The LeafFilter saga, or how to use social media to clamber out of the gutter

Sometimes a company doesn’t live up to what it has promised you. That can make you angry. What should you do about it? This post is about what happened when a company called LeafFilter disappointed me, and what I did about it.

My father’s mirror

I want to start by talking about my father. The date is some time in the early 1960s. My father, a very calm and logical man with a Ph.D. in chemistry, has purchased a mirror from the automotive department at Sears. The mirror has an adhesive backing and is designed to stick on the back of the sun visor in your car so that someone — in this case, most likely my mother — can check their appearance upon entering or leaving the car.

The mirror that my father purchased does not work properly — it won’t stick. So my father returns to Sears, along with my brother and me, both little kids at the time. He asks for his money back. The amount is probably about three dollars, which was worth more back then, but is still not a princely sum.

The salesperson to whom he is speaking asks if he has a receipt.

“I don’t keep every receipt for every little thing I purchase,” my father says.

“Sir, I cannot refund your money without a receipt,” the salesperson says.

“I obviously bought it here,” my father says. But the salesperson says that doesn’t matter.

As I recall, next there is a fairly heated exchange. And my father does something very out of character.

“Listen, buddy,” he says with a slightly raised voice. “You are being unreasonable. Your policy makes no sense. I understand that you feel you have to follow it, but let me tell you what is going to happen. If you don’t give me my money back, I’m going to smash the mirror on the floor right here and it will shatter into a million pieces. And you’re going to have to clean it up.”

The sales guy gets a very strange look on his face. He doesn’t think my dad will do it. But he isn’t sure — my dad, looks very determined and a little unhinged. And he doesn’t want to clean up a very big mess.

My dad gets his money back. And that story becomes legendary in my family.

Signing up with LeafFilter

Now it is no longer the 1960s. It is the fall of 2021. I have just purchased a new home in Maine. It is surrounded by tall and beautiful trees. And unlike the home I had in Massachusetts, it has gutters. It’s a long house, so it has a lot of gutters.

Every morning as I look out the window of my bathroom on the second floor, I can look down on some of the gutters. They are full of leaves. My wife has decided that we ought to do something about that, and has arranged for a guy from LeafFilter to come see us. She assures me that based on her research, they are the best company to keep the gutters on your house free of leaves.

On Monday, November 1, a “Factory Account Representative” that I’ll call Jeffrey comes to out house. (I’ve changed all the names in this story.) Jeffrey takes a close look at every gutter in our house. He explains how LeafFilter’s gutters guards are made of surgical-grade stainless steel and will not need maintenance. Then he goes back to his car and comes back with a contract including a quote.

We have agreed that for now, the LeafFilter company will do two things — mount a new gutter on one side of my house where there is none, and then clean out, seal, and where necessary, reinforce the gutters that are already there. They won’t put their great product on until next year, after I replace the roof. This suits me, since I want to try the company out before I shell out a huge sum for gutter guards. (While the company has a quality reputation, its product is very expensive.)

Jeffrey’s contract says that they will mount the new gutters and clean the old ones on January 20, 2021. But since that date is ten months in the past, I know he really means January of 2022. And I don’t want to wait that long. In the next few months, leaves will block the water in my gutters, then it will freeze, and then who knows what bad things could happen.

Jeffrey wants to come into my house to discuss it, but with the current state of the virus, I see no reason to invite him in — he can see everything he needs to see, including me, from the outside.

“Your installation date is too late,” I say. My wife and I have discussed it, and we want this done before winter arrives.

“That’s the soonest that is available,” he says.

“It’s not soon enough for me,” I say.

“There’s nothing earlier on the schedule,” he says.

“That sounds like a you problem, not a me problem,” I say.

“Let me see what I can do,” he says. And he returns to his truck.

A few minutes later, he knocks on my door and hands me the contract again. He has crossed out January 20, 2021, and written in November 18, 2021 — less than three weeks from the day we are talking.

“That, I can do,” I say. And I sign the contract.

To be clear, the contract requests no down payment, and I have made no down payment. All the money is due on delivery of the service. Which is fine with me.

Three strikes

Now it is November 18. The LeafFilter people are supposed to arrive between 8 am and noon. But by 1 pm, no one has arrived.

