Words: Corey Adams
Do you ever sit around and think about all the old timers that helped you? I do. I was blessed to be at an age where the true old timers were still out getting it, and at the same time, the next generation was branching out, building, and growing into successful companies. Over the years, the true old timers have faded away, and now the generation above me is taking the old timer torch.
What I truly loved about the old timers was the way they passed wisdom. It wasn’t long and drawn-out lectures; it often came in a one-liner. Something easy to remember, a little comical, and yet so deep that you could ponder it for years and find nuance that you never would have expected. Here is a story on how one of these nuggets of wisdom has guided me in the hardest of times.
We negotiated and completed a residential project. It wasn’t the largest project ever, but a significant amount to many contractors and for me at the time. The entire project invoice totaled $12,150.00.
The customer paid in full, but after a couple of weeks, they noticed some things that were changing. As any customer would do, they called to ask. I immediately asked for photos of the areas and determined that there was a material flaw that was creating an unsatisfactory finished product.
Now, this customer was great. They agreed to let us come in and address some areas and see if we could save the project. Long story short, we could not. After some repair attempts, the product flaws kept surfacing, and it wasn’t up to our standards. What to do next?
Step 1: Own it. I was always told by old timers that if you touch it, you own it. So, this project was mine, even if we had material flaws. It is better to take credit for your mistakes than to get credit for your successes.
Step 2: Ask. The customer comes first. Ask the customer what solutions they would be ok with. When a customer hires you, you become partners in a project. Yes, you are doing all the work, and they are just paying the bill, but you are partners in the project. It takes both of you to get a project done.
Step 3: Damage control. Let’s elaborate on this one.
Damage control is a phrase soaked with negative connotations. It is something that no one wants to discuss because it calls attention to your failures. Well, the project we are talking about I would classify as a failure. If you have been in this business long enough, you have one or two of these types of projects floating around. It is ok.
The wisdom of the old timers caught up with me again when doing damage control on this one. “Your first loss is always your best loss.” What does that mean exactly? Well, just like every one-liner shot at me by an old timer, it means many things.
In this instance, my options were simple. Redoing the project was not an option, so it came down to money. What is acceptable, what is rational, and what is mutually beneficial?
I took that old-timer wisdom and did the right thing, a 100% refund. Yes, I ate the faulty material cost too. It was the only option as it was my first loss I could take on this project. If I tried to negotiate a partial refund, the customer would still have leverage. The last thing I want to do is leave a sub-par job to a customer with leverage.
In this day and age, one disgruntled customer with leverage can bankrupt you. Negative reviews, lawsuits, and public forum slander. It is a new world we live in. By refunding the entire $12,150, I removed the leverage and diffused the situation quickly and with little harm to our brand.
If a review ever did get left, I have the ability to respond with refund details and counteract the negativity. If a lawsuit comes up, our warranty clearly states it has a limit equal to the total contract amount. If public slander is found, we can reply politely and accurately that we took care of it fully.
Building a brand requires us to swallow our pride at times. As emotional as we want to be in this situation, a sideways project is not the time to plant our stubborn foot in the ground. Fighting this could have cost me plenty more than $12,150, maybe even my company.