Daily Archives: 13 Oct 2006

Furnace woes 2

You know what the great thing about cell phones is? I have an easy-to-access record of every call made to and from my phone, including all these home warranty calls. For example, I can show that, yes, the contractor called me back before the warranty company (WC) did. Just in case anyone is doubting (I’m looking at you, WC).

This morning I got a call from the third contractor (the second one the WC had assigned, and the one they had done so without my authorization) asking if he could come by between 4:30 and 5:00 this afternoon. I told him I’d have to check my schedule and call him back.

After detailing the story so far to a couple of co-workers–the part about religion particularly amused one who is decidedly non-religious–I decided it was time again to contact the WC and see what kind of progress could be made. Instead of the toll-free number on my pamphlet, I called the long distance number that appeared on my caller ID from the lying rep’s call yesterday, just to see if it went to a different location. I got a switchboard operator asking to direct my call. I asked for the claims department, and was transfered to what I assume is the same call center I’ve been speaking to thus far (it is).

The woman I spoke with was very friendly, and seemed to listen intently as I recounted the story, interjecting appropriate murmurs of sympathy, etc. She expressed her shock at the report of the conversation with the sales guy, particularly the mention of religion. She asked if I wanted to file a complaint, and I responded that yes, I did, but it was secondary to getting my furnace situation taken care of, so I’d like to discuss that first.

I mentioned that I would either like the WC to allow me to use the first contractor they had sent and allow him to supply the furnace (the one the WC would provide would be too large, remember), or to simply give me the money and let me use it as I see fit. She told me she would transfer me to the authorization department and brief them so I wouldn’t have to go over the story yet again.

After a few minutes on hold, I was greeted by a man from Authorization. I filled him in on some of the details left out by the briefing woman and laid out the two options I was willing to go for. He put me on hold while he called the contractor to get more pricing details. I waited until he came back with the answer that the contractor’s furnace price was acceptable, and he was going to speak with his supervisor to get authorization to issue the money.

I find it hilarious that the authorization department members need this extra authorization.

The autho rep (as I later heard him referred to) came back and said that I was going to be issued a check for $740, namely the contractor’s furnace price plus allowed labor minus a hour of the contractor’s time that he had already spent at my house. I mentioned again the fact that there are code violations to be taken care of and that wasn’t I entitled to another $250? The autho rep said that there were no notes on my file about code violations, which seems silly to me, since the contractors and I had mentioned them repeatedly. He then said that the contractor would have to call the WC detailing the code violations and the work needed to fix them and the WC would determine to how much, if any, of the $250 I would be entitled.

I asked for fax or email confirmation of the check being sent out and was told that “[WC] doesn’t do that.” That’s more than a little silly, if you ask me (since you’re here, I assume you do). I was told checks are cut on Fridays and Tuesdays (I hope mine is today, at least) and that I would receive it in 7-10 business days after that.

After the matter of the money was taken care of, I asked the autho rep if his briefing had included the story of my conversation with the sales guy (which sales guys, at the WC, are apparently referred to as AEs, or account executives). He had not and I asked if I should speak to him or to someone else about it. He told me he could refer me to the contractor complaint line, which I said was silly because it wasn’t a complaint about the contractor. The autho rep asked for the story, so I gave it to him. His response to the religion part was “OMG,” which I found slightly amusing. He then put me on hold again to ask his supervisor to whom I should be referred.

I was referred to the AE’s supervisor (“his boss”) and given her name and extension, then transferred to her. I got her voicemail and left her a message, saying I wanted to talk to her about the AEs tactics and behavior.

I then called the contractor and set up an appointment for next Thursday, and asked him to call the WC and detail the code violations so I could get reimbursed for those. He agreed to and so hopefully I’ll have a new furnace (and some money to pay for part of it with) in six days.

While eating my lunch and typing the first part of this post, the AE boss called me back. She was very polite, ekcetra, listened to the story, and told me that the AE, as well as the rep who lied to the contractor, would have some “coaching sessions.” I stifled my laughter and continued the conversation.

(Having worked in a call center, I am familiar with reps getting “coaching.” I have yet to see it result in any actual disciplinary action, however.)

