Small business flush with customer service

Big box stores brimming with everything but expertise

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Mike Robinson is a Troy Media columnist
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VANCOUVER, BC, Mar 22, 2015/ Troy Media/ – “Dad, the toilet in the downstairs’ hall is running! Can you fix it? I won’t be able to sleep tonight if it keeps up that racket!”

My daughter’s earnest plea for help galvanized me into action. I entered the bathroom brimming with three generations of Robinson male plumbing lore, worth about exactly nothing.

My grandfather made it through his 89 years of life without owning a toolbox. My dad was slightly better equipped tool-wise, but he mostly relied on his good friend Mr. Veit, a professional plumber, for these kinds of tasks. Me – I’m pretty vague on toilet tank engineering.

Toilet design has changed over the years

I removed the top of the tank and discover there has been design progress since I last repaired a toilet tank ball’s function by bending its metal arm. Our new toilet had no ball and no arm – just a plastic stack centred in the tank. This obviously called for a new approach.

customer service
The culprit – a failing seal on the main stack washer – led to the discovery of true customer service

I placed my right hand on the stack and gave it a shake. The water continued running in the bowl. I wiggled the stack again and the water continued to run, maybe even a little more so. There was nothing obvious about this task. Time to call the plumber.

We live a long way out in the country, and I always brace for a standard warning: “I’ll have to charge you for the travel time. You’re a long ways out on the highway . . .” Everything costs about $100 more for travel time. The plumber added a disconcerting note: “Have you got one of those new Sterling twin-flush toilets? I don’t know much about them. You might want to try Canada Tire first.” Off I drove into town.

The plumbing aisle guy at the big box store said he didn’t have good news. “We don’t have that kind of toilet here. You may have to try a Vancouver store.” That was it. The toilet ran on all week, and to sleep, my daughter had to shut the bathroom door. “Come on dad, can’t you fix it?”

Down in Vancouver on a work trip, I visited a variety of big box plumbing aisles, each with no luck. It seemed I knew more about the Sterling twin-flush than anyone I spoke to. Ticked off and driving down Main Street, my wife noticed a family-owned plumbing supply store – Hillcrest Plumbing. “Why not ask there?” I pulled over for one last try.

customer service
The new-fangled Sterling toilet stumped big-box store customer service

The new-fangled Sterling toilet stumped big-box store customer service

The proprietor was in his 60s, had a friendly smile, and a little show room filled with Sterlings. “You gotta love this new twin-flush technology,” he beamed. “So much better than the old ball cistern systems.”

He diagnosed the issue immediately. “You have a failing seal on the main stack washer. Probably caused by too much chlorine in your water system. I bet you live in the country.” Then he showed me how to rotate the stack a quarter turn and pop it off its housing. Under the bottom end was an obvious, large, grey plastic washer. My teacher then walked over to a wall of replacement parts, and picked out the precise washer. “That’ll be $7, plus tax.”

Thank God for real customer service

I couldn’t thank him enough for his attitude and depth of knowledge. “I’ve been in this business all my life,” he said. “Glad to assist you. Now go fix it!”

We drove home that night, and the first thing I did was replace the washer after rotating the stack a quarter turn. The toilet went silent. The old seal was clearly corroded by chlorine. Overcome by my new technical prowess, I sat down with a beer, and said a prayer to the god of small business.

Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum, and the Bill Reid Gallery. He currently writes for a broad range of Canadian media, and consults to the boards of start-up NGOs.

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