How to Look at Clients After Seeing Them Naked

The remodeling business is full of awkward moments.

HPIM0200.JPGThere is the loose tarp in a rainstorm that drips water on the brand new hardwood floor.  Drops of paint can splatter on furniture that should have been covered.  The dumpster leaves ruts in the asphalt if you don’t get planks under the wheels.

The most common problems are dust in every room beyond where you paid attention to clean and the schedule getting stretched beyond patience.  These stressful developments can cause uncomfortable feelings that can fester, endangering a good job going bad if not addressed tactfully and with patience.  As difficult (and sometimes expensive) as it might be to fix, they require honest and sincere communication to get the job back on track.

Murphey’s Law                                            

In a whole house renovation or single bath make-over, it is entirely possible starting early one morning to stumble accidently upon a client just stepping out of the make-shift shower.  Eyes quickly averted and apologies streaming profusely as fast and as many as the steps backward and the door pulled shut help to ease the embarrassment, but a calm reassurance of professionalism at the next meeting ensures that no harm is done.

Things go wrong.  Remodeling, especially with the owner remaining in the home under construction, is an art of improvisation and surprises come with the territory.  No matter how much experience dictates preparation, every job is unique and requires its own sensitivity and points of reflection.

While many pitfalls are obvious, have been learned painfully from experience and are hereafter avoidable, there should never be a relaxation of vigilance.  The best way to avoid problems, of course, is to pay attention, measure a third time and cut a test hole before using a chain saw to take out an old wall.  Consider all the possibilities, assume a few of the “highly unlikely” scenarios and then make-up a few “no one would ever do that” guesses.

Still, you might be surprised.

These days, it’s more than possible the Hundred Year Flood will come right in the middle of rebuilding after the Fifty.  The one extra case of special order tile that wasn’t ordered is three weeks out on the boat from Italy and that make-shift shower will be looking pretty permanent to the owner.

101 Ways to irritate your customer

watchingWhen the “Uh-oh” inevitably happens, it can be very tempting to sweep the dirt into the corner and focus on all the pretty progress that’s been made in other areas of the project.  The investment in a quality reference and the final paycheck can appear too important to jeopardize by a single little detail.  Probably, you can feel confident the problem can be fixed before it is even noticed.

Likewise, acknowledging the issue, but suspending the resolution in favor of pushing the schedule forward burns like a blister on a run without stopping to adjust the socks. Each day the blight lingers, multiplying the opportunities for the customer to notice all the other flaws and miss-cuts needing to be redressed.

If the sink comes scratched and a new one has been ordered, it will be better often to continue using the old one (if it fits in the countertop) temporarily rather than reminding the customer constantly that the damaged one is almost good enough and the job is delayed. For many clients it is better to fill a big hole with an old patch so that the ultimate fix is clear enough to inspire gratitude and appreciation for the renovation and not just for a repair.

Sometimes, under the stress, the mistake is not our own, but a less than ideal relationship between the couple is revealed to the contractor who is working with them intimately.  Witness to heated, possibly vicious words that might be recalled and forgiven between two, the contractor must strike a delicate pose between facilitator and fly-on-the-wall to reach an important decision.  The ugly side might cause an embarrassment that the client would rather relieve by creating blame on the innocent hired help who is ultimately expendable.

Straight in the Eyes

Things happen.  Tensions rise.  The winds of renovations can blow some pretty serious storms for the contractor not constantly tending the wheel.  Where some thrive in the spontaneous solutions to unanticipated calamities and clients have a contingency budget, others melt in frustration and fear.  The project feels overwhelming and never-ending, the dust suffocating and the debris piled too high.

It is at this time a good contractor earns the extra dollar that seemed so high when the estimates came in.  A cheaper bid is often based on everything going right, squeezing a few miracles out of thin plywood and dealing with surprises as surprised as the client.  Sometimes a few extra ounces of caution, experience and ability costs a little more, but pays off with a great solution.

If the expectations at the first meetings were laid realistically enough, you can draw on those conversations to remind the homeowner that order can be restored and the job finished.  The best way to overcome the discomfort of problems is to face them squarely, measure accurately the damage and convey the advantage to resolving it together.

Homeowners are looking to bring a dream into reality as best they can.  Most are reasonable and willing to stretch to accomplish the improvement.  If educated to the risk, they can bear the disruptions, understanding that the process is not perfect and the goal is mutual to reach a satisfactory conclusion.

So even seeing them stripped to the skin and vulnerable, re-affirming the vision of the job complete and their family settled around the proverbial fire and the warmth of the holidays in their comfortable and beautifully renovated home, a good contractor provides the reassurance that everything is on-track.  They want to know you are there for them, you share the same concerns and they will not be left abandoned with a hole in their roof and winter fast approaching.

handing checkIf you are speaking the truth and from the heart, any problem can be transformed into triumph.

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