The Art of Service
Pool and spa service may not be the most glamorous job, but for those of us who’ve made it our profession, it can be nothing short of an art form. The work involves a variety of interrelated tasks and goals that require consistent and careful attention. There’s chemistry, hydraulics, mechanics, problem solving, customer relations, and being a good driver — all wrapped into one job that can challenge even the most experienced practitioners.
Service work is where all the intertwined facets of pool design, engineering, and technology come together. When all systems and routines are running smoothly, pools and spas stay clean, healthy, and inviting. When service spins out of the grooves, pools turn green, become cloudy, smell bad, and can become unsafe. There’s tremendous responsibility that comes with the job in that our clients depend on us to be sure their pools and spas are always ready to use, biologically and chemically safe, and always inviting.
Suffice to say it’s a much bigger job than most people tend to think.
As is true of pools themselves, all service businesses are a little bit different. Our company services about 300 mostly residential pools, in addition to our work building custom pools and spas. Here on Long Island, it’s seasonal work, meaning we close up pools in the fall and re-open them in the spring, and we shut down operations during the coldest months. Most of the properties we work at are vacation homes, meaning there’s a huge ebb and flow over the weekends.
All of our accounts are within a five-mile radius of our shop, a luxury of working in a densely populated and relatively affluent area. From an operations standpoint, we’re able to do more in less time, simply because our aquatic professionals are not spending much time between stops.
I’ve been working in service for more than 30 years and am the first to admit that it took me a long time to completely figure out how all the pieces fit together and the best way to structure our service routines. In many ways, service is the art of organizing the obvious while at the same time solving the unknown. It’s a great way to learn the nuances of applied chemistry — and get a great suntan all at the same time.
It’s the kind of customer-facing work where, to be successful, you have to approach each and every account and every client as though they’re your only one. That’s why we treat every client the way we would want to be treated ourselves, as if it were our kids swimming in the waters for which we care. Maintaining that value system requires a constant state of readiness and dedication to quality. No problem is too small or too big for us to handle, and we always respond as quickly as possible.
As I’ve mentioned before, we take the same approach to service as my family did in the restaurant business. We are providing a quality experience that meets customer expectations every time. We know we are in the pleasure business and, in essence, it’s our job to ensure nothing on the waterfront disrupts the clients’ quest for “the good life.”
The overarching principle in quality service is to understand how each facet of the work influences every other part of the job. Using our work as an example, it’s interesting how the end of every season sets the stage for the next. The way we treat the water and close down the system in the fall will have everything to do with what we have to contend with when we come back and open our pools in the spring.
Each year, prior to opening our pools, we work with our clients to make necessary repairs and upgrades to their systems. We want all the filters clean and all pumps, motors, heaters and chemical feeders in perfect operating condition. That way, when we pull all those winterizing covers off the water, the systems are fully operational.
Opening pools is one of the more challenging aspects of pool service. Because of the careful way we chemically treat the water at closing, about 80 percent of our pools are crystal clear when we open them. Still, there are always some that have turned cloudy or green. The exact processes we use to correct those water quality problems are surprisingly complicated. We’re always refining how we correct water balance, shock the water if necessary, cycle the filter, vacuum and brush, raise sanitizer levels and the sequence in which we do all of those things.
Some pools temporarily require daily care to bring them back to useable conditions, while other are basically ready to go once we raise the water level and readjust the chemistry.
Once all our pools are open, we fall into a steady rhythm over the remaining months of spring, through the summer and into the fall. Admittedly, our business is different than many others because so many of our clients are here only over the weekends. That means when they arrive on Thursday and Friday, their pools and spa have to be ready to rock.
When they leave, we get back to work on Monday by visiting every one of our accounts to assess the water quality and make chemical adjustments with micro-shock treatments, if there’s been heavy use and also to adjust water balance. Then, the rest of the week we spend with the cleaning regimens and making any repairs as needed.
It’s a constant cycle that is based on both steady routines and improvisation as we contend with unexpected issues and client requests.
Our decades of experience on the service side of the business have been intrinsically valuable in our design and construction work. In fact, I moved into construction precisely because I could see how the way a pool is set up from the start influences how easy or difficult it is to service.
Simple things, like arranging skimmers and returns so there are no dead spots, or organizing the equipment pad so that everything is accessible, or properly sizing the plumbing and components so that everything runs quietly and efficiently, all of those basic measures and many others are crucial throughout the life of the system.
It’s interesting to think that every pool and every spa is essentially a miniature water treatment system. On one hand, pool and spa systems are not entirely dissimilar from the systems that treat our public water supplies, or on a much smaller scale, they also have a lot in common with home aquariums. Regardless of scale, the principles of filtration, chemical treatment and proper maintenance remain relatively the same.
From a builder perspective, it’s helpful to know that the pool and its treatment system will be serviced in a way that will increase the service life of the components, preserve the pool’s appearance, and above all, provide the water experience the homeowners are paying for in the first place. That’s why I always say I’d prefer to service pools I build and build the pools we’ll service.
When a well-built pool is serviced correctly, only then are we truly able to deliver a consistency of product that meets client expectations. Experience has taught that when you get it all right, when you make all the pieces fit together like a beautifully written symphony or a delicious recipe, service may not be the sexiest occupation, but it is very satisfying because, ultimately, we’re making people happy!