Myth No. 9: Impossible Clients are Inevitable

Most of us have had one before, all of us have heard of them ­— the customer from the place that never “freezes over.” Did we do something wrong; do we deserve them; is it some kind of rite of passage? Actually, the answer is mostly “yes” to all three questions — we usually did something wrong, something we knew not to do. And, that means that we kinda deserve what we got, a little like paying the piper, and paying and paying. It can reasonably be called a rite of passage because once we pass through there we should remember the path and not be tempted to go there again. If you paid attention to what was happening the first time you found yourself working for one of these “types,” you should recognize some characteristics of behavior.

Problem clients seldom infect our operations when we are busy but not swamped; we have capacity available but are not starving for work. Why is this — because only when we are under or over busy do we feel invincible, superhuman, infallible, desperate or panicky. It is during this time we overpromise, underdocument and above all underlisten.

Frankly, I’m quite certain that every difficult client who passed through our bank account in over 30 years told me more than once what they were going to be like, if I let them. Why would I let them, because I’m sure I under- listened.

Here are some of the things I should have heard: 1) “Our last remodeler didn’t know what he was doing.” 2) “It’s a good thing we held back some money or we would never have gotten the job finished.” 3) “We could have done it as well as he/she did.” and 4) “We didn’t even take the lowest bid.” These are the easy ones: You should be asking in every qualifying call whether they have ever remodeled before; what kind of experience was it; if good, why didn’t they call him/her again; if not good what was wrong (that’s where the above answers come from). If the caller doesn’t have anything but criticism of the former contractor, make sure you are on guard because this is usually an unorganized prospect who will blame job problems on everyone but themselves. The “hold backer” is easiest to stop because when they don’t pay as agreed, that’s what you do — stop.

There are some good trial balloons you can use to ferret out the bad apples: Are they forthcoming with normal information? Will they openly discuss budget with you? If they have checked your references before they called, it’s a good sign; saying they don’t need to is a bad one. Are they indecisive or late for appointments? Do they talk down to you? These are signs they do not respect either you or value your time, and this WILL get worse during a job. Remember the way people express themselves will often tell a hidden story about their real feelings apart from what they say. Does someone say “that’s more than I expected” or “that’s too much”? Same idea but much different client probably.

Your business sonar will help you tell when someone will likely be unreasonable. Tough clients aren’t necessarily unreasonable and sometimes you will even charge a tough one more because they expect more — that’s OK because satisfying a “toughie” is usually a great referral. The unreasonable one is insatiable because they want to be — it makes them feel in control.

The two biggest dangers are the client who wants to make a lot of changes at the end of the job (documentation overload); and the active client that just can’t seem to get all the approvals to you but says, “Go ahead and do it, it’s OK.” Don’t underlisten, be nice but use the magic word, “NO.” Difficult clients don’t usually keep good records and those of us that do have the advantage, while you’re here...

M M “Mike” Weiss has been a full-service remodeler for over 25 years. As an instructor for the CGR and CAPs programs, he spends many weeks each year on the road teaching other remodelers. He is also a past chairman of the Remodelors Council of the NAHB.

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