Customer Communication During a Crisis
April 8, 2020
Any time there is a disruption in your business operations, communicating with your customers is critical. Clear customer communication is particularly important during the current COVID-19 crisis, which has hindered the ability of businesses — including residential and commercial roofers — to maintain normal operations and meet existing contractual obligations.
Communicating a Work Delay
Telling a customer that you have to stop roofing work is always a difficult conversation. Many contractors or roofing professionals already include a force majeure clause in their customer contracts for this reason. This clause states that contractual obligations may be waived in events that are beyond the service provider's control, such as a natural disaster (like a hurricane or earthquake) or certain human events such as riots or terrorist attacks. Some force majeure clauses even specify "disease," "epidemic" or "pandemic" in their list of events that can trigger a delay.
Force majeure protects your business by "extending, temporarily suspending or terminating the contract due to unexpected and unavoidable events," according to Roofing Contractor. However, this clause can only be invoked in dire circumstances. A force majeure event "cannot be anticipated, foreseeable, or expected" and is entirely beyond your control.
Customer Communication Tips
Whether or not your contract specifies a pandemic as a force majeure event, there is no doubt that the COVID-19 crisis was an unforeseeable event beyond the control of either roofers or their customers.
It's up to you as the roofing professional to open the lines of customer communication and discuss options for moving forward with the project.
The first step is reviewing your contract and finding your force majeure clause. It is sometimes found under the section titled "Delays or Extension of Time." Many times, there is specific language for how long an event has to last to be considered a force majeure, and what adjustments can be made to the contract, including delays, limitations or even cancellations.
The next step is to reach out to the customer right away and go through their options. Most customers will be relieved that you have reached out to them and are addressing the issue proactively.
If at all possible, delaying the roofing project should be the first option. If both parties agree to a new time frame, be sure to submit a written addendum outlining the new schedule and include language covering any revised costs of labor or materials.
In some cases, the customer may want to cancel the project altogether. This is certainly understandable given that many people are facing reduced hours and joblessness, and businesses are having to close due to the pandemic. This can be a particularly tough conversation to have and should be handled delicately.
A typical service contract does contain termination provisions that allow the customer to terminate at any time and for any reason, without getting any of their money back. The roofing professional usually retains any deposit or costs that have been incurred when ordering materials and supplies. If you have any doubts about contract language or your interpretation of it, ask your legal adviser for help.
Communicating via Technology
With the emphasis on "social distancing" (staying at least six feet apart from other people), what are your customer communication options for when you can't meet a client face-to-face?
Thankfully, communicating via technology is a widely available option. In addition to emails, many business professionals are turning to video conferencing for a more personal touch.
Zoom is currently the most popular option, as it's easy to use and is available on multiple platforms, including Mac, Windows, Linux and Android. Microsoft users are probably already familiar with Skype, which offers a free version that supports up to 50 callers at a time and includes the ability to record chats (with permission, of course). Finally, Google Hangouts is a simple, free tool that can be used on mobile or desktop devices and supports video chats of up to 10 people at a time, making it ideal for smaller meetings.
Even when you're delivering difficult news, communicating with customers remotely doesn't have to be hard. Be prepared to discuss all aspects of the roofing contract, and use video for a more personal touch if you can.