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CONSTRUCTION KNOWLEDGE BLOG

March 24, 2012

Choose Your Customers Wisely
Filed under: People Skills — Tags: — nedpelger

If you want to prosper in the construction business, select your customers carefully. I know most folks in small (and large) construction firms believe they need the next job so badly that getting work trumps all other concerns. That type of thinking leads to lots of hard work for little reward and often to bankruptcy.

I propose that getting what appears to be a good job with a horrible customer is worse than having no job. The horrible customer will be satisfied only by screwing you at every opportunity. I know some contractors go into those contracts planning to screw their customer in every conceivable way as well. Those type customers and contractors should work together in their no-holds-barred Texas Deathmatch. Let chislers work with chislers.

When I ran a $20M/year full service general contracting firm, I remember that pressure of keeping the project pipe full. I’d meet with a customer and get that feeling that he was a creep that was going to screw us. We’d get the job (or ¬†waste lots of time and not get the job), spend way too much time and effort fighting to get it done, then fight over final payments. We’d lose money on the project. I’d remember my initial guy feeling and wonder why I ignored it again.

I don’t do that anymore. I pick my customers carefully and life goes better in every way. So let’s consider the best and worst customers. Let’s use an academic grading system.

A 4.0 customer appreciates your efforts and operates with absolute integrity. He treats other people the way he wants to be treated. You know that when the feces hits the fan, this guy will be standing with you dealing with the problems, not running and ducking for cover. A 4.0 customer strives to resolve problems fairly, even if he has to dip into his own pocket to pay the difference.

On the other hand, a 0.0 customer acts in active evil. He won’t be satisfied with any of your efforts. In fact, hurting you will be the only thing that will satisfy the 0.0 customer. Lying and cheating will be the norm. You can often feel the creepiness like a fog around the 0.0 customer.

Here’s how I’d fill in between the extremes.

4.0 Fantastic customer: collaborative and working towards win-win solutions.

3.0 Decent customer that tries to be fair, as long as it doesn’t pinch too much. Fair weather integrity.

2.0 Hard nosed customer that fights through every issue, but at least tries to be fair. Tends toward compromise.

1.0 Hard nosed customer that fights though every issue and tries not to be fair (tries to win so you lose)

0.0 Worst customer: only satisfied by bloodying you.

As you look to future projects, start paying attention to what kind of customers you work for. Improve your customers and you’ll improve your life. You simply have to learn to say no to the bad ones, even if you think that you just have to say yes. Get creative and make more opportunities open.