|PaintPRO Archives — Business Strategies
Customer relations: How to respond to "You missed a spot"
We have all dealt with problematic clients from time to time. A lot of times this can be the most frustrating part of the job for a painter.
by Neil Phillips
We spoke with four paint contractors about customer service � specifically, about less-than-perfect situations and how to deal with them.
Lack of communication between painter and client can cause many problems. Some can be easily resolved, but some take more time and patience. Dave Siegner, president of Siegner and Co., based in Portland, Ore., has been in the painting business for 35 years, and has dealt with his fair share of difficult clients. When asked which customer service issue was the most prominent, Siegner responded, �It would probably have to be schedule changes.�
Sometimes things come up. Someone calls in sick or the drywall installer takes longer than expected. Things such as these can delay the job. Even though this happens more often than expected, customers may not know that and may feel hurt or unimportant. The natural reaction would be to take their frustrations out on the painter.
So how does one deal with a demanding or unfair customer? Many believe that keeping in contact at all times with the client, letting them see and understand the progress or methods of production, may defuse the problem. Jack Scialabba, owner of Jax Painting Co. located in Twain Heart, Calif., believes this to be the main component of a healthy relationship between painter and client. �Communication is key � the customer may be upset because they might not understand the procedures involved.�
Scialabba, who has run his own business for 15 years, believes that the easiest way to handle a surly client may be talking with them. If a painter stays in constant contact with the client, it is much easier to address problems that arise or put minds at ease. This task is obviously much simpler when dealing with a homeowner as opposed to larger commercial jobs, but it is a universal component of any customer relationship.
In order to avoid working for difficult clients, a painter must be selective. However, smaller companies cannot be too selective or they may never build a client base. Jax Painting uses its Web site to let potential clients see finished work. Scialabba believes this to be a helpful tool when trying to weed out the high-maintenance customers.
John Dee, owner of John W. Dee Painting & Decorating, located in Concord, Mass., works strictly from referrals. His belief is that if a customer has seen his work in a friend�s or relative�s home, they will have seen the quality of work they can expect. This prepares the potential client, and if he or she feels comfortable with the quality and price, they can schedule an appointment with Dee. �Being selective when choosing clients can help avoid issues concerning tough customers,� says Dee. It is important for both the customer and the painter to have a positive relationship, and if the two are a good match, the job should run smoothly.
Finally, when asked to give advice to up-and-coming painters, contractors had varied answers.
According to Ron Franklin, owner of the Sacramento-based Ron Franklin Painting & Decorating, making a good first impression is vital. �You never get a second chance at a first impression,� he says. If a potential client does not feel comfortable with your appearance or demeanor, chances are you will not be working for them, and if you do, it may not be pleasant. �Image is crucial,� he says. �You want to look professional and be professional.�
Other recommendations? Scialabba suggests hiring a customer service representative. Siegner says to put everything in writing. And Dee preaches, �Always do what you say and say what you do.� Whatever is stated in any written or oral contract must be completed and done right.
It is evident that not every situation or every client is perfect. The ultimate way to deal with difficult customers is to talk to them. Keep them updated on progress and what is to be expected in the future. Talk with them every day if possible, and ask them how he or she feels about the progress of the job. At the end of the job, walk around the job site with the customer and make sure that they are happy with the work done. This should help diffuse potential issues, clarify miscommunications, and show attention to detail on the painter�s end. In many instances, if a painter shows the desire to do a quality job, the client will pick up on that.