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Have you ever encountered the obtuse consumer who doesn’t listen to reason? Of course, if you have been in business for a while, you have. If you are new in contracting and haven’t, prepare yourself. Talking to the wall is a much more pleasurable experience than trying to reason with thickheaded consumers.
When I was actively in the plumbing, heating and cooling contracting service business, I came into contact with some consumers who were indeed obtuse — usually for their own selfish reasons.
When I opened my PHC service business, I entered the contracting business arena with three primary concerns. I wanted to deliver excellence to consumers and recover the true operational business costs I would incur in the delivery of excellence while maximizing my business’ profit potential.
My thought was that excellence is the difference between the true value to consumers and the negativity of mediocre or worse workmanship. Using my definition of excellence as it pertains to the PHC service industry, I’m sure you will agree that excellence costs more to produce than mediocrity. After all, top-quality techs, equipment and material are more expensive.
More than techs who are employed just because they can hold a wrench without dropping it while they prove they are breathing by fogging up a mirror held under their noses. More than equipment that was purchased during the Civil War. And more than cheaply made material.
So, it’s only logical that as a plumbing, heating and cooling contracting service business, my company would need to charge profitable selling prices commensurate with the excellence we delivered to accomplish our primary goals.
Make Sure Customers Understand
With contractors who don’t have a clue about their true operational business costs — the costs they incur in running their businesses — and do not possess the necessary business acumen to run their businesses properly and profitably, combined with consumers who make their purchases based on either on value or prices, you can see that the contracting business arena has a competitive nature.
I chose to explain our procedures to customers prior to sending techs to their locations, and quoting our service prices before commencing said services, to get consumers to decide whether they wanted our techs to address their requests.
Our reputation for the delivery of excellence in our service area was well-known. So, when a consumer agreed in writing for us to perform a service at the agreed prices, terms and conditions presented before commencing service, we were obligated to perform said services. After all, that’s the reason I entered the contracting business in the first place. The consumer also was obligated to fulfill his responsibilities of said contract.
The problem stems from the fact that excellent, mediocre and schlock contractors usually exist in every service area. Consumers who do not take full responsibility for their own decisions and find a contractor of lesser ability or intent after the agreed service is performed sometimes feel they were ripped off when the schlock contractor claims he could have done the same job for less.
When that happens, the excellent contractor whose prices are being questioned is responsible for addressing the consumer’s questions in a calm, logical, honest, rapid and intelligent manner.
The first step to addressing those situations is to rely on the terms and conditions and prices of the agreement you and the consumer made before the service. This step requires service contractors to design invoice/contract forms with pre-printed language explaining all terms and conditions, with areas giving space for task descriptions and agreed prices, as well as customer proof of satisfactory completion.
Obviously, in this digital world we now live in, this form can be set up in a digital device. Whether paper or digital, a consumer signature is required to prove there was an agreement.
When consumers see the professionalism that went into the invoice/contract form, most of them will not complain since they know that they accepted and authorized all prices, terms and conditions.
When I designed the invoice/contract forms that I used, I did not confer with an attorney. I used good, old-fashioned common sense, laced with fairness and honesty, to protect my business while delivering excellence and value to consumers.
However, some consumers who don’t care to know what they agreed to in writing. Add to the equation those schlock contractors who tell consumers that they would have done the task for less, even though the consumers did not contact them in the first place, or they could not service the consumers when they needed or wanted the service — and you have the ingredients for a consumer/contractor controversy.
One such obtuse consumer was a lawyer who had never used our business before. His wife called for service. We explained to her our procedures relative to the dispatch of a technician to her home, which she agreed to before we sent our tech. When the tech arrived and surveyed the circumstances regarding her request, he described the task and quoted her a price to perform it.
She asked our tech to explain it to her husband over the phone. Our tech explained how he would perform the work and reiterated the price quoted to his wife. The husband and wife agreed to have us perform the work at the agreed price with all terms and conditions as stated on our invoice/contract form.
The work was satisfactorily performed, as was noted in writing on our invoice/contract form, and the wife paid the bill.
When the lawyer got home, he called our shop to question the bill. The call was given to me. Remember that what he and his wife agreed to before our tech began service did not change after the task was completed.
However, he called around after the fact and found an ignorant schlock plumber without scruples who quoted him a much lower price to perform a task that he had not seen before quoting the price.
I believe this plumber was ignorant and unscrupulous because he did not see what work had to be done. He could never have performed the same task in the qualitative fashion we did for the amount he quoted, sight unseen. That is the height of ignorance.
His unscrupulousness stems from the fact that he knew the task was already performed by another contractor; he wasn’t going to get a job that had already been done in an excellent manner. He was only trying to make his competition look bad.
As the conversation between the lawyer-husband and myself went on — and I tried to be calm, logical, honest, rapid and intelligent in my responses — the lawyer tried to intimidate me with the fact that he was a lawyer who could make things miserable for me. That was a threat he should never have made.
I asked him to get his copy of the invoice/contract that he authorized verbally over the phone and his wife authorized in writing at their home before any service had begun. I let him walk into the trap he was laying for himself.
Whenever he made any of his misguided, illegitimate points, I directed him to the terms and conditions to which he and she had agreed on the form. With each of his points, the agreement clearly stipulated the opposite of his convoluted logic.
By the end of the conversation, he became much more docile and his unsubstantiated threats of legal action fell by the wayside. At least he was smart enough to know when he was in the wrong.
In another instance, a consumer who had never availed himself of our services before had agreed to all prices, terms and conditions before beginning the services he was requesting, called to complain about the price but not the quality of workmanship. He had already signified that as satisfactory on the invoice/contract he signed.
After going through the same torturous conditions I described with the aforementioned lawyer, the conversation ended with the same result. A few days later, he called again, reiterating the same illegitimate arguments he had previously stated. I went over all the terms and conditions to which he had agreed and explained that the quoted price agreed to before the task commenced was the same price he paid after the task was performed.
About a week later, he called yet again. This time, he demanded a breakdown of the price. If our business charged consumers using a time-and-material pricing method, I believe he would have been entitled to a breakdown.
However, we use a contract pricing method that describes a task to be performed at an agreed price before the commencement of service, and the listed terms and conditions of the agreement. The only breakdown he was entitled to was the agreed price, plus the applicable taxes that state government forces businesses to charge.
Being an obtuse consumer, he kept pressing for a breakdown.
In a calm, logical, honest, rapid and intelligent manner, I explained to him that if he wanted a breakdown, our accounting department would perform that service for him at an agreed price. Once I offered that, the conversation ended, and I never heard from him again.
The Customer Isn’t Always Right
You might wonder if we handled every consumer that way, we wouldn’t have had repeat customers for our business. However, we didn’t handle every consumer in that fashion, only the overly obtuse ones. Our tracking record at the time indicated that 98 percent of consumers who used us once would use us again.
As to the other 2 percent, there is such a thing as the consumers from hell (CFH). I would gladly lose them to my competition so that the CFH could drive them crazy and out of business — especially the schlock competition who make the industry bad for all concerned.
Address consumers in the manner they deserve. An old saying says fight fire with fire. When it comes to consumers, address their requests with professionalism, honesty and intelligence, blended with the intent to deliver excellence to them for their hard-earned dollars and the actual delivery of value.
Answer their questions with calm, logical, honest, rapid and intelligent responses. Be fair to the consumer and your business. The old adage that “the customer is always right” is only correct when the customer is actually right — not when the customer is wrong. When the customer is wrong, try to set him on the right path to keep him as a client.
When customers are too obtuse to realize they are wrong, you are probably better off letting them go.