It also turns out that the AE was in the wrong even having a conversation with me. Apparently the AEs are not allowed to talk to policy holders about issues like this because the calls don’t route through the call center and are not recorded, nor are notes put on the account record. I also detailed that I thought it was silly not to provide written confirmation of the check being authorized. She agreed, and said she had experienced the same thing in the past when dealing with the WC call center. She agreed that my concerns regarding my conversation with the AE were valid, and I pointed out that I didn’t want anyone to feel like personal attacking was happening on my part; I just wanted to make sure that the reps and AEs and other terminologies were handling the situations with which they were presented professionally and honestly.

One funny thing that the AE boss mentioned was that she “didn’t know how they even make any money,” with the premiums being so low and how much they have to pay in marketing, call center costs, contractors, etc. “People must just forget that they have a warranty.” At least she was honest about it. Ha!

I also mentioned the code violation money issue, and she said she couldn’t really discuss it in detail because of the aforementioned issue with AEs talking directly with homeowners, but that she would send it to the escalation department and someone would contact me. The overall experience with the AC boss was positive, and speak of the devil, someone just called me regarding the code violation. It’s nice that things seem to be actually moving along now.

So a woman from the WC just called me and said that she would contact the contractor to get a description of the code violations so that the cash-out amount could be adjusted, and also that she would attempt to expedite the process for me (not that I am fooled about anyone in the history of the universe actually expediting things like this). I told her that I had spoken with the contractor since speaking with the autho rep and that he was expecting to speak to the WC about the code violations, so hopefully things will move along now.

Further bulletins as events warrant (I love that phase. Good ol’ Calvin).

Furnace woes

In books, I have read several descriptions of characters with equine laughs. I had not heretofore experienced such a person in real life until yesterday. It took a broken furnace and locking myself out of my house to do it, but was it worth it?

No. Stick to the books, you horse-laughers.

But that’s somewhere toward the beginning of a story that does not yet have an end. Let’s get started.

As the one of you who reads this blog on purpose, i.e. me, knows, a little over two months ago I moved into my very first house. When we had a home inspector come through before we closed, he noticed the pilot light in the furnace was burning the wrong color, indicating inefficiency, and recommended that we get it tuned up sometime before winter came along. Also recommended was a “green sticker,” part of a program Questar Gas has instated to help natural gas burning, and yadda yadda yadda, some other stuff, ekcetra.

So last week I was driving to work and saw a service van for a local heating company, and was thus reminded that I needed to get the furnace checked and green stickered, as well as a green sticker for my water heater. I gave them a call when I got to work and set up my appointment for “between 8 and 10 a.m.” on Tuesday the 10th.

I think 8 a.m. may have been the first problem. But I knew if I tried to sleep later, the heating guy would show up right on time. The company rep that I talked to was very friendly and even called me the day before the appointment to remind me of the impending earliness of the next day’s activities.

On Tuesday morning the service technician called me about 7:45 to say he was on his way over. He showed up a few minutes later and I showed him to the furnace. He did a bit of cursory examination and then told me that my furnace was 22 years old, and he felt that he needed to do a more thorough examination for wear and tear and suchlike, and that he would have to take the furnace apart to do so. He told me that if he did find anything bad, by law he was not allowed to turn the gas back on, due to safety precautions and liability and whatnot. I told him to go ahead and examine it.

When he succeeded in getting it apart he found several cracks in the heat exchanger, some of them quite large. He pointed them all out to me, and even went so far as to take pictures with his cell phone, saying he had never seen cracks in those places on my particular model of furnace. Since he couldn’t turn the furnace back on, it was time to talk about replacements. Hoo, boy.

He called back to the office to request that an “interior designer”–I’m pretty sure that’s what they call them, silly as it sounds–come over to assess our house and see what kind of furnace would best suit our needs. Luckily, one happened to be available right then, and came right over. When he got there, the tech showed him the cracks and they both agreed they couldn’t turn the furnace back on. The designer went through the house with me, counting vents and cold air returns, and size of space to be heated, etc. He told me that the furnace I had was too big, and that I actually needed a smaller one (they said that having too big a furnace could also contribute, over time, to the deterioration process, but that it was not a primary factor). I also needed some ducting replaced to bring everything up to current codes (my house is 50 years old). I also asked about installing central air, since we’d like to do that at some point, and he told me that I should at least install the AC coil at the same time the furnace was replaced so as to save on some labor costs down the road.

