Don't let dark clouds hang over problems. Treat them instead as golden opportunities.

“Honestly, I don't mind callbacks,” says Robert Criner, owner of Criner Construction based in York, Va. “The trick is in not making them a sore spot between you and the client. I look at them instead as a chance to demonstrate our company's service.”

According to Criner, 80% of his company's callbacks involve little things that he can fix relatively simply, and doing so with a smile wins far more rewards than the cost of fixing them, even if they're unrelated to his work. “It's not unusual to be called out for a problem that isn't anywhere near our work,” Criner says, “but arguing with the client is usually a losing proposition. Just fix it, on the other hand, and they'll be talking about you as a hero for months.”

Doomed to failure: A soffit that dead-ends into a roof is guaranteed to eventually lead to a callback.
Doomed to failure: A soffit that dead-ends into a roof is guaranteed to eventually lead to a callback.

Not all callbacks are so easy. Some require scheduling work and may even become a nuisance. But even these situations provide an opportunity to win a referral for a relatively low investment, Criner says.

KNOW THE WEAK SPOTS As light-hearted as he may be about fixing problems, Criner doesn't treat them lightly within his company. To the contrary, he maintains a strategic focus on callbacks, tracking them as a separate accounting category. He keeps tabs on callbacks as a line item within each job. “By looking at them separately, along with all the other callbacks for the year,” Criner says, “we can identify where we might have a systemic problem and fix that internally. The goal is to identify the weak points on each type of job.”

Criner deals with the weak points by making sure his crew and subcontractors understand the best practices to avoid problems. On roofs, common weak points are pipe collars, ridge vents, chimneys, and skylights. Properly installed rubber boots are the best way to handle vent penetrations, rather than relying on mastics that will dry out. Ridge vents require careful attention to make sure they're well-fastened and won't peel up at the corners. Chimneys must have crickets to prevent water running into their backsides. Cheap skylights leak; those of better quality don't.

Criner also recognizes that some details are doomed to failure. “A soffit or valley that dead-ends on a roof will eventually leak no matter what,” he explains. “The main thing for us is to make sure we don't design these into a project when tying in an addition roof.”

Equally important, Criner points out, is to address potential problems upfront with the homeowners. “Clients need to know what the possible weak spots are,” Criner says. “If they aren't surprised, it usually is not a problem.”

COMMON CALLBACKS That's especially true for the most common callbacks. According to Robert's brother John Criner, who has been roofing houses on North Carolina's barrier islands for 30 years, some of the most common roof callbacks stem from clients' anxiety over unexpected conditions. Shingles not laying flat is perhaps the most common. “Even when we tell the owner at the beginning, we often get the call,” he says. The problem is more pronounced when the roof is installed in cold weather. “Once the sun comes out and softens the shingles, the problem goes away,” John says.

The other common call comes after the first big rain, when the owner finds an excess of granules on decks and walks. “They think the shingles are failing, but we explain that the shingles are made with surplus granules and this is to be expected,” John Criner says.