Problem-solving with the homeowner: The mistake we often make
– by Steve Payne –
A contractor friend of mine invited me over to his house a couple of weeks ago, and proudly showed me around the ongoing renovations to his family’s home.
“Is it hard to find the energy to work on your own home at night, when you get home after 12 hours on your customers’ projects?” I asked.
“It’s hard work,” he said. “But actually we’ve hired other firms to do some of the stuff, like the stairs, for example.”
“What’s that like, being the customer of the renovator, for a change?” I asked.
“It’s been so valuable,” my friend replied. “I learned all the things that I probably do, that I didn’t realize I do, that might be driving my clients crazy — making assumptions, for example.”
I asked him what that was all about. What kind of assumptions?
“See these stairs here?” he said, pointing to a really gorgeous flight of hardwood stairs to his basement that were obviously a visual focal point and a source of pride. Nice work.
But it was a source of contention for my friend.
“We’re not happy with how that went down,” he said. “The plans were for three balusters per riser, that’s specifically the look we wanted.”
“They came, drilled for two balusters per step, and I said, ‘Hey, that’s not what we were supposed to get!’ ”
“‘They work fine this way,’ we were told. ‘It’s actually better with two.’ ”
“But that’s not what we had agreed! I was really upset.”
My contractor friend eventually came around to the idea that two spindles per step were going to be just fine, and they looked pretty nice, too. I could see nothing but fine workmanship in that set of stairs. It looked fine with two spindles. I couldn’t imagine it would look right with three.
But my friend said that the annoyance that he felt when the stairs arrived under a different configuration than he had agree to, really hurt him.
“That’s when it hit me,” he said. “How many times have I done this to clients of mine?”
Hundreds of times, he figured. He’s also made changes to major elements of projects, as it suited him, if he thought it could achieve a better or a more efficient end result. And how few times had he really taken the time to explain the changes, in advance, to his clients?
“It’s human nature. I know what I’m doing, I’ll make a slight change to a design if I need to. But, boy, can that drive the customer crazy. I learned don’t assume, but take time to ask. Don’t problem solve on your own, run it by the client. This is so simple, it’s so basic. We think we all know this. We may know it, but do we act on what we know?”
Nothing educates you about customer service more than being the client in a renovation project, instead of the contractor.