He showed me some different models of furnaces from a booklet and pointed out the pros and cons of each. Both the tech and the designer were very nice and very professional–they even left us a space heater to use for a few days while we get things sorted out–but the price for a new furnace and all the labor was pretty high. We have a few other big bills coming up and it’s going to be interesting to juggle them all, so I was a little concerned.

That’s when I remembered that I have a one-year home warranty.

I told them I was going to try and call the warranty company (to which I will hereafter refer to as the WC; draw parallels as you will) and see if I could get any of this covered. They cautioned me against WCs in general, and I figured it being akin to insurance, things weren’t going to be easy, but I figured I should at least give it a shot. I told them I’d call the WC and give them a call back later that day to let them know what I was going to do.

So, I called the WC and explained the situation. They told me that the heating company I had used was not contracted with them and that they would have to send an approved contractor to evaluate the furnace, which would happen the next afternoon. The man I spoke with gave me a choice of three different contractors. Since I had no experience with any of them, I just opted to go with the first one mentioned. So ended day one without heat.

The next day I came home from work in the early afternoon to meet the contractor; my wife and daughter were out with my mother-in-law. The guy from the day before had offered to put the furnace back together–but couldn’t turn the gas back on, by law–but recommended that I keep it disassembled to make it easier for the contractor that the WC would send out, so I agreed. I showed this second contractor the cracks which had been pointed out to me, and he found a few others that I missed, and agreed that the furnace was unsafe and should not be put back together and operated. He got on the phone with the WC to see what they would cover, and that’s when it started to go bad.

The WC rep said that nothing would be covered because the contractor could not determine if the failure was due to normal use, because the furnace was already taken apart. He explained to them that he agreed with the assessment of the previous contractor, and that it was unsafe to turn it back on. The WC rep asked to speak with me, and told me the same information. I explained that I had simply requested a routine tune-up from the first contractor and that due to the age of the furnace he had recommended a deeper inspection. Yes, the furnace was functioning at the time the first contractor came, I said, but it was not, and could not, now, by law. The WC rep said that if the first contractor called the WC and explained their findings and actions a “special case” might be made.

The second contractor was also very nice and professional and charged me just a trip fee instead of the warranty deductible. He gave me a quote for a new installation (and an AC coil, as well) that was much more affordable than the first contractor’s price. I told him I’d pursue the warranty deal and let him know what happened.

Now for the horse laughter.

I grabbed my cell phone and wallet on my way to the car so I could go back to work. I went to open the car door only to discover that I had left my keys on the very desk at which I am now sitting. I called my wife to see if she had her keys, but she had left them inside the house. Also in the house were our two or three other sets of keys. I tried to get in the house through a window, but the one that is usually unlocked had, for once, been locked. I couldn’t reach the attic access on the back of the house–not that I wanted to go through the attic, but I thought it might make a Good Story someday–so I set off to find a locksmith. There is a small key shop about four blocks from my house, so I walked over to it.

On the way, I called back the designer from the first heating company to tell them what the WC rep had told me, and to ask if the designer would mind giving the WC a call. He said he would be glad to–and offered a few choice words about the absurdity of them “not being able to diagnose the problem.”

Trying to find brightness in an otherwise bleak day, I joked with the woman at the key shop about how I had five sets of keys and all were in the house. That’s when she laughed like a horse. It was funny and frightening at the same time, but not frighteningly funny. She told me a locksmith would probably be available in about half an hour, and took my name, address, and cell phone number, and told me she’d send the smith over as soon as she could.

I walked back to my house and waited for the locksmith. He arrived about ten minutes later and had the house door open in about 40 seconds, for which he charged me 40 dollars. That is some marvelous hourly pay, folks. As I wrote the check, I mentioned how our furnace had gone out and he sympathized with me, and then whipped out his cell phone to find the name and phone number of his “heating guy.” I dutifully took down the information and thanked him for coming. He said, “Hope you don’t have to see me again,” with a smile. So far it was only the WC who had given me any problem.

And of course, it is still only the WC who is giving me any problem. Thus ended day two without heat.

