessary. Besides the ‘ten minute’ claim being conveniently rounded down (I was on site for at least twice that), the client has again not factored in the time out of my evening at short notice, loading the van, driving out to her, driving back home afterwards and performing the billing admin. Not only that, but the advertised emergency charge wasn’t even levied, it should have been £30 more going by my list prices, so she got what she wanted, when she wanted it, at zero hours notice and not at the premium price this priority service normally commands!

When fault-finding, perceiving total time on site as direct value for money is stupid. If I’m quick to diagnose and correct an electrical fault, that’s only because I have the expertise, experience and expensive test equipment to do so. Someone with half an idea or a lack of requisite test gear may well eventually stumble upon the fault, but just because someone else takes three hours instead of twenty minutes to identify and rectify a fault situation doesn’t make them better value for money, even if the charges levied are the same. My clients were paying to have an issue corrected, a bad situation made good, a wrong put right; the time it took me is immaterial, it’s the outcome that they wanted and at the time they wanted it: that is what I was charging for.

It’s ironic that if I had pretended these faults were more complicated, and if I had spent more time faking diagnostic actions or replacing and charging for parts that were not needed, then these clients would probably have coughed up more money without question. This is exactly how the cowboy operators get away with it: by sucking air through their teeth and making a small problem appear to be much more complicated than it really is, but here I’m being complained at for my honesty. My terms and conditions and my pricing are all listed on this website, and show me another electrician’s website where that information is given up-front. Most make up their prices on the spot based on the car parked in the driveway and the size of the house. My list pricing should also be considered to be ‘worst case’, and where possible a lower rate may be applied, especially for a repeat client as was the case here.

 

The fact is, it’s up to me and me alone to decide how much my time and expertise is worth. It was the position of neither client to think that by requesting my presence to get a resolution at their convenience and outside of office hours wasn't worth the price levied when they had no idea of how it otherwise affected my day. This is my livelihood, and I’m not about to start resolving problems or to undertake work for people just to break even or end up out of pocket. I’m running a legitimate business with associated overheads and a lot of time and money invested in training and equipment. Anyone who doesn't like my list prices is free to shop around.

The first client paid up after weeks of chasing. The second was given an opportunity to pay what she ‘thought my service was worth’ but she hasn’t paid at all to date or even returned my messages, so I guess my time and expertise was worth absolutely nothing to her in the end. Needless to say, both clients now make it onto ‘the list’; that black hole of mine into which any further requests for my services will be treated with the same contempt as my prior invoicing has been. If they want someone to take longer to undertake their future work, then no problem, there are plenty of cowboys around here who will certainly drag a job out, charge for time and materials unnecessarily, and levy a premium for out-of-hours working. Unfortunately using such people in this kind of scenario is an exception to the ‘you get what you pay for’ rule, because these clients won’t be getting a speedy and efficient resolution next time, instead they’ll be getting lied to about the nature of the work, charged for unnecessary time, perhaps at an emergency rate, and billed for work or materials which a legitimate installer wouldn’t have dreamt of asking for, although ironically these clients may well feel they’ve got value for money if they perceive time on site or replacement materials to warrant the fake figure being demanded.

If not, maybe they’ll withhold payment on my rival’s invoices too, although I don’t image the outcome to be pretty. I’m a nice guy but try not paying the hairy-arsed thugs tooled-up in their anonymous white Transit van after they’ve knocked some unnecessary holes in your house ladies.

Good luck with that.


Update 20/07/18: The following message has been received from the second client:

"Hi David.

Following your last email I have paid an amount of 30.00 into your bank, which I feel to be more in line with what you did."


I'm pretty sure that 'what I did' was to take time out of my evening at no notice to quickly get their power restored while saving them from their own wild goose chase of pulling apart their fitted kitchen. Now I know this client values my time only half as much as I do, but it doesn't matter as I won't be visiting her again.