In my last post I detailed the benefits of providing great customer service, namely the financial rewards that your company will ultimately reap. But what about those rare instances where a client or homeowner is completely unreasonable with their demands or disrespectful to you or your employees? At what point do you stop taking it and start standing up for yourself?
I almost wish that every signed estimate for a job included clear terms about expected behavior from both me AND the customer, however impractical that might be. Specifically, it would politely request that they give us some space to work without constant over-the-shoulder surveillance (this presumes that we have not given them reason to doubt our skills), that they treat us with dignity and respect (presuming we have extended it to them), that they make and finalize all design specifications and special requests prior to the work being started (and really before the estimated price is agreed upon), that they make an effort to keep the lines of communication open at all times to prevent confusion or misunderstandings, and that they pay for services rendered in a timely fashion so that I don’t have to get ugly or send out a letter demanding payment.
Since setting expectations for your customers in writing is probably not wise from a business standpoint, you instead need to prepare yourself for that occasional nutjob that makes your life less than stellar. Note that I’m not saying that a homeowner with high expectations is a nutjob. They SHOULD have high expectations, and it’s our job to meet or exceed them. I’m talking about the homeowner that expects you to “throw in” two days of free labor because they changed their mind on design after installation. I’m talking about the homeowner who questions your every move and maintains such a close and constant watch over your shoulder that by the time you’re finished installing the wood floors, you can name what kind of gum they chew, what deodorant they wear, and how many times per minute they exhale. I’m talking about the homeowner that cusses out one of your guys and calls him stupid for something really petty, like parking in the wrong part of the driveway. Those of you that have been in the business for any amount of time know what I’m talking about.
So what to do in these situations? First and foremost, keep your cool. Don’t let some guy with an ax to grind get inside your head. If you have a meltdown just because he’s having one, you’re the one that stands to lose more. It’s your reputation and your business that’s on the line. Usually the best approach is just to suck it up, bite your lip, finish the job, and move on. Remind yourself that sometimes you’re going to run into these kinds of people but that you won’t allow them the power to get to your emotions, because even if they’re wrong and you’re right, if you don’t finish the job and finish it well, you can bet that they will spread the word in all directions that your company is a joke. Try to negotiate. Find middle ground. Do what you can to move the job forward to its completion, if not for the homeowner then for yourself and the future of your company. Reputation in this industry is key, and the further you can bend without breaking, the better! Part of learning how to become a contractor who is successful involves hardening yourself a little bit in order to weather the occasional lunatic. You have to train yourself not to get too caught up in the drama.
Now as for the guy that threatens you or calls you or your valued employee a (bleeping) idiot, it’s a different story. When things really get out of control and an annoying customer has become an abusive customer, you have an obligation to stand up for yourself and your people, even if it’s gonna’ cost you. Where that line in the sand is I can’t tell you, but chances are you’ll know in your gut when it’s been crossed. Ask the homeowner to calm down and/or apologize, and if they will not then gather the crew and your equipment, load up as quickly as possible, and don’t look back.