Today I called back the designer to see if he had been able to talk to the WC. He told me he had had the service tech call and that the WC should have called me back by now, and added that the tech hadn’t seemed too optimistic that the warranty company would do anything. I still hoped something good might happen, and I called the WC for an update.

The woman I spoke to was very nice and put me on hold a few different times while she called the two respective contractors, and then spoke with a supervisor to review the situation. After probably twenty minutes of waiting, she brought me off of hold and told me that the WC was going to cover the replacement after all, and that they would be using their contractor to do it. The contractor would be supplying the furnace and was supposed to call the WC back within a few hours with a quote for the parts and labor. The WC would then determine what amount they would cover, and call me to let me know what amount I would be responsible for and ask me to authorize the job.

Imagine my surprise when just about twenty minutes later the contractor called me back and asked if the WC had spoken with me yet. I told him that no, I hadn’t yet been contacted. He told me that he had just called the WC and the rep had placed him on hold, telling him he was calling me for authorization. The rep then told the contractor that I would not authorize the amount. The contractor broke down the amounts he had given the WC–including the furnace price, the labor for installation and labor for bringing the ducting up to code. He also said the WC now wanted to provide the furnace because it could get a better price.

I told him that, no, I had not received any such call and that I did, in fact want him to do the job, and that I would call the WC back to try and straighten everything out. I was very angry that the WC had mispresented me like that and gave myself a few minutes to calm down and before I called the WC back. I noted that I was even angrier than I had been at Cingular a few months back–which story I am still meaning to post here–and though Cingular deserved my anger, they did not to this degree. Granted, I didn’t know if the contractor was lying at this point, but I didn’t think he was, and it turns out I was right.

As I picked up my phone to call the WC, it rang. It spookily reminded me of the time I was a missionary in France and was reaching for the phone to call the misison president when it rang and turned out to be him.

A rep from the WC was on the line, telling me that the contractor was too expensive and that they would not cover any portion of it, citing specifically that the contractor wanted too much for labor–some $500 instead of the $300 allowed by the WC. I explained the reason for the extra labor was that some extra duct work needed to be done for code violations, and that my “premium service” was supposed to cover up to $250 for code violations, but not before I told the WC rep what the contractor had claimed. The rep said that he had been the one on the phone with the contractor and had indeed claimed I would not authorize the work, “just to get him off the phone so I wouldn’t have to argue with him about price.”

I was furious. I told the WC rep that I found what he had done deceptive and dishonest and was very upset that I had been misrepresented like that. He said, “I apologize” and proceeded to tell me that he had already sent a work order to another contractor to come tomorrow and do the replacement. Never mind that he didn’t actually ask me if I wanted another contractor to come–I do understand it is ultimately the WC’s choice who they use to do the service–but perhaps I could also have been asked if I was willing to cover the extra amount that they wouldn’t instead of lying to the contractor? I took down the rep’s name and extension and told him I would have to discuss the situation with my wife and call him back.

At this point I called the contractor and told him that the WC rep admitted to me that he had lied about having spoken with me. The contractor told me that the furnace the WC wanted to supply was going to again be too big because they would try to match as near as possible the furnace I currently have (which makes sense, I suppose, but not if two independent contractors both recommend a smaller–and cheaper–furnace). The contractor told me my best bet was to see if the WC had a cash-out policy and just use whatever money they would have spent toward a contractor of my choosing. This is what I’m probably going to try to do when I call the WC back tomorrow (or, later today, rather; this has taken so long to write down that it is now after midnight on Friday morning).

I called my mom to ask for some advice–she works for a CPA firm and has some experience with a few things like this–and she told me to document everything. Her husband was also our realtor when we bought our house and recommended the WC based on experiences others in his office have had. He got word of the situation and called me on my way home from work and conferenced in the local WC representative that originally sold me (or rather, the home sellers) the policy. After establishing that I was the home-owner, the WC rep asked me to relate the story thus far. I quickly became quite disgusted with the WC (as if I wasn’t already) and particularly with this representative.

When I got to the part about the last WC rep admitting his having lied to the contractor, the current rep–I guess he’s a sales guy (SG), really, as opposed to a standard CSR–expressed his dismay (and, I think, his disbelief) that such a thing would happen. Then I related how I called the contractor back and the SG told me that was a big mistake.

Are you kidding me? A mistake how?

