Tips for Avoiding Costly Communication Mishaps

When I first entered the kitchen business as a salesperson in 1968, I was fortunate enough to have previously worked as a pharmaceutical sales rep. That job taught me how important documentation is in managing my prospects and customers, since my customers were professionals and documentation of much of their work was required by law. For that reason, I learned early on the importance making documentation part of my organizational system.

It’s been said that we forget 70-90 percent of what we’re told in less than a week. But if you write things down, you can raise your communication accuracy to 100 percent. In the kitchen and bath industry, this is critical in order to avoid the kind of “he said/she said/I thought” issues that can lead to costly communication gaffes.

Lingo Confusion

One problem we often have in our industry relates to our lingo: full access versus framed; laminate versus solid surface versus quartz; a WCA versus a W versus a WBC. The list goes on and on, with tip-outs, slide-outs, roll-out shelves, roll-out drawers. We have stiles, rails, miters and butt joints. In fact, if you don’t like a lazy susan, we have a susan that is super.
As a result of all this specialized lingo, we must be very careful as we speak our kitchen language so our prospect knows and understands what we are saying.

To overcome this, we rely on our showroom, drawings, manufacturers’ specification books and literature. Using these tools can be helpful in creating more accurate communication. I believe it is vital that you have a review of the final plan to ensure your clients gains an accurate understanding of what to expect with their new kitchen.

We must make customers understand the importance of the floor plan as this document is to be used in the ordering and installation of their new kitchen. After the review, have your client initial it for accuracy – similar to the process when you go to rent a car.

Review your documents with the clients so they know and understand your policies on return rights, if any, as well as door style, wood species, finish, glaze, etc. Make sure your prospects understand that this review is essential for accuracy and understanding so their project will not incur delays or extra costs.

Another opportunity where communication can go awry is when several people are involved in the decision process and all are not present for all the decisions. The person left out will invariably spoil your party by saying, “I know my wife said she was looking at the natural finish but she said she decided on the harvest finish.” This is a strong reason to ask early in your selling process, “Who will be making the final decisions?” And then have that person or persons do the signing off for accuracy.

Timing Issues

Another common problem relates to clients’ timing expectations not being in sync with the reality of the project. During exploration, telling your prospect that this brand is on a four-week production schedule may not be understood as it will take four weeks from when they order it, not from when they started looking. We as salespeople don’t help if we say it will be here in three weeks, knowing it could be Monday or Friday of that week.

Sometimes the difference of two or three days can create major challenges. For example, one of our major cabinet suppliers is 50 miles away and we pick up product every Tuesday. Many times, we have had our people say, “We’re picking it up on Tuesday,” and the customer hears that it will be delivered to them on Tuesday. Our truck may not return until after we are closed. It is simple communication gone bad and opens the door for negative emotions.

In today’s world, a lot of trackable communications can be done with e-mail. This is helpful in that it creates a written record of who was told what, which helps to prevent later claims of: “You didn’t tell me!”

Another challenge we have with verbal communication is when a countertop is installed and in perfect condition, only later to have someone see scratches and want it changed. This now means we have to tear it out, install a new top and take care of all the plumbing charges. To document our policy on this, we developed a sticker and put on each top as it leaves our business that says:

Importance Notice

The installation of this product affirms the fact that it is in acceptable condition at the time of installation and that The Ar-Jay Center will not be held responsible for any future claims outside of the regular manufacturer’s product only (no labor) warranty. Call 393-5885 before installation with any concerns. Thank you.

This document works. In fact, we have expanded to putting this notice on boxed vanity tops.

Another valuable document we have created is the “Red Book.” When our prospect is looking for our company to do the installation, we use our 15-page Red Book (which has a red cover, hence the name) to communicate to our customers about the remodeling process. The first page is our mission statement. The second is our payment policy.

Page three has the event and payment schedule. On this page, we document the contract total, the original investment (down payment) and when the second and final payment is due. We ask our final payment to be paid in ten days following “substantial completion.”

We also define “substantial completion” as, “We consider the project substantially complete when functional for its intended purpose.” The customer signs off on this page. We make a copy for our records and the original stays in the booklet and in the possession of the customer.

We include a sample of our change order. We cover information about tree grains accepting stains differently, etc. We cover painted and synthetic finishes and how they might respond to UV light. We dedicate a page to “Our Craftsmen Are Coming!” This explains how the rooms should be prepared (such as removing pictures on adjacent walls), driveways should be left empty for subcontractors or dumpsters, etc. We explain that we’ll do our best to control dust, but a certain amount may escape.

This booklet is dedicated to eliminating any major surprises. We also include information about our warranties and a courtesy list of people in our company to contact with questions of concerns.

With the proper use of this booklet, we have eliminated many opportunities for unpleasant “he said/she said/I thought” conversations. We’ve also had fewer problems collecting payment on time.

Having documentation and systems to control the job will help to control your customer. You’ll love the results – fewer problems, less emotional loss and protection of the expected profits.

Read past columns on Closing the Sale by Ralph Palmer, and send us your comments about this story and others by logging onto the Kitchen & Bath Design News’ Web site, located at