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Dealing With a Customer Who Doesn’t Want to Hear No

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Sometimes clients make requests that aren’t practical, affordable or even physically feasible. In such cases, diplomacy is necessary to turn down the request without losing the client. Fortunately, many clients can be persuaded by rational reasoning, according to Richard Trimber, a lead attorney for the business law and advisory practice of General Counsel, P.C., located in McLean, VA. Trimber also served as Chief Executive Officer for two home-improvement contractors in the Washington, D.C. area.

“After you’ve worked in the field for a number of years, you develop expertise. But what construction professionals often don’t develop is how to speak to clients. You have to lead them in a Socratic method, “Trimber said.

Potential Code Violations

Some client requests must be turned down outright because they represent code violations. Honoring such requests could leave your company (or you, personally if you operate as sole proprietor or part of a partnership) potentially viable to adverse legal action. It’s a risk that simply isn’t worth taking.

“It never ceases to amaze me how creative plaintiffs’’ attorneys are,” Trimber said.

Defying the Laws of Physics – and Safety

Other client requests present potential safety hazards. For instance, if a client requests a cantilevered granite balcony outside a bedroom, real structural challenges would arise. Explaining the hazards involved with such a project is often all that is needed to convince a rational client to cancel a potentially unsafe request, Trimber explained.

Granite weighs approximately 20 pounds per square foot, and often has deep fissures running throughout. That’s usually not a major issue for kitchen countertops. However, a cantilevered granite balcony could present an irresistible temptation for a child to jump up and grasp the edge, with his or her legs dangling in the air. While unlikely, this may cause the granite to break off at the point of one of the fissures, sending the child tumbling to the ground, Trimber explained.

“Don’t get caught up in the technicalities. Just tell the client ‘this (cantilevered granite balcony) will be a danger to your children,’” Trimber said.

Adding Expense to the Scope of Work

However, many client requests don’t require code violations or safety hazards. They’re technically feasible, but financially prohibitive. Or the request requires personnel, equipment or materials that you don’t have and cannot obtain. This is especially true of changes to the scope of work that occur in the final stages of a project. In such cases, it’s important to determine what you’re dealing with, and proceed accordingly. If it’s a matter of money, simply explaining how much the work would cost is enough to change the client’s mind. Trimber explained.

“Determine if it’s something they can’t afford or if you lack the qualifications,” he said.

For instance, let’s say the client does want the type of large cantilevered balcony described above – just not made of granite. Nonetheless, fulfilling this request would require making substantial structural changes, including tearing up the bedroom floor to construct the necessary supports underneath the floorboard for the cantilevered overhang. Such structural work can cost thousands of dollars, not to mention the likelihood that the bedroom would be uninhabitable for days or even weeks while the work was being done.

“It’s all about how destructive it (the job) will be to your life,” Trimber said.

Preventing Unjust Enrichment

If the client is insistent and the request is something that you can safely execute, present the client with a change order that spells out precisely what the project would entail and the procedures that must be done along with the cost and an estimate of how long the requested project would require. Collect fees associated with the change order up front, or set up installment payments. Doing so protects yourself and your company against unjust enrichment at the hands of a client who refuses to pay for completed work, Trimber advised.

“Analyze the process and the cost and present them (clients) with a price,” Trimber said.

Explain to the client that the change order is designed to protect both parties, because it clearly spells out the scope of work for the requested. If you proceed with a client’s request without a written change order in place, you run the risk of being forced to stop a project in progress while you wrangle with the client for payment. The time you waste in collection efforts costs your company money, even if you ultimately collect the money you’re owed, according to Trimber.

“Construction is the ultimate time is money industry. If your guys are standing around, that’s costing you money,” Trimber insisted.

Audrey Henderson

Posted In: ACCA Now, Customer Service

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