Contractors know that run-ins with displeased customers are part and parcel of the job. Especially in Colorado today, client dissatisfaction is evident by the increase in construction defect claims where clients pick apart a completed project, trying to find any little issue upon which they can build a demand for a discount. It’s important for contractors to be prepared and action-oriented. In an effort to protect your business’ reputation and have the best possible defense against lawsuit, practice these habits to first prevent possible dissatisfaction and also to deal with a currently dissatisfied client.
Be up front. Like the popular saying, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” the same logic can be applied to contractors, in that transparency and mutual understanding help keep disgruntled clients at bay. When starting a project, a contractor can manage customer expectations by identifying possible areas of conflict and coming up with a thorough and clear contract that the client both understands and agrees to. An informed client is key; make sure they understand the where, how, when and why of your project plan. Some specific areas where contractors often get into trouble is regarding when the job will be completed, when payments will be made, and when payments are earned. Try having a pre-project discussion with your client and lay out all the information on paper, set a timeline and include this written understanding of the timing and scope of work in the contract. This way both parties have a written record of what is expected of them.
Make your client feel heard. A contractor takes pride in their work, and rightfully so. So, when a client disparages their work, it’s hard not to take complaints personally. However, now is not the time for ego or hasty remedies. A dissatisfied client doesn’t want to be told they are wrong or hear a quick fix. First, they want you to understand their issue, then come to an agreed upon solution. To do this, first ask questions about the issue so that you really get a handle on what went wrong from the client’s perspective. Then repeat their feeling back to them. For example, “I am so sorry that you felt this way … ,” this way the client knows you understand their mindset. Then give the client options for a solution so they feel part of the decision-making process.
Learn from your mistakes. Chances are if one customer reports an issue, other customers may have experienced something similar, but just haven’t told you about it. Similar or continual individual complaints may be evidence of systematic failures, or more positively, are areas of improvement for future clients. A contractor’s job doesn’t stop when a dissatisfied client becomes a happy, vocal asset; a contractor should use criticism constructively. Treat these regrettable instances as information currency and they can become opportunities for profitable change within your business.
A contractor who is transparent, takes criticism, offers solutions and learns from their mistakes can turn an unhappy client into a vocal company advocate. If you think of happy clients as return investments then you can grow your contracting business and even produce better products.