Custom Furniture Spells Success for Design Firm

At the end of certain jobs, do you feel like it would've been better to have not taken on that particular piece of work? Do you sometimes feel that it would've been better to simply write the customer a large check instead of doing the work?

This is the sign of a bad customer, and it's work you probably shouldn't have done.

Learning to pick out the bad customer is a skill you develop with experience. But, often, you're already working on a project before you grasp how bad the situation really is. By then, it's too late, and you just have to grit it out to the end, before you can get back to your regular business routine.

There are a few things difficult customers have in common. It's helpful if you can recognize the telltale characteristics early.

First and foremost, problem customers are often unpleasant to be around. If you get this feeling right from the start, maybe this job is not for your shop.

The main effect of working with the more odious customers is this: although their work is not all your shop is doing, they will undoubtedly take up most of your time. They may not even let you and your shop concentrate on what really needs to be done getting the work built and out to the job site. In fact, they can literally suck the profit out of the job you're doing for them, and often will try to ensure that you don't "leave money on the table." Moreover, the really tough ones will burn you and your staff out and leave you wondering if this business is really for you.

If you're ever wondering if you're dealing with a difficult client, trust your gut feelings. Those feelings are usually correct, and no amount of logic can change things.

"Oh, things will be okay," you assure yourself. "We'll be fine; there's plenty of money in this job." But, all too often, no amount of profit can make up for the grief you and your shop may go through in dealing with these customers.

Telltale signs
There are many early indications that you could be dealing with a problem customer. Some of these are normal and happen on many projects but if you find more than three or four cropping up, you may want to cut your losses and pull out of the job, if it's not too late.

The customer who always wants a "deal" can be trouble. The price may be haggled about: No matter how good a price you give them on that custom walnut entertainment center, for instance, it's never quite low enough. There's always more you should be doing a couple of roll-out shelves, $15 handles thrown in, etc. In this scenario, your profit, small to start with, can quickly shrink to nothing.

Another type of nitpicking customer may want to carefully review, discuss or change your contract. While this, in itself, is not necessarily a bad thing, it certainly doesn't start the job out on the right foot. That same customer may often be reluctant to accept change orders even though he or she continues to make changes throughout the project, disrupting your schedule and your planning process.

The indecisive client can be a losing proposition, too. You may be able to spot this customer at the start of a project, when discussing options such as door styles.

The kind of people you want to work with are those who can review a range of options, perhaps ask your advice, make a choice and get on with things without second-guessing everything later on. The indecisive customer may spend a week thinking about a small detail, thereby delaying the process.

The rude or impolite customer also is a tough one for both you and your staff. In this instance, you'll probably get feedback from your employees early on. You may want to encourage and heed advice from your team before you commit to a big project with this type of person. Remember you, as the boss or main manager, will probably bear the brunt of this customer's rudeness in the end!

Lastly, the slow- and no-payers are an obvious obstacle for you. Seeing this early on can be difficult, but in your money discussions prior to signing a contract, watch out for any initial reluctance to come up with a deposit, a down payment or a modest financial scheduling commitment.

What can you do?
Once you've taken on the work, it's usually too late to turn your back on a difficult customer. Keep in mind before you actually commit to doing the work that you don't have to work with this person. It's a business decision, and it is one often fueled by the amount of work your shop is handling.
Remember, you can always refer the difficult client to the competitor you don't like! Send them on their way, and recommend they talk to the guy down the street about giving them the discount your shop is unwilling to allow.

Once you're up and running with your difficult client, however, you simply have to get to the end of the project somehow. Grit your teeth, get through those long or repeated punch lists, finish up to the best of your ability, and get on with your professional life again.

At our shop, the best method we've found for dealing with the tough customer is by sharing the load. If an employee is having a problem with a difficult client, you as the owner or manager may have to step in to make sure that you're there to support your staff.'

Sometimes this may take the form of simply listening to your co-worker talk about all the difficulties caused by the client. You may need to take this advice yourself. You may need to communicate with others in your company about the tough client and, in the end, it may benefit everyone.

There are other tips that may help, as well. For example, voice mail at times can be a good shield for you to hide behind (it can also be a good place for the out-of-control client to yell and scream at you, late at night). Other times, nothing can beat a face-to-face meeting with a difficult customer. You can get things out on the table, agree on a plan of resolution, get it done and go on your way again.

In dealing with the non-paying offender, lien laws can be a help, since they can force the deadbeat to pay what's owed. Sometimes it's best to turn the more difficult matters over to an attorney. That way you're not spending your time dealing with the negativity and bad energy of a project gone awry.

Remember, life's too short to spend it dealing with jerks!