Flooring Customer Service Depends on Independent Certified Flooring Inspectors

The late 1980’s saw a shift in customer service from retailer responsibility to fiber companies and carpet manufacturers with the introduction of appearance retention warranties. These warranties bypassed the retailer with warranties offered directly to the retailers’ customers. From this point on, retailers slowly turned their customer service complaints over to manufacturing with manufacturers accepting their new role in the retail end of the flooring industry. The result was poor customer service and recognition of the Independent Inspector into the flooring industry as the “Eyes and Ears” of the manufacturer in the field.

Up until this time, retailers and installation contractors were always first to inspect consumer complaints in the effort of resolving complaints amicably and rapidly. This was the Flooring Industry Acceptable Practice, prior to the late 1980’s, and delayed response was not acceptable to either the store owner or consumer. Purchasers want to move on with their lives, do not feel comfortable with homes in disarray and retailers need to collect payments. With manufacturers in control of the industries customer service, in the eyes of the consumers, customer service slowly became a failure. We must factor in the dissatisfaction with the Independent Inspectors as many tend to lean toward protecting their client for fear of losing business, much the same as Home Appraisers behaved until recently.

The advent of the big box stores has even further exacerbated consumer confidence issues relative to all floor covering products. First the complaint, then the store personnel, then the installation firm, then the installer and finally an inspector arrives. The inspector often appears at the door months after the original complaint was made. The home owner is now bewildered and weary of the process. They just want their questions answered and any problem fixed. Purchasers feel that the floor covering industry is smoke and mirrors followed by every attempt possible to wear the consumer down rather than honest product warranties and installation processes.

An economic downturn, beginning in 2006, is causing another major shift in customer service, beginning with the manufacturing segment. Most retailers are still turning complaints over to the manufacturer and due to cost cutting efforts; the manufacturer no longer wants the responsibility. We now find retailers and flooring distributors being required to send in photos for complaint determination in efforts to expedite service and cut customer service costs. Viewing digital photos of materials with visible flaws, such as lines and streaks, is ample in complaint determination. Digital photos are not capable of determining problems with sub-floors, site conditions, latent material defects or other problems hidden below the surface of the material.

Modern technology is giving abundant information on the internet and breeding the new educated consumer. Consumers, especially female consumers, are now on the web doing their research. When the installation instructions, found the web, do not match what was witnessed in their home or the warranty information they read does not concur with what they have been told, the Internet educated ones will pay for better answers by hiring a Certified Inspector to support their complaints. The Certified Inspectors who survived the economic downturn are those not intimidated by pressures placed on them by the Industry Associations and Manufacturers leaving retailers and consumers the needed avenue to support legitimate manufacturing related complaints that are first declined by manufacturers. As the economy continues to turn south, manufacturers are more readily declining claims that were once considered justified, especially in the hard surface segments of the flooring industry.

Manufacturers and importers are now asking for site inspections requiring the Certified Floor Inspectors to list conditions observed relative to the consumers’ complaint and perform minimum field testing with out concluding the area of responsibility, or who is to blame for the flooring failure. Manufacturers are declining warranty claims with the question remaining “Are manufacturers and Importers neutral and without prejudice?”

Retailers with consumer complaints need to know the cause of the problem in order to resolve the problem and maintain satisfied customers. It may be time the Retailers take that giant step backwards and accept responsibility for Customer Service and develop a quick-response-in-house-system. A major part of this Customer Service System should be an Certified Independent Inspector in cases where the retailer’s Customer Service Manager suspects a manufacturing problem, is unsure of the cause and to handle complaints that are consumer related.

Is it fair to say that the Big Box Stores are not capable, or have the infrastructure within the local stores, to react promptly to customer complaints? Is it fair to say that the locally owned retailers can out-service the Big Box Stores? Is it fair to say that local retailers looking at complaints as an opportunity are those we’ll see surviving the economic downturns? The evidence is seen by the success of those who’ve already placed the emphasis on In House Customer Service and using Independent Inspectors to gain the information needed to service their customers quickly and honestly.

Customer Service Equals Success and retailers emphasizing after sales service with prompt attention to customer complaints will not only survive, but expand in size during economic downturns. Using Independent Certified Inspectors not in the pocket of manufacturing, and respected for their integrity, can become a valuable tool to the ethical retailers.

Qualified inspectors, with the right certifications, can also save retailers, distributors and installers, thousands of dollars simply by having their own expert opinions. Far too many individuals in the flooring industry accept the decisions of the manufacturing sector without being represented in the claims process. Independent Inspectors with respected credentials are available as sub-contractors or Independent Consultants without the burden of adding to the payroll.