Receiving rave reviews from your customers as a contractor can be a great way to land new work and more clients. But, what if the opposite comes to light, and you receive customer complaints? Does that make you a bad contractor, or are you just dealing with a difficult customer? Are you up for handling customer complaints?
It’s important to handle complaints so that potential prospects aren’t affected by the negativity of an online review. Curbing customer complaints means setting expectations clearly, keeping ethical standards high, and delivering on the promises in your scope of work. If you execute well in these categories, you’re sure to keep the complaints at bay.
Complaints almost always come from a disconnect between expectations and experience. Starting with very clear expectations helps avoid most complaints. But that’s much easier said than done.
It’s extremely important to meet a customer’s expectations around cost. Money is a passionate topic, and this is one topic that will stir up emotions when costs run high. Sometimes cost overruns are unavoidable, so it’s important to address unexpected situations directly and as soon as they come up. Having a strong estimate that’s based on detailed requirements at the outset will give you something to refer back to in that conversation. If you have outlined some of the risks and unknowns in your estimate, and they show up during the work, it’s much easier to have that conversation.
As the work gets under way, keep the customer up-to-date on the progress of the work. This should also include letting them know that you’re hitting the milestones on time and on cost. That way, if something goes wrong, you have a record of keeping them in the loop. And it won’t be the first update you’ve delivered when something negative pops up.
Setting expectations about the work, including what could go wrong, and keeping your customer up-to-date will both go a long way in avoiding customer complaints.
The Importance of Strong Ethics
Any owner/operator of a business understands that there may be times when conflicts arise between doing what is right and making more profit. There is a lot written on this topic that may apply to you. However, let’s simplify this to one definition: Ethics means doing what is right at all times without compromise! Keeping your word, being polite (not rude or offensive), and establishing effective communication all fall under the category of ethics.
While it may seems as though these are all obvious, it can be easy to forget, or completely disregard them while in the rush of the contracting world. That’s why it’s of the utmost importance to stamp the value of ethics on all of your customer interactions. This includes effectively communicating these values to all team members who represent the company. It is one thing to have great ethics from the office, but there should be a high emphasis to keep those standards even higher in the field where your customers are.
In the business of construction, there is a direct, one-to-one relationship with customers in their most personal places – their homes or business. Often, contractors work while customers are present. This gives them a first hand view of what it takes to get the job done. What they do not see is the behind-the-scenes business operation. They also don’t see the thinking behind how you intend to fulfill the promise of their job.
There can be times when you’re faced with a difficult situation and have to make a choice. That choice can seem easy on the outside, but could have a cascade of consequences. For example, let’s say you have two customers, one of them has a higher value project – Customer A. The other – Customer B – has a job starting the next day. Customer A calls and says the want the job done earlier than planned. Plus they will give you a bonus for starting tomorrow (the same day as Customer B).
You only have enough techs to do one job that day. What do you? If may seem easier to take the few extra dollars and go to Customer A. But have you considered the reaction from Customer B and what they may say about your company? What they might possibly post on social media? Doing what is right mean upholding your agreements, and sometimes it’s written in your estimate/proposal. Be sure to live up to what you say with your clients!
Reducing Customer Friction
Some of the best businesses exist simply to eliminate the pain of the customer experience in a particular sector. Take Uber, for example, and how they removed all the friction associated with taking a taxi. You know when they will arrive and are not waiting around. Instead of being surprised by an outrageous fare, you know how much to pay. Your ride is clean, not dirty. And the list goes on and on.
So how does that relate to you as a contractor? Think about some of the negative stereotypes that people may have for contractors. Now think of some of the things that you can do to remove the negativity and provide a great customer experience. If a customer believes the job is going to be overpriced, show them how much it’s going to be and explain why in your estimate. Consider offering a warranty on your work if they think that your work is going to be sloppy or break down. If they believe that you’re going to be rude and unhelpful, be polite and go the extra mile to help them understand what is going on.
You can easily start to see where you can add value and offer a great customer experience. It is important to remember that while your job may be to repair homes and machines, what you are really doing is bringing ease to another person. You’re doing this so that they can live and work comfortably without the worry of a piece of their home or office not working the way it should. Doing the work the way you say you will (without a non-justifiable change order) and completing it on time (without reasonable unforeseen conditions) all play a big role in upholding your agreements that you and your client have made when you both signed off on the proposal.
Handling Customer Complaints
Always remember, people come first. Profits follow value. Value is created by giving customers what they need and want. Trying to shortcut on these essentials will catch up either short term or in the long run. Both of these can lead to ultimate failure.
In the connected age of the internet and social media, words spread fast as the electric current they pass through. Having negative social reviews on any platform like Google, Yelp, or Angie’s List can ultimately doom any business. Be sure to set clear expectations, hold yourself to the highest ethical standards, and do what your company says it will do. Do these things well and you will find that the winners in this era are those who stand by these principles.