Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Customers: Can’t Work With ‘Em… Can’t Shoot ‘Em

Bill had designed and built a nice deck for Mr. Jones, but there seemed to be a new reason every week to postpone final payment. First it was the soil excavated for the footings that the customer wanted to have smoothed out. After Bill took care of that, Mr. Jones “discovered” that a few end tags were still stapled to some of the framing and wanted them removed before he’d make payment. Later, it was the chalk marks along the edge of the decking that hadn’t disappeared yet as expected. And after that he complained about “cracks” in the rail posts, and refused to believe they were a natural characteristic of pressure-treated wood. The more Bill tried to satisfy this customer, the more indignant and nit-picky the man got. It finally dawned on Bill that he may never get paid in spite of his good-faith efforts.

So early one Saturday morning, Bill showed up at the customer’s house. Hoisting a chain saw out of the back of his pickup, he stalked to the back of the house and cranked it up. Mr. Jones bolted out of the back door in his robe and demanded to know what Bill was doing. “I’m taking my deck back,” Bill said. “You can’t do that, it’s my property!” screamed the man. “No,” Bill said, “it’s not your property until you’ve paid for it.” The customer threatened to call the police. “Go ahead, call the police. By the time they get here I’ll be done.” Bill’s look of angry determination and the idling chain saw in his hand convinced the customer that he’d be better off making the final payment. The check cleared, and Bill immediately rewrote the payment schedule and punch list policy in his contract.

No doubt many of you have been tempted to pull out the chainsaw with some of your customers. There is some small percentage of the general population that simply must lie, cheat and steal… perhaps because of an extra Y chromosome or some other kind of mental pathology. Some of those people become your customers. Some go into politics.

How many of you have fantasized about creating a “Better Customer Bureau,” to provide some balance to the numerous organizations and web sites dedicated to victimized consumers? Well, someone has finally risen to the challenge. An intrepid contractor in Florida and his daughter have created Business Beware ( About a year ago, Robert and Ashley Bodi created their website, dedicated to helping businesses deal with deadbeat customers. Registered members (only $5/year) can post customer names and locations, and the nature of their complaint. There are about 800 members – mostly, but not all contractors – who have collectively posted over a thousand complaints. In the interest of fairness, customers are provided with the opportunity to rebut the claims, but so far none have done so. This is probably due to the lack of widespread awareness of the site. They’re doing good work, folks. Why don’t you visit their site and join up? Hopefully, as membership and public recognition increases over time, Business Beware will become an influential force for truth, justice and the American way!

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