View Full Version : Bad customer warning signs

Rustic Goat
10-27-2003, 02:33 AM
The following article is a good (IMO) reminder/advise for dealing with potential clients. While written for the remodeling industry, I believe the concepts hold true in any service related business.

Article from Remodeling Magazine Oct. 2003
Early Warning Radar - By Dan Bawden
If intuition tells you a client will be difficult, by all means listen.

I had prequalified the job by talking to the husband, a 65-year-old oil company executive. He seemed OK. He and his wife had just bought a small, 1940s brick house and had expensive, somewhat far-fetched ideas about a second-story addition and whole-house renovation.
But as we walked around, I soon saw red flags coming from the wife. She was mean to him in front of me, and I was embarrassed.

He shrugged and followed her around, rolling his eyes behind her back. I realized this was not the job for me. I was 10 minutes into my meeting and couldn't wait to get out of there. Later, I wrote them a letter, declining the job due to scheduling constraints.

Trouble ahead
Some people are just not good to work for. How do you know?
Here are a few hints:
* They tell you they've fired contractors recently or filed lawsuits against other remodelers in the past.

* They balk at paying 10% down or at the terms of your payment schedule. You can expect a rough time collecting draws during the job if they're fighting you from the beginning.

* They tell you they've met with several contractors and no one returns their calls.

* They make it clear they're getting multiple estimates. Many clients do, but if it's stated with an angry edge, watch out.

* They schedule you and a competitor or two at the same time. If this occurs, I walk out.

* They insist on a delay penalty clause if you don't finish on time, after you've given them your projected duration.

* They ask you to be dishonest -- for example, by padding an insurance estimate with items that don't really need to be

* They delay, unreasonably, the signing of your contract.

Red flags flying
Not all the clues are verbal. If the outside of the house indicates seriously deferred maintenance or the inside is a wreck, I'm on guard.
More warnings are if one or both spouses actively argue or disrespect each other in front of me, if they have totally opposite
ideas about the design or selections, or if one or the other is completely unenthusiastic. Are one or both focused on some aspect of the project -- say a kitchen pot rack -- to the exclusion of all else? Not a good sign.
If they're bad listeners, interrupt constantly, lack focus, can't make decisions, or supply me with a wealth of really bad ideas, those are all red flags too.

I'm also wary of "experts." They've learned a great deal about how to build from that article on the Service Magic site. From the first meeting, they're not listening to your advice or trusting your opinions. They ask "skill testing" questions about construction
details. Or they have an uncle they want you to use as their plumbing sub. Worse yet, a relative who knows something about
construction will be "overseeing" your work.

Decline before they whine
So what to do? My advice is just say no. Do it diplomatically, but do it. Perhaps you just landed some large projects and are booked for the foreseeable future. Maybe you have health issues that could be a problem. You might just be frank, and tell them remodeling's a close partnership and you and they are not a good fit.

If you decide to go forward with a red flag client because it seems like an extra profitable job, or because you're sure the project will look totally cool in the "after" photos, be sure to add plenty of money to your bid for the extra time and stress it will impose on you and your staff. Then double it.

And if you do end up doing it, after the job's done, make sure you determine if future clients were referred to you by these difficult clients. High quality customers send you high quality new prospects.
Wacky clients, likewise, send you wacky ones.

--Dan Bawden, CAPS, CGR, GMB, is an attorney and president of Legal Eagle Contractors, Houston.

10-27-2003, 04:55 AM
Good post Rustic....the one about dragging their feet on signing the work order.contract is soooo true. Had 2 of them this spring who delayed...both turned out to be real p'sita . In fact one of them fired me because he said it seemed like I was always 'hurrying" on his property in that I was done so fast with the Z and walked so fast while trimming....

Maybe we can add onto your thread with our warning signs that we've learned over the years.

Heres one that just burned me this summer. Beware of a property that has not been kept in a reasonably good condition and now all of a sudden the business owner wants you to make it look nice. THis was a commercial chain restaurant...3 months later I'm still chasing him for payment.( after rereading your post I notice this one was already mentioned)

John Gamba
10-27-2003, 06:15 AM
I had a woman call this spring, Said her yard needed a clean up it's an acre BUT she said her husband didn't think it needed it. Well i said i was too busy and that i didn't know anybody else. I'm just glad she said her husband didn't want the work over the phone ,she didnt waist my time. Great post btw.