On the contract, there is an 800 number for customer service. Jeffrey had circled it and said to call them if I need help. So I call the number.

After waiting a few minutes on hold, I reach a customer service person who looks up my contract in her system. “The work on your house is scheduled for January 20,” the customer service person tells me.

“No, it is not,” I tell her. “I have a copy of the contract in my hand that says the service is due today.”

“That’s not in our system,” she says.

I figure Jeffrey can fix this. So I call Jeffrey.

There is no answer and his voicemail is full.

I call back customer service and go through the same runaround. But this time, I don’t give up. “I have a contract that says it’s today,” I say. “Can you resolve this?”

“I’ll have someone at the company’s Maine office call you back,” she says. “When that happens, they usually get us an answer within a day or so.”

The next day, I call customer service again. Nothing has changed. They’ll get somebody to call me back, they say. No one does.

I send an email to the email address on Jeffrey’s card. No response.

I send a text with a photo of the contract to Jeffrey. “Here is the contract for the work you promised. No show. And your company has no record of it. How will you fix this, Jeffrey?”

He responds to the text. “The company does have a record, you spoke with someone ill informed. I spoke with [name redacted] who changed the date for me, and he said he would be in touch with you.”

No one calls me. Nothing happens.

I’d give up and cancel, but I really would like someone to clean my gutters before winter, and I probably can’t get anyone else this late in the season. I’d do it myself, but my back and my knees are not really in good enough shape to climb ladders and clean out gutters.

Five days later, I call customer service again. This time, I tell them that I’ll write about their broken promises on every consumer site I can find.

I have a brainstorm. I call the local office number on Jeffrey’s card. And somehow, I get through to a very busy woman, let’s call her Sarah, who is in charge of scheduling.

Sarah also thinks I am scheduled for January 20. But she has a physical copy of the contract and can see that it has a different date on it. After some back and forth — and another threat to post bad reviews — she schedules me for December 3, nine days after our conversation.

Having written a popular book at the dawn of social media, I have accumulated 23,000 Twitter followers. I send a tweet, just for fun.

Call 1 to @LeafFilter: Why didn’t you show up as promised? No call back, no response.
Call 2: Why didn’t you show up? No call back.
Call 3: Why? Dropped call.
Call 4: I will savage you on all rating sites unless I get an answer soon.

Problem solved in 30 minutes.

Now it is December 3. I’m home, waiting for the workmen to arrive. But nobody comes.

I call Jeffrey. Voice mail is full. I text Jeffrey. No response.

I call the local office of LeafFilter again, because I know there’s no point in calling the national customer service number where they will tell me to wait until January. I get Sarah again. She vaguely recalls our previous call, but I’m not on the schedule for today’s date — the date she said they’d show up.

At this point my blood is boiling. She can tell. She says they are down a bunch of crews, but people are coming from other parts of the country to fill the need. And she reschedules me for December 9, six days later, and five weeks after my first meeting with Jeffrey. A crew from some other state that’s now roaming around Maine will do the job. She promises me she will call the day before.

When she doesn’t call the day before, I call her. She confirms the crew is coming the next day, but in the afternoon.

I don’t notice any workmen showing up. But I get a text message with a photo from Sarah. It is a picture of my roof. The workers apparently did show up, got a look at my roof and my gutters with frozen leaves, determined that their equipment couldn’t do the job, and left — without even knocking on my door.

Now I’m screwed. I waited too long to get someone else. I tell Sarah to cancel the contract.

Jeffrey piles on

I send another text to Jeffrey. “Your company just failed to show up and do their job for the third time today. Our relationship is over. But I will file complaints on every consumer site I can find.”

Now, for some reason, Jeffrey calls me. It is a very loud and angry conversation. But eventually I shut up and listen to Jeffrey’s points. They are:

  1. Have you ever had to depend on workers? Sometimes they don’t do what they promise.
  2. We are down a bunch of crews. We cannot keep up with the demand right now.
  3. You never paid us any money.
  4. We have to make choices. Some days they have to decide to do a job like yours or a $20,000 job at someone else’s house. So they do the $20,000 job.
  5. No one looks at those consumer sites anyway, so don’t waste your time posting there. No one will believe you.
  6. You were incredibly rude to me and everyone at my company. You didn’t even let me into your house.

