Be Like Jack: Fireplace Installation, Problem Solving and the Art of Client Relationships

How’s that for a title?

When I was much younger, I read Robert Pirsig’s classic, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  I probably understood about 25% of it back then. If I were to try again today, that percentage would drop even further, unless there was a Netflix version, which is pretty much all my attention span can handle these days.

My main takeaway from the book, however, was the importance of understanding how things worked, looking after your responsibilities, living a life of quality and truth, following the natural order.

Maintaining your motorcycle was a metaphor for different approaches to life.  You could find it boring and foreign, leave it others to deal with and just a get new one at the first sign of a problem.  Or you could understand its mechanics and inner workings, be proactive in recognizing warning signs, and meaningfully enjoy the process of caring for the bike over its long lifetime.

Which brings me to our recent fireplace experience. Back in early February we had a new one installed.  That evening while the fireplace was on, the glass exploded into our family room.  Needless to say, it somewhat detracted from our enjoyment of the Leafs win over the Habs.

The person who sold us the unit and installed it (let’s call him Jack) was shocked. Jack had never seen this happen before.  He came over right away and took all the necessary steps to remedy the problem, but he experienced frustrations in dealing with the corporate manufacturer (let’s call them the Evil Corporation or EC), who were not so quick to help.

It took another month until we had the replacement fireplace installed.  The glass exploded again.  The Leafs were in the middle of a losing streak. This wasn’t good.

Jack was beside himself, concerned, apologetic, and doing all he could to convince EC to act quickly.  I think he was more upset than we were. Getting to know Jack, you can tell that he enjoys his job, works long hours, and is very capable.  He is on work sites every day, gets dirty and leads his crew by example.  

He probably hates paperwork, emails and corporate phone calls. They are out of his comfort zone, but they were all the things he needed to do to help us.

Jack was in constant communication with us, and he kept on top of EC, urging them to rectify the situation as soon as possible.  When I finally spoke with EC directly, they weren’t quick to apologize, to offer an acceptable solution or to make things right.  

Ultimately, EC determined there was a problem with faulty glass installation at their production facility and they provided us with an upgraded unit, which Jack has now just installed. Two days in, so far, so good, no more glass explosions. Jack left us with the message that this one should work great, but to call him right away if there any issues. I hope this bodes well for the Leafs and the upcoming playoffs.

This experience reminded me of Pirsig’s old book, and the natural principles governing work and client relationships.  

First, be good at would you do. Learn your job and take pride in it.

Second, understand that mistakes and problems happen, they are inevitable.  The true signs of a great business and a quality person is that they face the problem and seek to remedy it.

Over the years, I’ve tried to live these principles and share them with the people in my office. Treat the case and our client like they were a close friend or family member.  Keep them updated and answer their questions. Return phone calls and emails.  Explain the process and speak in plain English, not legalese. 

Now instead, I’ve got a simpler way to convey the message:

Just Be Like Jack.

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