10-27-2003, 10:10 AM
Worst one gotta be potential customer sets appointment time and is not there when you show up. and then have the nerve to call to reschuldule with some lame excuse on why they wern't there. {I really don't care thats Johnny soccer game ran over} I just missed my supper and drove 1 hour to be here when YOU wanted me and now you expect me to do it again. I cussed these ignorent morons untill I'm out of breath. I've been told I will never get a referral from them and I will never work in there neighbor hood. I love when I do one of there neighbors and can look over and smile at them becouse any potential customer that does that is all BS. Mac

10-27-2003, 10:18 AM
Yo Olderthan...you made me remember that WORST type of customer....the ones that look down their nose at what we do for a living....I have thick skin and am very proud of what I do because we do it better than 70% of the guys out there and we make a nice living at it...so they're almighty attitude does not hurt my feelings one little bit...but...almost to a person, those that have this attitude have turned into problem customers...beware of these types beyond just getting your feelings hurt.

John Gamba
10-27-2003, 12:50 PM
You go Mac!!

maple city
10-27-2003, 07:43 PM
Beware of a property that has not been kept in a reasonably good condition and now all of a sudden the business owner wants you to make it look nice.

I've been burned on this one too.

I've had a couple of cases where I've done clean-ups for people and never wanted to work for them again.

I hate the "watchers" who watch you the whole time you're working. They also give you instructions on how to do the work you're doing and try to sneak in add-ons at no charge.

Lawn Dog2001
10-27-2003, 08:02 PM
This is a great post. I have been trying to teach myself this lesson for years. Here are a couple of my red flags.

"I have been through every landscaper in the phone book and I just cant find somebody to do things the way I want them."

"The last couple of bids I have had have been totally unreasonable."

"Do you mind if I post date this check?":angry:

I have had some problem customers this year. It is a shame, but to be a good businessman, you also need to be a damn good phsyco-analyst. Dont mistrust your intuition. If you dont feel comfortable with a customer, its usually for a reason.

10-27-2003, 08:11 PM
on the other hand, some clients that i pick up tell me that they have been through their share of 'scapers. But their reasons are similar...the past landscapers dont keep high enough standards. When i hear that, im usually in since i make details my priority.

lost mountain
10-27-2003, 08:22 PM
That is a great post RG and I have seen very many of those red flags in the past and they point to problems. Even the one about the "wife talking down to the husband" except this was the other way around - this guy treated her like a total idiot right in front of us...I mean putting her through the shredder! He was also bad-mounting another contractor - "that wouldn't show back up" (red flag #2) Here's one not mentioned in RG's article that was also happening here: this jerk was saying from the beginning " break the estimate into phases" ( flag #3). In the end the large install estimate I did for this egocentric jerk - I never heard a damn thing again. I have seen this "break it up into phases" several times since and it can be another red flag. Sometimes it is legit. Though they may not be willing to spend enough for even 1 phase.

10-27-2003, 08:28 PM
Don't feel sorry for little old ladies who are waving red flags.

I go with my instincts and so I have great customers, but last year I bid a job or an older lady who lived alone and acted like she couldn't afford much. She even said she was on some sort of small limited income. She was very distrustful and challenging of me. She complained of other contractors not doing anything right and of the cost. But I don't get many calls from elderly people who don't have money, so I ignored these terrible warnings becuase I wanted to help her out.

Long story short, I did my best, but working for her was a nightmare.

Heres the kicker, I was there seeding some grass that SHE killed, becuase she gave me a mean face when I said the guarantee on the sod was 30 days. That's pretty normal for sod isn't it? So I said ok 1 year even though I didn't have to, the job was done. So I'm there fixing grass she killed and she complains to me...

"oh this economy is awful, I just lost $300,000.00 in the stock market" and proceeded to give me details about her finances that told me there was no way she had needed any charity.

Don't feel sorry for mean old ladies.

lost mountain
10-27-2003, 08:29 PM
I did not listen to my intuition in the above case because we were in need of cash back then but LawnDog is very correct - you have to trust your instinct with people. I have noticed that my intuition is usually right 90% of the time. I get vibes from new clients very clearly sometimes and being a "psychoanalyst" with customers is also so true. It's a good skill to have in this business!

How did she kill the sod SuperShovel? If your incident happened recently she may have lost $300K in the market a lot of older folks lost everything after all the Enron crap and Nasdaq meltdown. Just a thought.

Black Water
10-27-2003, 08:30 PM
You said it Maple City. I despise the little add on's!!!:angry:

After they sign the contract you here " Oh, can you get rid of the poison ivy under the back deck, and how about the wire grass growing through the driveway?". I say " Sure Mr. Low life, be glad to for a extra fee." And they look at you like you have three heads.:blob2: :angry: :blob2:

I went to bid a job one afternoon, and there were three cop cars with their blue lights on in the drive way. Big red flag!:rolleyes:

10-27-2003, 08:51 PM
Trust your instincts, and have a dang good attorney on speed dial, just for when those 1-2 times come up that you have $$ sign dancing in your head and thinking out your azz! BEcouse we've all done that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Mac