I’m thinking that it’s pretty rude to promise to show up three times and then not only fail to show up, but fail to even call and give me a heads up. So I am feeling rude.

I think of my father with the mirror. I feel like it is time to smash the mirror on the floor.

“You fucked with the wrong guy,” I tell Jeffrey. Now he’s incredibly upset, and wants to tell me how people like me get what they deserve.

I hang up on Jeffrey while he is in the middle of a sentence.

And I post a reply to my previous tweet.

What happened next?

Before I tell you what happened next, I have a question for you. And I want an honest answer.

What would you do if you were me?

Do you think I was behaving like a “Karen”: someone who asks to speak to the manager after a minor or imagined slight? After all, I didn’t pay a dime. All I lost was time and heartache.

Do you think I was rude not to let Jeffrey into my house? To insist on an earlier date? To get upset with the failure to show up or contact me? To tell Jeffrey that he fucked with the wrong guy? Should I be ashamed of being rude? Was it justified?

I did a lot of waiting in this story. Now you will have to wait to hear what happened next. I assumed this was the end of a long story, but it wasn’t. And I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.

Story continues here.

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  1. Do you think I was rude not to let Jeffrey into my house? Absolutely not! It’s a pandemic. At our house, no one comes in unless it is critical to doing the job, and then everyone is masked.

    To insist on an earlier date? The fact that when they did show up and the gutters were frozen and they decided they could not do the job proves that waiting until January would not have worked at all.

    To get upset with the failure to show up or contact me? They have horrible business practices, which they proved way too many times. Calling a customer to cancel, confirm, or change an appointment is the minimum in customer service.

    To tell Jeffrey that he fucked with the wrong guy? At that point it seems justified to me. He didn’t return calls, his voicemail was full, and he obviously altered your date in the system. Jeffrey is untrustworthy.

    Should I be ashamed of being rude? Was it justified? See above.

    Can’t wait for tomorrow!

  2. We had a similar problem with SunRun Solar that was equally frustrating. When we finally cancelled the contract they didn’t care to follow up.

  3. In general, I’ve found you catch more flies with honey, and it sounds like your relationship with Jeffrey was hostile from the outset. This seems confirmed by him telling you, at the bitter end of the association, he found you rude. It’s perfectly fine to not want strangers in your house during the pandemic, but did you say to him, “My wife and I are being extra cautious because of the pandemic, so I’d prefer to take care of our business outside.” or did you say “I see no reason for you to come into my house.” When he told you the earliest date was 1/20, did you say, “Unfortunately, that date won’t work for us. We’ll have to find someone who can do it sooner. Thank you for coming by. If something changes on your end and an earlier date is a possibility, I’m still interested in using your company.” Or did you say, “That’s a you problem, not me problem.” If Jeffrey felt like he was on your team from the outset I suspect that he would have been much more responsive and helpful if/when the subsequent problems occurred. But why should he go to bat for someone who treated him like a jerk?

    Also, having worked in customer relations I can bet that word soon spread through the office that you were rude and nasty, even if you are usually a nice and reasonable guy—but none of these people know you, so they don’t know that. So now no one is going out of their way to get your job done.

    I’m not saying the company behaved professionally through much of this. The no shows and lack of communication on many occasions sound like a huge hassle. But I am saying a few small kindnesses at the beginning may have gone a long way to mitigating future headaches. We’re all tired and stressed and labor shortages are a real thing right now. Sometimes a little compassion goes a long way.

  4. I could see you as myself in this entire story. I’m about ready to lodge a complaint about LeafFilter myself and I’ve never even contacted them!

  5. I called LeafFilter to get a quote and they said they would send someone out and that I needed to be home. I said I would prefer they not come in as they have everything they need to see outside, being fully aware that once in, they would not leave without a signed contract. The woman insists they had to come in. So I said no thanks and that was that. After reading your story I made the right decision. And, it sounds like you were perfectly pleasant in the initial meeting, and much calmer than I would have been after the second no show. It is up to the company to meet the expectations they have set and if they can’t they need to tell you up front. I agree with the ‘more flies with honey’ concept but at some point who cares about flies, you just want the work done as promised.

