At Home With Marni Jameson


When I arrived at my friend’s house, I did not yet know the trouble I’d caused. Jean and her husband, Tony, graciously squired me to the guest room, where I set my overnight bag. Then they showed me to the bathroom down the hall.

“You’ve done such a nice job,” I said, knowing they had worked hard on renovating the three-bedroom, two-bath house they bought two years ago in South Tampa.

Little did I know how hard.

Then one of them, I can’t remember which, said, “We just installed that toilet 30 minutes ago.”

They shared a glance.

I cocked my head. I noted a row of sweat beads on Tony’s brow.

“We had a few problems,” he said.

“You didn’t get a new toilet for me, did you?” I, the root of inconvenience, asked.

“No. Yes. Well,” Tony said.

“We were getting it anyway,” Jean said.

“It’s a good thing,” Tony said.

“I feel terrible,” I stammered.

“You were leverage,” Tony said.

Although Jean and Tony did not want me to feel like what I was — an imposition — we all knew the truth: This toilet wouldn’t be here today unless I was.

This all started in early July. I messaged Jean, a friend of several years, and asked if I could stay one night at her home in mid-October. I was going to be attending a wedding nearby and didn’t want to make the two-hour drive back home late at night.

“Please let me know if it is any trouble at all,” I wrote.

“Of course, you are very welcome to spend the night here,” she wrote back instantly.

I am from the West, so I took that to mean I was very welcome to spend the night there. The South is more complicated.

In early October, I wrote again. “I am looking forward to seeing you, but please let me know if it is any trouble.”

“We’re happy to have you stay over,” she wrote.

That was before the toilet trouble.

The next morning at breakfast, Tony said, “OK, now I have to tell you my toilet story.” That may not sound like a great conversation starter, but I had actually been waiting for this moment.

“We were already working on the bathroom,” he said. “We were on target to have it completed well before you arrived.”

Indeed, six weeks earlier they had torn out all the fixtures, and installed a new Jacuzzi tub in a shade called bone. That did not match the white toilet, so they tore it out, and ordered a bone toilet. Meanwhile, they installed a new sink vanity, and travertine on the floors and shower walls.

The toilet arrived. It was too small.

“It would have been great in a preschool,” said Jean.

They found a more fitting bone toilet online at Shipping would take five business days. It arrived the Monday before my Saturday arrival. Perfect.

That evening, Tony started to install it and found a defect, a leaky hole at the base where the porcelain hadn’t joined properly. Tuesday morning, he called and asked if — given that they had shipped a defective product — they would expedite shipment of a replacement toilet.

Sorry, no expediting. A new toilet would take five business days. It should arrive Monday.

“But my house guest is coming Saturday,” Tony said to the customer service the rep who did not care. “Monday will be too late. Can you rush it?”

“No. Sorry.”

“By the way,” he added, turning up the heat. (Here’s where my shoulders scrunch up to my earlobes.) “Our guest is a nationally syndicated home design columnist. Her column runs in papers all over the country.”

“Did that get you anywhere?” I asked, wincing.


“Never gets me anywhere either.”

As if watching the weather radar, Tony uses the tracking number to follow the truck with the toilet from Iowa to Tampa as Hurricane Marni looms. On Friday, he sees the truck is in Tampa. He calls to see if someone can now deliver the toilet. Sorry, the shipping company doesn't have anyone available to unload the truck and find the toilet buried inside, said the rep who does not care.

By now, Tony is ready to unload the truck himself. “What if you had to get it to me by tomorrow?” he asked. “What would have to happen?”

“We would have to pay the freight company $500 to go through the truck and find the toilet, which we’re not going to do,” Tony recounted.

Fortunately, and here’s where charm came in, over the course of two toilet deliveries, Tony and Rita, the scheduler at ABF Freight, had practically become family. He explained the situation. She would see what she could do. Late Friday afternoon she called: “We have your toilet.”

Few words ever sounded so sweet.

Tony was there in a flash — or a flush. He spent Saturday installing it, which explains why the new toilet had been installed just 30 minutes before I arrived.

Anyone who has remodeled knows that setbacks, difficult suppliers and defective materials go with the territory, and good customer service can be as scarce as kids when you want the dishwasher unloaded. Here are some ways to get your project to go your way from Tony Macchia, a seasoned DIYer and a marketing executive with years of customer service experience:
• Ask the magic question. When an order hits a logjam, ask: What if this had to happen? What would you do? Make the customer service rep think creatively.
• Be pleasantly persistent. Don’t get angry, or profane, said Macchia. Stay calm, and logical.
• Go up the ladder. If the person you are talking to isn’t solving the problem, ask for a supervisor. The higher up the chain you go, the better your chances for a good result.
• Post a review. Whether you had a good or bad outcome, review the company on social media, and tell the company you plan to do so. “If service is great, sing their praises,” said Macchia. “If it’s terrible, be truthful.”
• Take names and numbers. Get tracking numbers, and write down the names of everyone you talk to. Use chat features so you have a written record of the exchange.
• Get personal. Macchia got a good result because he and the shipping company scheduler had a good rapport. If she hadn’t gone the extra mile, Macchia would have been telling a very different story over breakfast.NOTEStart (Da Capo Press). Contact her through


Marni Jameson

Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press)
Last modified: October 30, 2014
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