Sizing Up The Customer

Features - Operations

It is better to walk away with nothing than move forward and be stuck with a bad situation.

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July 24, 2019

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Unreasonable expectations, denial of service, refusal to sign your contract, slow payments or not getting paid at all. All contractors will face these scenarios at some point in their careers. It is inevitable. These people can be branch managers, building owners or property managers. Now, how can we as contractors recognize the signs that lead to these scenarios? As you read this, think back to a time when you faced these difficulties and see if you remember any signals given by the customer as you navigated the bidding process.

The process of sizing up a potential customer begins as you arrive at the site. Whether you are there to meet with them or start your inspection and measurements of the property, take notice of the entire property. Observe the general upkeep of the turf and landscape, parking surfaces, sidewalks and the condition of the structure itself. Does it appear this potential customer takes the maintenance and appearance of their site seriously? Having an adequate budget in place to maintain a property, building or site is a matter of habit. Unless there has been a change on their end recently, ownership or otherwise, you can realize their habits within seconds of your arrival. This will likely give you the foresight as to what level of service and safety they will expect and pay you to provide.

When the conversation starts ask yourself, are they listening to your ideas or do they dictate what their terms are without any input from you? Are their concerns all about saving money? People will tell you what you need to know if you just listen. Ask them about the contractors that currently or previously provided them service. Other than complaints about failure to perform or a no-show contractor, they will provide you a look at what their potential issues could be if you win the contract. It never hurts to try to educate them about how and why certain processes and procedures must be adhered to, but you will soon find out if they are open to change.

Social proofing has a powerful persuasion on our decision-making process, “word of mouth” is a prime example of this process. Seeing or hearing an advertisement about a product or service helps but not nearly as much as a trusted person recommending the product or service directly to you based on their own experience. Contractors and business owners crave the social proofing that word of mouth advertising provides, it can’t be bought nor replaced. We operate our businesses above the level needed to attain this free form of marketing so that our customers, hopefully, will spread the word for us. Have you ever considered using this for a prospective customer? Obviously, when you hear about a non-paying or difficult to work with operation you stay away, right? When something just doesn’t feel right you go with your gut instinct. In this age of instant information at our fingertips use it to your advantage. I’ll let you figure it out but court records, both small claims and criminal, are accessible.

In my experience, it is better to walk away with nothing and move forward than to be stuck with a bad situation. Walking away from a contract that could put your team members, service providers, insurability and reputation at risk is worth it; save your resources for a contract that will be beneficial to both sides. There are plenty of good and reasonable people out there looking for the processes and procedures woven into the fabric of your organization as an ASCA-C contractor. Go find the good jobs and don’t sweat the ones you leave behind, someone else will always take them.

Kyle Rose is the president of Rose Property Maintenance in Shawnee, Kan., and is a frequent Snow Magazine contributor.