Six Customer Service Lessons from…a Contractor?

by Diane Berenbaum

It was definitely time to renovate our kitchen—while my husband and I were out for dinner, my son was home grabbing buckets and trying to catch the rain pouring through the ceiling. So, we did what every wise homeowner does before taking on such a project—we asked neighbors to share the names of contractors they used to perform similar work on their homes.

Their answers were surprising. Four of the five families we asked could not recommend the contractor they used. While some were happy with the work, they informed me that the contractor was no longer in business. Others complained about what you might call classic issues with contractors, including:
  • “It took far longer to complete the project than promised.”
  • “He wasn't there when he said he would be.”
  • “He was hard to get a hold of.”
  • “The work was sloppy.”
Only one neighbor was confident in her recommendation. “This contractor [Tom] may not be the cheapest,” she said, “but he is reliable and does quality work. I definitely recommend him.”

I also realized that his son was on my son's basketball team about nine years earlier—that had to count for something! (It's amazing how these kinds of emotional responses can influence our decisions). He was the one for us; if he was available when we needed him.

So, I called Tom and I was in luck. He was just finishing a big job and could work on our house.

In retrospect, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Flash forward four months later and our project is just about done (the town inspectors are coming this week for final approval). I am certainly relieved that the construction is coming to an end, and I will no longer be surrounded by dust as I eat microwaved meals on paper plates.

But, as funny as it may sound, I am going to miss seeing the contractor. And, I know that my dog will miss him too—they developed quite a bond.

So, what was it about Tom that left me (and my dog) feeling this way? What did he do that was so unlike other contractors I have experienced and heard about?

He made a consistently positive and professional impression, and modeled the following six attributes:

1.  Attention to Detail

I have not met many people with such an intense focus on details as Tom. He gets perturbed if something is off by 1/8 inch. Measurements of nooks and crannies in my house that never much mattered to me seemed to matter a lot to him. He wanted to be sure that absolutely everything was done “right” in accordance with the most current codes and specifications.

And, since he is such a perfectionist, he did whatever it took to be sure the work was done properly. For example, we purchased a new range top stove with more “power” than my previous one. With some disdain, he noted that our previous venting system was not sufficient and that he was not sure how we lived with it (funny, we never noticed any problems with it).

He was determined to find the most efficient way to vent this new range top. It was like a puzzle he was determined to solve. Every few days, he would come up with an idea and then be convinced there was still a better way. Until one day, when I was working from home, I was surprised to see one of his workers crawling out of a small cubby in a bedroom upstairs. I didn't even know that a person could fit into that space. When he saw the surprised look on my face, he explained that Tom had found the perfect path for venting the stove, and he was in the process of implementing it.

2.  Timely Response

Always accessible, Tom would provide me with timely answers and updates. If we had a question or concern, he would answer it promptly or investigate it immediately. Never did we wonder what he was doing or when something would be done. We were always informed, every step of the way.

The timeliness of his responses helped us feel secure, right from the start, that we made the right choice and the job would be done in a timely manner.

3.  Proactive Suggestions/Solutions

  • “If you put a window here, it will bring in more light and make the room seem bigger.”
  • “I can make the opening between the kitchen and the family room a bit wider; that will provide a better flow.”
  • “The shingles around the living room window are starting to rot. You better keep on eye on it, as that can hurt the integrity of the house.”

Not only did Tom give informed suggestions for the design and structure of our house, he helped us understand the “why” behind them. I feel that I'm a bit more “educated” as a result.

He even gave excellent decorating advice. He suggested we put in bead board in our basement to add a decorative touch—and we are in awe of the results. It was worth every penny.

Unlike many contractors who make suggestions with the intention of getting more work, Tom got to know us and offered ideas that would make our rooms more appealing and functional. In the process, he did get more, but I do believe that he had our best interests at heart.

4.  Friendly and Caring Attitude

Many a morning, I would get up and find Tom downstairs in our kitchen, focused on his work. Although I am not a “morning person,” when I was greeted by his smile, I couldn't help but feel good that he was overseeing this project. We often chatted about our boys and laughed at the quirks of my dog, Rags.

It didn't take long for Rags to fall for Tom. Rags quickly learned the sound of his car and would come bounding down the stairs to greet him. Tom watched out for Rags and made sure he stayed out of trouble (not an easy thing to do with this feisty terrier). Sometimes, Tom would sit outside with Rags, as he reviewed plans or made calls, and Rags would stay by his side in anticipation of a pat or scratch. One day, as I drove off to work, I heard Tom snap his fingers as he walked to our front door. Rags immediately did an about face, ran in Tom's direction and went into the house where he belonged.

5.  Going Above and Beyond

Tom is so agreeable, and talented, he would sometimes do things that might seem out of the ordinary. The one “favor” that stands out in my mind happened early one morning as I was heading to work. I found a note from my son, who was just home from college, that said there was a tick under my dog's eye and I had to remove it. Naturally, my husband was out of town on business and my son was fast asleep, so I was forced to find a pair of tweezers and get up the gumption to do the deed (as you can tell, I am a bit queasy about these types of things).

Just as I was about to give it a whirl, Tom walked in the door. “You don't happen to know how to remove a tick, do you?” I asked with great anticipation. Without blinking, he grabbed a tissue, went up to Rags, and removed the tick with his bare hands. Now, that's what I call going above and beyond the call of duty. And, boy was I grateful!

6.  Integrity

A model of integrity from day one, Tom always did what he said he would do. He takes great pride in his work, and it shows. We had total trust in him throughout the process. That made it a whole lot easier to leave the house in his hands and hand him checks for the work that was done.

Think of the impact if every contractor modeled these attributes. Think of the impact if every business modeled these attributes. Wouldn't life be a whole lot easier and a lot more pleasant?

So, be like Tom—then watch your customers smile and the referrals come in. I am confident you'll be happy with the results.
Diane Berenbaum is a long-time contributor and former editor of the MAGIC Service Newsletter. She has more than twenty-five years of experience as a consultant, coach, and facilitator. Diane is the co-author of How to Talk to Customers: Create a Great Impression Every Time with MAGIC® .
Before and After
Before and After
Just one "tragic" contact can influence your customers' perception of your company (and their buying decisions). Listen to the difference MAGIC® can make.