    Looking forward to the outcome.

  6. Welcome to what is far too often my world. You were treated this way and you are a white male. I’m guessing that these situations happen far more often to women than to men and, although I don’t know for sure, I would guess it’s worse for people of color.

    Do I think you were rude for not letting him into your house? Nope.
    Do I think you were rude/wrong to insist on an earlier date? Nope.
    Do I think you were rude for being upset when they didn’t show – absolutely not. I’ll never figure out why some companies can’t figure out the “under promise over deliver” thing. Or, why they can’t be honest about what they will do.
    Do I think you were rude for saying that he fucked with the wrong guy? Ummm….yup. That’s anger talking.

  7. I agree that some compassion goes a long way, but on the other hand, it’s normal to feel angry after Leaf Filter’s runaround. The kicker for me is when Jeffery says he has to make choices. He’d rather chase a $20k job instead of living up to his promise to you. Jeffery and Leaf Filter have demonstrated that they cannot be trusted. Their competence is also questionable. They have done nothing to earn your respect, trust, or money, so screw them. It looks like they have at least worked to earn your ire.

  8. While I would never use “You’ve fucked with the wrong guy” in this situation, you’re in the right. Both parties signed a contract, yet one never lived up to its side of the agreement. We all know for certain if you were that side, they’d make your life miserable.

  9. I have LeafFilter and the installation went smoothly as promised. I was surprised at how prompt the installer was after discussing the project. I’ve used them twice. Once for the house and then when the garage was built. No problems either time. I want to give a different perspective on using LeafFilter.

  10. If Jeffrey really believes that “No one looks at those consumer sites anyway,” he’s in the wrong line of work. My wife and I never hire anyone if we see negative comments about their customer service.

  11. You were much more patient than I would be. My sympathies – Unreliable home-service companies are an infuriating, too common, pain in the ass.

    The company 1) failed to meet its contractual obligation, 2) provided poor communication between company and customer and 3) was sloppy in its record keeping, which would lead me to question its competency/reliability in other areas. In addition (reading between the lines), it seems that the company primarily intended to sell you an expensive product at the initial visit, and that “providing service” (to a house without the costly upgrade) was secondary.

    This looks like a national company. With a national company, your complaints on social media are diluted; your word-of-mouth criticisms don’t affect the company’s reputation significantly, thus are trivial from the company’s POV. In addition, if they have many “big money” contracts (servicing apartment complexes, malls, corporate buildings), they may have less incentive to please “small” clients (home owners); one $300,000 contract offsets the loss of thirty $10,000 contracts. As long as they perform competently/reliably for the big money customers, they can screw the “little guy” (no significant impact on profit).

    Have you looked at smaller local companies, which have their headquarters in Maine and focus on servicing primarily home owners and small businesses in your area? To survive, such a company depends on a good reputation among local homeowners/small businesses, thus is more likely to work at pleasing customers from this demographic.

  12. We have a completely different experience. The process for getting the quote happened the same day we called. Upon acceptance that day, the installation occurred the following day. The installer was very professional and completed the project in what we thought was a relatively short period of time. All the existing leaves on the roof were removed to our satisfaction. As of this date, we have no leaf build-up on any of the gutters. We are very appreciative of the expedited process and service we received. We would recommend the Leaf-Filter gutter protection system to everyone that has gutters.

  13. I read a great book maybe 25 years ago called Service America (by Ron Zemke and Karl Albrecht) about how businesses ignored the point of contact with a customer as a golden opportunity. That many businesses don’t focus or train the people who are on the front line, the ones who are a point of connect with customers daily.

    Your experience is a classic example of how they just think the product they provide (the gutters) are all they have to focus on. But the gutters just sit there and do their thing, it’s contact with their staff up and until that point that sets your experience.

    Wether you were rude or not, it doesn’t matter. You’re holding them to the repeated promises they made. Not having enough crews is one thing but it doesn’t take away from the fact that they didn’t keep you updated. They were not focused on your experience during the pre installation phase. From their perspective, it’s someone else’s problem, because the sale was already made. That backfired on them.