Dealing With Demanding Clients

Build Your Business
Author: Dan Stout | June 3, 2020

One perk of the roofing trade is meeting new people as you move from project to project. While the majority of clients may be great to work with, it's inevitable that you will run into a client who's less than ideal.

Two frustrated clients complaining to a contractor at a desk.
While there's no way to avoid difficult customers completely, you can minimize the resulting headaches with these key strategies.

So, how do you prevent the occasional bad apple from ruining the bushel? Any roofer dealing with demanding clients should remember a few key strategies.

Set Clear Expectations

The majority of client-contractor issues stem from poor communication on one side or the other, and sometimes on both. When dealing with difficult clients, it's important to tell them what to expect, when to expect it and what's already happened. Never assume that a client understands roofing terminology, even if it's second nature to you. You should also never assume they'll remember minor details you mentioned in passing.

It's important to create a written record of your communication. That record doesn't need to be a certified letter — a simple email will do. However you keep your customer communication log, it needs to be referenced regularly, so that the customer understands a record exists and can be pulled up to resolve disputes or remember agreements.

Put the Work in on the Front End

It can feel great to sign a contract, especially when cash flow is tight, but if you ignore red flags and that queasy feeling in your gut, that dream job can quickly become a nightmare.

Create a customer screening questionnaire that identifies potential pitfalls you've run into before, and what the client's priorities are — timeline, price, material options or something else. This helps establish parameters for how both sides behave from the very start of the relationship. Dealing with demanding clients is like training a new employee: If you let bad habits slide early on, you can't expect them to follow procedures the way you'd prefer after a few months or weeks. This is why early contract negotiations are critical.

Any Concession Comes With a Demand

Clients are well within their rights to negotiate things like price and timeline, but they should know that when they make a demand, they'll also have to make a concession. If clients want a price reduction, for instance, they may need to downgrade materials. If they want faster completion, they should expect to pay a rush fee. Build a cushion into your pricing and timeline estimates to easily meet their requests.

When you run into an irate customer, lead off by saying, "I'm sorry this isn't going the way you hoped," even if you mentally add "…and I'm sorry that I have to put up with you!" That initial apology costs nothing, but helps de-escalate the situation.

Suit Your Client

Lastly, try to understand what it is that your client really wants. A residential customer complaining about a messy worksite may actually be more concerned about their neighbors' opinions. A commercial customer demanding that you work quietly may be overreacting to noise complaints from their building tenants. Instead of getting frustrated, talk over complaints in detail and find a solution that suits your client's true needs.

Offer to go the extra mile, within reason, to get clients on your side. For residential customers, consider sponsoring a backyard barbecue at the end of the job to help them show off the new roof (while you work the crowd for new leads). Similarly, your commercial customer may be willing to pay more if you work during off-hours when their own customers aren't in the building.

The key for managing most customer conflicts is to communicate, then put that agreement in writing. While there's no way to avoid difficult customers completely, you can minimize the resulting headaches. And that makes cashing the final check all the more enjoyable.

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