If you have been in business for a while, you may have unfortunately had to deal with a difficult customer that refuses to pay, drags the job out so that it eventually becomes unprofitable, or keeps you up at night because of the way they behave and treat you personally.
Every trade or construction business will deal with difficult clients at some point in time. There are several red flags, which are listed below, that may indicate that someone might turn into a problem client. So, when your potential or current client displays one or more of the following, it may be worth considering passing on the job or alternatively charging a premium for the “hassle factor”.
Here are seven red flags to help you identify a difficult customer:
It may be worthwhile enquiring with the customer, as to how many other businesses are competing for the job at hand. If you have more than two other businesses competing for the same job there is a good likelihood that the customer is a price shopper and solely focused on the price. This type of customer may also haggle right from the initial interaction, and continually suggest that other companies are prepared to undertake the job at a cheaper rate. Anyone who quibbles over the price from the very start will also quibble about the price at the very end. Whilst quality clients accept that you will offer great value and are prepared to pay for it.
This category of customer talks a great deal. They may present you with an opportunity by saying “if you do a great job on this project, there will be plenty of work for you in the future”. Take this with a grain of salt and treat each project for its merits. This person may wish to “butter you up” with the promise of future work, so that you provide them with a discount on the first job. This may be curtailed by pricing each job individually and mentioning that, should work in the future come to fruition, you would be appreciative, however the focus is one job at a time.
Often difficult customers will be late for meetings, appear to be missing vital information and will continuously drain your resources. Unless they can dramatically change their behaviour, this may be a sign of things to come and may cost you hours, if not days of lost profits in the future.
From project commencement, this customer expects you to drop everything for them, will contact you 24 hours, 7 days a week regarding minor details and assume you will be present as an emergency call out. A customer expecting you to drop everything for them from the beginning may be an indication of their future behaviour. A reasonable customer would understand that you will have other projects in the pipeline and that you will be managing this workload effectively.
As in the age-old adage, what Peter says about Paul, actually reveals a lot about Peter. So if the customer complains and moans about other trade businesses, it is highly likely that you too will be thrown into the mix and mentioned. Take note of this poor behaviour, be cautious and as a suggestion, avoid these customers. They may have had an unfortunate experience with another trade; however how they mention and discuss this trade is a good indication of their character.
To protect yourself and also the client, it is important that a work agreement or contract is in place that clarifies all the expectations of the job. This includes how to handle variations, payment, time-frames and also delays. If a customer is not prepared to sign anything from commencement, or is unwilling to put variations in writing, then the lack of action may backfire in the future. Plenty of trade businesses have ‘lost out’ or have become bankrupt when no terms, conditions or agreements were signed.
Sometimes it may be logical to proceed with a customer, yet you have a sense or feeling that this particular client may prove to be difficult in the future. Trust your instincts when making a decision. You cannot lose money on jobs you do not take. If you are uncomfortable about a job or individual, turn it down with no regret.
Unfortunately, many trades continuously contend with difficult customers, like those listed above, before hard lessons are learnt. Let this article guide you with how to effectively deal with customers, to ultimately create a hassle-free business.
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