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Turning customer questions into sales

by Leon A. Frechette

As a radio talk show guest, I have answered a lot of call-in questions about home improvement and remodeling projects. In reviewing the tapes, I realized that I answered many questions more than once, most of them dealing with concerns that arise when customers evaluate, select, and work with builders and remodelers.

To help you communicate with your customers, and potential customers, I have selected a few questions and what I feel are some helpful answers.

When I left a message for the contractor to call me so we could set up an appointment, nobody returned my phone call. Why?

This potential customer, one who can put new tires on your business truck, can give your name a bad reputation even without meeting you.

Call the customer . . . even if you don't think you have time to do another job. As a professional, you owe every potential customer that courtesy. I recommend you return the call the same day; if you're not able to help them, try to refer them on—and remember to thank them for calling you.

Making that call lets customers know you are concerned about them and their needs. It assures them of your company's high professional standards. A customer will remember that the next time he needs work done or a friend or relative asks for a contractor recommendation. A referral is the greatest compliment a professional can receive.

Why didn't the contractor call me when he knew he'd be late or knew he could not show up for the appointment?

When a customer calls and you set an appointment, then keep that appointment!

If you're going to be late or can't keep the appointment, call and let the customer know the circumstances. Ask if it's OK to still come or if it would be best to set a new appointment. Only reschedule your appointment once and try to call the customer at least two to three hours before the appointment to confirm your meeting. This is especially important when you know you are going to be late or have to cancel. The customer will respect you for making the call. Remember, the customer expects you to be at the appointment at the time you originally agreed upon.

Why is the contractor so rude to me?

You will not win any points being rude to a customer. A customer makes up his mind about hiring a contractor in the first ten minutes of the appointment. Be a well-rounded professional at all times; selling yourself will help sell the job.

What do I need to know about the contractor's credentials?

If your state requires you to be bonded, licensed, and insured, carry those with you and you'll have all your credentials at hand. Volunteer to show them. The customer needs confidence in your professionalism and this is one way to show it.

What do I say to the contractor when I'm not sure if he knows what he is talking about?

When a customer asks you a question, answer it like a professional and show your confidence. Consumers are smart shoppers and can detect a phony. If they ask a question and you don't know the answer, then let them know that you don't have the answer but would be glad to do some research and get back to them with the findings. Of course, be sure to follow through. This is an opportunity to show your professionalism and sell the job at the same time.

When I ask for the price of the job, why does the contractor give me a price range?

When a customer asks for a price and you give them a price range, explain that you are giving them an estimate. Tell them that an estimate is only an educated guess. Since consumers are price conscious, help them to understand the price of the job by giving an itemized bid. The potential customer needs to see that you can professionally look at the job and break it down, showing where and how his dollars will be spent. A customer will pay a higher price if they have confidence in the price you quote.

Should we have a contract with the contractor?

The days of a simple handshake to finalize a deal are long gone. Protect yourself and your customer by entering into a proper contractual agreement. Do not use generic or simple contracts, especially ones without general conditions because some states will not accept them as legal documents.

Write the contract in the simplest form, yet in such detail that both you and the customer can understand and benefit. I would recommend that you not urge the customer to sign the contract but let him hold it for at least one week to allow for time to study it. Also, live up to the terms of your contract; this is one way to eliminate going to court or getting involved in litigation.

Should we give a contractor any money up front? How much?

A customer expects to pay money up front to get their job started, but not the entire amount, so do not take advantage of the customer. I recommend that you break down the amount of the job into a payment schedule that both the customer and you can live with. For example, collect a 35 percent deposit and then take the remaining balance and divide it into three equal payments: the first payment at the projected halfway point (50 percent completion) of the job, the second payment due at the two-thirds mark (75 percent completion), and the final payment to be held by the customer for at least three days after completion of the project. Be sure to enter the agreed-upon schedule into the contract. Keep in mind the customer is hiring you and not the other way around.

How do I get the contractor back to do warranty work?

Nothing aggravates a customer more than a contractor who will not follow through on warranty work. One way to keep your reputation is to return within one week from the time the customer calls and fix the problem. To assure the customer and to help close the sale, put a one-year warranty into the contract as part of the general conditions. Let the customer hold onto the last payment for a certain period of time so they can review the job. This is another good sign of professionalism on your part. Remember, a happy customer makes a great reference customer. Word of mouth goes a long way.

In short, the customer is looking for someone who is organized, polite, well-mannered, and can make them feel comfortable. They are looking for a professional who can make a total commitment to them and their job. You can be that professional!




Click to Purchase

I have developed a series of legal business forms to help consumers and contractors through the bidding and contractual process. The Contractors Helping Hands Packet includes Itemized Bid Sheets along with a Contract/Agreement Sheet and an Extra Work and/or Change Order Sheet. To order your set of forms, click on purchase button to the left!

Copyright © 1994 & 2008 LAF/C.R.S., Inc. All rights reserved. The previous article,
in whole or in part, appeared in the Spring 1994 issue of Servistar's Successful Contractor.


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