Training Our Customers

Most contractors recognize the need to train their employees. If we want work performed to a certain
standard, we cannot assume that our employees know how to achieve that result. We must show them the proper way to perform the tasks required in their job.

Unfortunately, we often fail to recognize the need to train our customers. Yet, the results can be much worse than failing to train our employees.

Consider: You have given the customer an estimate and they ask if you can do better on your price. If you immediately cave and reduce the price, you have taught the customer a lesson—his wish is your command. And he will likely continue to act on that premise.

However, if you tell the customer that you can reduce the price by changing the scope of work or by using different materials, you have taught a much different lesson—your price is determined by the labor and materials required, not the customer’s desires.

Virtually every interaction with our customer implicitly trains him as to what we expect and will tolerate. We can train the customer to use and abuse us, or we can train him to treat us with respect and professional courtesy.

As professional contractors, we know what it takes for a job to go smoothly. This requires everyone involved—our employees and the customer—to do their part. We spend time training our employees to do their job efficiently and to our standards. We should do the same with our customers.

Doing Whatever it Takes, Part Three

This week, I’ve been talking about dealing with problem customers. I’ve previsously written about my worst customer. But I haven’t shared something that happened two years later.

The customer had violated numerous provisions in our contract, including the terms of payment. Two years later, he emailed me several times to let me know that several items needed attention per my guarantee. I ignored his emails, but then he sent me a certified letter. While I was tempted to ignore the letter as well, I decided to address the issue head on.

I sent him an email and informed him that, because he had violated the terms of the contract, there was no guarantee. I pointed out to him that the contract stated that a failure to meet the terms of the contract, including payment terms, would void all guarantees. I never heard from him again.

Doing Whatever it Takes, Part Two

In the last post, I discussed a customer who wanted a two-coat job for a one-coat price. I wasn’t willing to do that, but another company was. I’m still in business. I doubt that they are.

We have all heard the adage that the customer is always right. But that’s not true, but all too often contractors act as if it is.

Certainly, we want to satisfy our customers. Sometimes this means putting up with a little BS. But we have to draw a line. We can’t let the customer use and abuse us. We can’t do whatever it takes to make the customer happy, because that might mean spending the next year at her house.

Customers are human beings, and some of them are simply looking to take advantage of us. It would be great if we could spot them before we ever took the job, but that isn’t reasonable. However, when they make their intentions clear, whether explicitly or implicitly, we need to stop them in their tracks. If we choose to do whatever it takes, it might mean putting ourselves out of business.

Doing Whatever it Takes, Part One

Years ago, I had an experience that I still remember vividly. When I met with the customer to look at her project, she said that she wanted the walls painted the same color. I bid the job for one coat, and that was clearly stated in the estimate.

When the crew arrived to do the work, she informed them that she had changed her mind on the colors. We told her that one coat probably wouldn’t provide sufficient coverage. She told us to do one coat and she’d decide how it looked.

She wasn’t happy with one coat, and I provided a price for a second coat. She didn’t want to pay us more for a second coat. We completed our work, got paid, and moved on to the next project.

The customer later posted a review of our company online, stating that she had hired another company to finish the job because they would do whatever it takes.

In other words, the other company was willing to do a two-coat job for a one-coat price. That might make the customer happy, but it is a sure way to go out of business. I will say more about this in the next post.

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