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  By Joe Igel
My wife and I, along with another couple, just completed a wonderful trip to Scotland’s beautiful countryside. We arrived in Edinburgh, full of excitement and anticipation. Unfortunately, our luggage did not, which replaced our excitement with worry. Three of our group received their bag the evening before we returned, two weeks after our arrival. My wife’s came home another week later.
Over those two weeks, we tried chasing down our luggage. Hours on the airline’s customer service line provided no reliable answer--their story was always changing. If we went to their website, we received a completely different story. No one would step up and respond with truth and knowledge and allow us to have some idea as to whether we had to purchase clothes and supplies for a couple of days or the balance of our trip.
In this process, I learned that many customer service functions were subcontracted and several times I was told that I had to call the airline’s subcontractor directly. As the luggage saga unfolded, I thought of its similarity to issues in the dig industry (nothing else to do while sitting in a Scottish laundromat instead of sightseeing). Surprisingly, there were more similarities than I initially surmised.
Many argue that a sign of the times in a post-COVID world, customer service is dead. If it is “dead”, then perhaps we should be honest about it and drop the masquerade that it lives on.
As excavators, as utilities, as municipalities, we all have an obligation to our customers, but who are our customers?
Obviously, our customers are the ones who pay our bills, whether contractually or otherwise. I would argue that our customer base is much broader. Most of the one calls’ mission statements that I have seen express the responsibility to reduce damage and thus protect the public and the environment. Our enforcement body in Ohio has a seat representing the public. Thus, everyone is our customer, and our responsibility lies accordingly.
The introduction of subcontractors into the relationship does not change responsibilities, although sometimes the storyline suggests otherwise. In our lost luggage saga, the airline we
flew on had one subcontractor who unloaded the luggage, scanned it in, and placed it on the carousel. Their call center was outsourced (judging by the names that the CSRs used
and the accents they had). The service companies that deliver the delayed baggage are also subcontractors and they share delivery routes with no apparent logic. And everyone seizes
the opportunity to point the finger at someone else in the relationship. My response is simple, that the party who decided to subcontract out the work is responsible.
In Ohio, third-party locators are protected from complaints filed against them in the underground enforcement arena. I
am not claiming that this is right or wrong, simply noting it. What this does mean to us in enforcement is that if a utility
is responsible for marking under the law and they choose to subcontract it out, they are responsible. For the utility to blame its own third-party locator is them blaming themselves.
The courts and OSHA understand this relationship between contractors and subcontractors. OSHA also understands projects with multiple contractors present (without necessarily having a subcontractor relationship). A contractor or subcontractor can be cited on such a site for assorted reasons (their employees were EXPOSED to the hazard, the contractor CREATED the hazard that the subcontractor was cited for, the contractor had CONTROL over the site, and if they should have CORRECTED it). OSHA does not allow finger-pointing. Neither do the courts.
As I pondered the luggage issue, I cringed, thinking the maintenance and the review of pilot qualifications could be monitored in the same manner as customer service is managed. It makes you think. These same standards, this relationship, should govern all relationships with subcontractors. If it did, I would have been out sightseeing in Scotland instead of sitting in the laundromat making notes for this article.
Mr. Igel retired as vice president of the George J. Igel & Co., Inc. after working there for more than 35 years.
You Bet Your Life
 20 • Texas811
2024, Issue 1

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