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Dealing with impossible customers

By Cory Eagles

When meeting with a client, pool and spa pros should ask them about other renovations they may have had done and how the project(s) were handled.
When meeting with a client, pool and spa pros should ask them about other renovations they may have had done and how the project(s) were handled.

With nearly two decades in the industry, and 12 years building a successful pool installation/service business, the author has come across a few ‘impossible customers.’

Last summer, however, he had to deal with one of the ‘worst customers.’ Many pool and spa professionals have faced their fair share of difficult clients, but possibly none quite like this. In looking back on this encounter, the author shares what he thinks he did right, what he did wrong, and what he could have done better in five areas.

  1. Professionalism

In all situations, pool and spa workers must stay professional. Everyone has seen a business in multiple industries that has received a negative online review as a result of the owner or a staff member losing their temper when dealing with a difficult customer. Therefore, it is important one keeps his/her cool by not getting into a shouting match in person or in an online argument.

Service techs should make sure all forms of communication stay professional as a screenshot of a snarky reply spread on social media will certainly not shed a positive light on one’s business. That said, a business owner can defend themselves in a professional manner by simply stating the facts, explaining the situation, and looking at the problem from the customer’s perspective.

  1. Avoidance

Obviously, if one can avoid having to deal with a difficult situation from the get-go, it is the best method. However, if it is unavoidable, the first thing to determine is if the customer is going to be impossible to deal with.

One way a business owner can figure this out is by performing some research—this is where social media can be a great tool. It is easy for pool and spa pros to search the customer’s name just to see what they can find.

If the customer has multiple posts complaining about this contractor and that company all over their pages, a pool and spa pro may want to steer clear of this client. This is why face-to-face meetings are still one of the best ways to get to know a customer.

When meeting with a client, pool and spa pros should ask them about other renovations they may have had done and how the project(s) were handled. Some good questions to ask the client include: who completed the project and were they happy with the work?

How the potential client answers these questions and what they say about other contractors and competitors can definitely be a sign of the customer’s character. Further, site checks are not only performed to determine equipment access. It is a great time to assess the customer, too. For instance, how do they interact with their neighbours or other contractors who may be on-site? Are there unfinished projects that a contractor may have walked away from? Sometimes, the signs are easy to miss in the excitement of a sale.

For those pool and/or spa businesses that missed any of these signs and have taken on the job and are thinking what now, it is important to make sure they have as little to complain about as possible. For example, pool and spa pros should go above and beyond to ensure the job site is kept clean and tidy.

On one particular job, the author’s company was accused of leaving garbage and plastic cups lying around everyday even though when he started to clean up the job site at the end of each work day the client stopped him and reassured it was okay as they would tidy things up for them.

Had the author just picked them up, it would have been one complaint the client could not make! As a result, the author’s company now has a policy that at the end of the day all garbage is picked up—no matter what. Nothing is left up to the customer.

  1. Communication
When meeting with a client, pool and spa pros should ask them about other renovations they may have had done and how the project(s) were handled.
When meeting with a client, pool and spa pros should ask them about other renovations they may have had done and how the project(s) were handled.

It is very important for a pool and spa company to never make any promises it may not be able to keep. There are too many factors builders and service pros must be mindful of that can cause delays. That said, pool and spa businesses should not be pushed into a promise that may result in an altercation later on. Therefore, professionals must chose their words wisely (so they cannot be twisted around and used against them) and ensure the client understands.

Daily updates are important and should be emailed to the homeowners (all parties) even if verbal updates have been provided.

On this same problematic project, the author emailed updates to the husband who would then relay the information to his wife, which translated into “The pool guy promised this, that, and the other.” All of the miscommunication ‘promises’ within the household were impossible to complete; therefore, it is important not to become part of the homeowner’s communication issues.

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