Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Difficult Client

Let's face it, if you work in a service industry, occasionally you are going to run across a difficult client. One who is a micromanager, who needs to be overly involved in the project, and who actually impedes progress. Then there is the homeowner who can't make up his or her mind; who orders one type of tile and decides to remove it and use another. How can a contractor handle this type of client?

As always, start with the contract. Make sure the description of the work to be performed and the materials to be used is crystal clear. Verify that the client understands the scope of the project and what the end result will be. Try to use pictures or illustrations to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

Make sure that the client understands that all change orders will be in writing, and that new requests will cost extra. Designate a point person as the decision maker for the project and do not allow employees or subcontractors to perform work outside the scope of the contract without that person's permission.

Set boundaries for the homeowner's physical presence at the project. Require an escort before the homeowner can enter the worksite if there is dangerous machinery or there are unsafe conditions present.

If the client is interfering with the work by "micromanaging" the process, first find out if he or she is having concerns about the project. There might be a lack of confidence about a specific aspect of the work, or concern about a certain person who is working on the premises. If the homeowner is just someone who is a "nervous" type, then try to make his involvement positive.

Give the homeowner jobs to do that would be helpful and save time and money. Let her research new types of materials, investigate color schemes, whatever might keep her occupied and make her feel included. This should not just be busy work, but something that might help in producing a pleasing end result.

Once a contractor makes use of a homeowner's skills rather than finding him a hinderance, the contractor might find that his client progresses from being difficult to being relatively helpful. Managing the "difficult" client can actually turn the project into a successful endeavor when everyone works together.

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