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Etiquette is part of sales

by Leon A. Frechette

From time to time we all should take a refresher course in basic etiquette in order to remind ourselves that as professionals, we are in the public eye and it is up to us to maintain and display high standards of professionalism for the industry. This is especially true now since, according to the Better Business Bureau, contractors top the list in complaints. Only we can clean up our own acts as well as the building and remodeling industry as a whole.

Etiquette Begins With First Phone Call

Etiquette starts when the phone rings. The majority of us are unable to be in our offices to answer every phone call, so many customers—in good faiths—will leave a message. It's up to you to return those calls. Even if you don't think you have time to do another job, return that call. As a professional, you owe every potential customer that courtesy, and your caller is a potential customer, one who can put bacon on your table or new tires on your business truck. This potential customer can also give your name a bad reputation without ever meeting you!

I highly recommend you return calls the same day. Returning calls in a timely fashion lets customers know you are concerned about them and their needs. It also assures them of your company's high professional standards, something customers will remember the next time they need work done or the next time their friends or relatives call for a contractor recommendation. We all know that a referral is the greatest compliment a professional can receive. If you are unable to help that potential customer, then try to refer him to someone who cans—and remember to thank him for calling you.

Learn to Say "No"

Learn when to say "No." If your schedule is tight, do you really have the room to take on another customer? Realistically evaluate your current workload and summon the discipline to say "No" to a customer. Do not take on a job just for the sake of filling your calendar, because in the process, if you are unable to satisfy this customer, your reputation will be on the line. It's better to turn down work—or refer customers to other contractorss—than to put yourself in a situation where you are not able to deliver a quality job in a timely manner.

Here's a specific case that we can all learn from. A contractor in Spokane accepted a small job on the recommendation of the manager of a furniture store that does interior decorating. He was asked specifically, "Do you have the time to handle a small job?" Even knowing that he was involved in a three-month project, this contractor felt that he could fit it in. I know for a fact that this job entailed about eight hours in the shop and about two hours in the customer's home.

Eight weeks later and after numerous phone calls from both the customer and the store manager, this job is still not completed. Some of these phone calls landed during the contractor's vacation so he did not return this or any other customer's calls, even though he checked with his answering service regularly during that time!

The customer is angry at both the contractor and the store and has made her feelings known to the point that the store manager has lost three potential customers. The contractor was alerted that another contractor would be asked to complete this simple project but he was given one more chance to handle the job. In the process, the contractor got angry and told the store manager that he planned to tell off the customer because she had complained to the store manager. What right does the contractor have to tell a customer off?! Does this sound like good customer relations?

Wouldn't it have made good business sense for the contractor to have his calls covered during his vacation? In this particular case, this contractor's actions have hurt the reputations of both the store and its manager; he will not longer receive referrals from the store; and he has ruined his reputation with this particular customer and her wide circle of friends, all potential customers. Wouldn't it have been better for the contractor to have just said "No" at the very beginning?

Keep Appointments

Keep your appointments. When you set an appointment with a customer, make an active effort to keep that appointment. Be sure to know your own schedule before you set the appointment so you can be realistic about it. If you're going to be late or can't keep the appointment, call and advise the customer of the circumstances. Ask if it's still OK to come or if it would be better to set a new appointment time. 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 if something comes up and you have to cancel. The customer will recognize and appreciate your respect for his schedule, and he will respect you for calling, especially if you say you don't make a practice of inconveniencing customers and you apologize if it does. Remember, the customer expects you to be at the appointment at the time you originally agreed upon.

Remember—First Impressions Count

First impressions are important. Be courteous and well-informed at all times. A customer makes up his or her mind about hiring a contractor in the first ten minutes of the appointment. You will not win any points by being rude. When a customer asks you a question, show your confidence and answer it like a professional. Customers today are smart shoppers and they can detect a phony. If they ask a question for which you don't know the answer, then admit you don't have an answer but you would be glad to do some research and get back to them with your findings. Of course, make sure you follow through on your promise. Be a well-rounded professional at all times: selling yourself will sell the job.

These points are important to remember in selling both yourself and the job. But what happens once you sell that job? Good customer relations don't stop there! In fact, it is especially important to have your manners polished once you enter the customer's home to perform the work.

If children are present, it is your responsibility to be courteous and well-mannered in front of them as well as in front of anyone else in the household. This also holds true for the subs you are working with, both on and off the job-site. You never know who might be standing just around the corner. The Human Broadcasting System works very fast—so protect your reputation!

Some Valuable Reading

You probably already know that a customer is not always right. In cases like this, it is better to listen with your ears, not with your mouth. If you have not yet read Dale Carnegie's book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, and/or Les Giblin's book, How You Can Have Confidence & Power in dealing with people—you should! These two powerful books can help you to understand and deal with people, and they are especially helpful in promoting effective communications. Do yourself a favor and read one—or both—of these books. It will be the best commitment you could make to your career.

So the next time the phone rings, think professionalism. Have confidence and be well-informed. And above all, think etiquette, which entails being courteous, and well-mannered—on your best behavior—at all times. You'll be surprised at how simple courtesy can influence the people around you—employees, subcontractors, customers, and yourself. Contractors don't just swing hammers any more—they're people-oriented professionals!

Appointments Dos and Don'ts

  1. Be on time—if you're going to be late, CALL the customer.
  2. Dress Code:
  • Shirt and tie—not necessary.
  • Work clothes—OK provided they are not full of dust and don't smell. Work clothes show customers you are a hands-on individual.
  • Work boots—OK, but make sure that you are not carrying foreign material that can be tracked throughout the customer's home.
  • Hair—presentable, i.e., combed.
  1. Profane language—a no-no, no matter who is around.
  2. Politics and Religion—don't bring up the subjects voluntarily.
  3. Argue—never.
  4. Listen well—use your ears, not your mouth.
  5. Disagreement—handle it diplomatically.
  6. A know-it-all—customers are not impressed.
  7. Putting down other professionals—customers are not only uninterested, it's very unprofessional.
  8. If you don't know something—admit it and offer to do some research.
  9. For what ever the reason—consider whether or not you can realistically handle this project. Learn to say "no."
  10. Force selling—think twice.

Most of all, treat a customer as you would like to be treated and practice all of the above whether you are on an appointment or on the project.

Copyright © 1995 & 1998 LAF/C.R.S., Inc. All rights reserved. The previous article,
in whole or in part, appeared in the January 1995 issue of Building & Remodeling News.


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