Canadian Contractor

More thoughts about customer flak

Don't take all business insults at face value!

December 9, 2016
By Steve Payne

You’ve poured your heart and soul into a renovation project and you’re ready for your final cheque from the client. Maybe it’s your official 10 per cent holdback. Maybe it’s some other sum. Regardless, that cheque represents a large chunk of your profit.

Whether there was an official deficiency list or not, you’ve fixed all the minor imperfections in the project. You feel proud. You did nice work, on time, on budget. That final cheque will feel good. You phone the client to see when you can pick it up.

“We are not very happy campers over here,” says your client on the phone. Their tone is nasty flat. “You did sloppy work. You didn’t deliver what you promised us.” Then, the massive blow to your solar plexus: “We think we need to shake hands right now and call it even. We are not going to pay you another nickel.

What are your options? Call them back and scream at them? Sue them? Lien their property? All of the above?

What should you do?

This scenario plays itself out time and time again – not just in renovation contracting but in many industries. (I remember a paint company in Montreal faxing us, back in another era, that they weren’t going to pay us for some advertising because they’d fired their VP of Marketing who had signed our contract for it.)

What are your options when faced with this kind of customer bullying?

Taken at face value your client is a deadbeat with no ethics.

But in 1981, in the groundbreaking book Getting To Yes: How to Negotiate Agreement Without Giving In, authors Rogers Fisher and William L. Ury highlighted a vital business truth: Sometimes customers will insult you in a hostile way simply as a tactic.

The insult (“We are not going to pay you another nickel!”) is deliberately intended to knock you totally off balance in the hopes that you will make a ridiculous concession.

Don’t be fooled. Take a deep breath, refuse to be drawn in, and respond calmly and assertively.

You can get paid fully if you recognize their tactic as simply that.

Don’t take all business insults at face value.



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