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How to Deal with Difficult Customers

Working with customers toward a productive solution.

Minimizing Damage and Improving Productivity



Every contractor knows that you just can’t win every customer.  Customers and clients always enter each situation with their own perspectives, experiences, and expectations.  It’s nearly impossible to ensure that each client has the perfect experience that you strive to provide. Nonetheless, it’s also important to take steps to make sure customers are always satisfied. Satisfied means you leave them satisfied with the experience of working with you, even if the project falls short of the desired result.   For a contractor, word of mouth is everything.  It’s wise to help your customers through their discomfort or dissatisfaction so that you avoid a bad online review, a business compliant, or a legal dispute – any of which can linger and hamper your future growth.

In this blog we’ll address some do’s and don’ts as you choose the best course of action when you are dealing with a difficult client.


Things You Should Do

1.)        Ask Your Customer to Be Specific:  Ask your customer to be specific!  When they tell you what they’re unhappy with or what changes they would like to see made, get as many details as you can.  Listen carefully…everything they tell you is an opening for you to make it right.  By encouraging your clients to speak freely you’ll both gain valuable insight on what the next, most productive course of action is.

2.)        Offer to Fix the Problem:  If the customer is upset about a less-than-perfect project outcome, offer to fix it.  Depending on how big the project is, and how much of the mistake was due to negligence, the client might fight against paying more for your team to redo it.  Negotiate to terms you can both agree on so you’re not losing a week or more worth of pay or other jobs.  People become more reasonable when you demonstrate that you are open and willing to try to remedy the situation.

3.)        Offer a Discount:  It’s become somewhat of an expectation that a disappointed customer be offered some sort of compensation for their experience, usually in the form of a discount.  Of course, customer complaints vary wildly, as do the validity of those claims, so use your discretion and be practical.  A discount isn’t always a must – some customers may even be angling for one! It is a great tool to use when you’re working with a loyal customer or someone you’d like to work for again.  It’s especially helpful when the project or person would make a great reference.

4.)        Follow Up:  While follow-ups should be a part of your customer’s experience anyway, they’re necessary after a tricky interaction.  Even if the project ended up in the hands of another contractor, it’s worthwhile to check in and express your regrets for the hassle and unexpected change of plans.  This can be done by sending a simple card, or with a quick phone call.


Things You Should NOT Do

1.)        Don’t Take It Personally:  It can be hard putting your work on the line sometimes, especially when it’s nitpicked and critiqued.  From a customer’s point of view, though, home renovations and repairs are all about them and their desires.  They dip into their hard-earned savings and want the best possible return on their investment.  Getting defensive or sensitive to their complaints will only add fuel to the fire and make the customer feel like their points aren’t valid.  Remember, to them, it’s not about you, it’s all about what they’ve been envisioning for their home. Your job is to help them get there.

2.)        Don’t Be Indifferent to Their Situation:  There are few things a paying customer dislikes more than their requests landing on deaf ears.  Unfortunately, the apathetic response is more common than it should be.  It leads to an even higher level of dissatisfaction than the initial complaint!  The best approach is to be attentive and action-oriented.  Your  client may not always be right, but sometimes they need to feel right.

3.)      Don’t Point Fingers or Place Blame:  In the world of contracting, miscommunications are a dime a dozen.  A customer forgets to detail a feature he or she wanted, a price quote was off by some missing item, dates and deadlines are constantly rearranged.  It happens all the time.  So, when the customer hits a point where the miscommunication is too much, listening is your best response.  Trying to figure out who caused the problem is a game no one is going to win, and it won’t lead to a productive solution.  Take a step back and analyze what you can do to improve the situation from this point on. The customer will often follow suit (although not always right away!).

4.)        Don’t Walk Out On a Job or Contract:  Treat the situation with the highest level of professionalism.  Remember, this is your business and its reputation on the line.  If you’ve exhausted all other solutions and must end the job, do so legally and civilly.  Terminate any contract and settle on unpaid fees and costs.  Leave a clean job site and keep your last words professional.



You’ll see an increase in your ability to handle complicated situations if you keep the above tips in mind.  It’s easy for customers and contractors to clash over small disputes – because everyone has something on the line.  Customers want to protect their money and vision, and contractors want to protect their reputation, time, and margins.  It all comes down to understanding the impact customer service has on your business.  Every problem is an opportunity to grow as a problem-solver and learn as a business-person.  Your business will continue to grow if customer satisfaction becomes your most important goal.


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