“You shouldn’t have called the contractor back,” the SG told me. “There was no reason to tell him that the [WC] representative lied.”

“No reason other than to let him know that he may not want to continue business with a company that deliberately lies to him, perhaps,” I responded. The SG continued to harp on the “fact” that I was wrong to inform the contractor and that it, along with the lying in the first place, seemed to be the crux of the problem.

No, I replied, the crux of the problem is that your representative misrepresented me and lied to the contractor, and expects everyone to be okay with it. I expressed my frank disapproval of the unethical and dubious behavior, and the SG agreed that while the way the situation was being handled was not the best, I was getting the replacement covered, wasn’t I?

The SG told me that I should be happy that I was getting my furnace replaced at all, considering that my contract stated that because someone else had taken apart the furnace already I was not actually entitled to any coverage from the WC. I told him I had not signed any contract, which caused him to amend his statement to reference the “terms and conditions” in the pamphlet I had been sent confirming my policy. He urged me to review the T&C carefully and I would see that he was right. (I did review the T&C later this evening and could only find this clause that seemed remotely applicable: “We require you to contact us so we may have the opportunity to select a contractor to perform the service. We will not reimburse you for services performed by your own contractor without prior authorization.” I don’t expect to be reimbursed for the original furnace diagnosis and green sticker for my water heater. It never even crossed my mind that the WC would cover that.)

So he told me that even if the situation wasn’t handled properly, at least I was “getting taken care of.” I answered him that the ends don’t justify the means, and that I was very disappointed with the “customer service” I had received thus far (funnily enough, one of the phrases in the hold message for the WC service line is “We know that corporate policy is not the same as customer service). He also mentioned–as do the T&C, several times–the possibility of a “cash-out”, but said it was highly unlikely to happen because they shouldn’t have to cover the furnace at all. And now it gets really stupid.

He brought religion into it.

“Are you Mormon?” he asked.

“Yes,” I answered, “and that has absolutely nothing to do with this conversation.”

“Well, I’m Mormon, too,” he said, as if he hadn’t heard me and thought that religion did, in fact, have something to do with the topic at hand. I stated again that it did not and that even asking such a question in this context was highly inappropriate. He replied, “I only say that because I want you to know that I have the same values as you do and that I also feel that there are some questionable ethics at work here.”

What if I had been Jewish? I thought. Or Muslim, or buddhist, or atheistic? Are Mormon values regarding this particular matter better? Give me a break. It also seemed silly to say that he shared the same values as me when he was continually arguing in defense of the wrongdoing.

After trying, unsuccessfully, to pry his foot from his mouth, he went on to add that of all the home warranty companies out there, I had “chosen the right one.” To prove his point, he told me that in the state of California–some two states away from Utah–the WC has had the fewest complaints of any home warranty company, and that the WC has been in business for 32 years, and that he was proud to work for it. “Do your research,” he said, “and you’ll see that we are the best.” I was rendered speechless by such logic.

My step-father the realtor asked a good question, though: since legally the first contractor could not restore the furnace to working order, and that was what somehow allowed the WC to deny my claim, what was the WC’s policy/recommendation as to how the homeowner proceed with the situation? The SG, in wonderful sales guy fashion–this part reminded me of the wonderful sales guy at the company I work for–said he didn’t know the policy.

How helpful.

I was then asked if I was settled with the new contractor coming tomorrow to replace the furnace, and I replied that I would have to discuss it with my wife (read: get a big headache from all this in the process) and call the WC back tomorrow.

To recap so far:

  • I had a routine tune-up scheduled for my furnace.
  • The contractor found the furnace to be unsafe and could not turn it back on.
  • The WC sent a new contractor, who agreed with the first’s assessment.
  • The WC said they would not cover any repair/replacement, but might make a “special circumstance.”
  • The WC said they would cover it, and told me I would need to authorize the amount not covered.
  • The WC lied to the contractor, saying I had not authorized the amount, when in fact I had not been consulted.
  • The WC scheduled a new contractor without asking me and without asking me to authorize the amount.
  • The WC sales guy defended the whole situation very poorly and stupidly; I was apparently wrong to tell the contractor about the lie, and religion was brought into the conversation.

And that brings us to the present, ending day three with no heat, and bringing a headache with it. Further bulletins as events warrant.