One bad experience can negate 10 positive ones. In other words: Screw them once, lose them forever. Treating people right is a full time job.
We recently had a bathroom remodeled in our house. Nevermind the 14-year-old kitchen that was cheapo on the day it went in in ’96 and is a hot mess in 2011. Why do that up right when we can redo our kids’ bathroom, naturally? We’re some kind of schlebs honestly. Not even the master. The bathroom for the 5 and 8-year-olds is tops on the docket. What the?!
That loo was pretty much a mess though, and we got tired of the laminate floor peeling up near the tub. No matter how many times I have threatened bodily harm those three mongrels of mine for splashing water on that floor, they still thumb their snot-laden noses at me and glare back as if to say, “Do your worst, geezer.” So the vicious circle has continued until recently: Water splashes on the floor in generous amounts during bathtime despite the 10 minute peptalk I give on the grave consequences of water damage. I walk in and eyeball the puddle and carefully place my Coors Light can on the aging countertop. I then begin flailing my arms about in wild circles, saying things that would make a longshoreman blush, and somehow stopping just short of actual physical confrontation. Most of the time. (Easy DCFS. You got nothing on me coppers.)
So sans new tile in the shower, the entire bathroom was re-done by a nice guy my wife found God-knows where in her travels. He was a quiet man, very laid-back. Not really our type, but we gave him a whirl. “Mark” as he’ll be called, did a pretty damn good job and was very diligent. He even took it upon himself to point out to my wife where the aforementioned lawless children had helped water find it’s way through the decaying laminate flooring onto the wood beneath. No mold, he clarified, just something to point out. Like I said, he was very thorough.
Matt seemed to love his work. He took great care to leave us smiling. This dude “got” it.
As he was about to finish our job, the goodly Mrs. Noonan reminded him of a minor task he had pledged to do way-back-when he accepted this gig: Change out the tub’s spout that was so bunco we were prevented from using the shower for years. That little nobber just wouldn’t pull up to switch from “bath” to “shower” mode.
Why didn’t I change it? Ah, you apparently don’t know me. Gay men routinely ridicule me for many things, not the least among them is my know-how around a tool box. They pass by my vinyl-sided abode, walking little Shelties with bows affixed so haughtily, and laugh and laugh at my ineptitude when any sort of hand-tool is at the ready. “What you gonna do with that, sissy?” they howl. It’s downright embarassing.
But for Mark, the spout swapout was a cinch. In fact, he did it for free. We were elated; I was relieved.
Alas, Mark now knows all too well the adage “No good deed goes unpunished.”
About a week after the spout was changed, we noticed that water was apparently collecting in between the bathroom and our kitchen ceiling. Panicked, we called Mark and he rushed over like a 19th century doctor coming for a house call to deliver a baby. In tow was his trusty plumber. They worked feverishly to open our kitchen ceiling and poked and prodded and tested and agonized and eventually found the culprit: a funky pipe, a loose o-ring, a whositz, a whatsitz, but all-in-all an easy fix (I’m told). They fixed some pipe, and over three days repaired the ceiling, repainted, and were on their way again to parts unknown.
We were thrilled, and vowed to tell the world of Mark’s heroics. We clipped pictures of him and lovingly pasted them in a scrapbook so that our children would never forget Mark and the unyielding acts of kindness he bestowed upon the Noonan family. My 2-year-old Dominic took to putting my shoes on, placing a pencil behind his ear, and stomping throughout the house bellowing “Mark!” “Mark!” to the delight of his sisters and approving parents.
We. Loved. Mark.
Two months passed, and we felt so good about this remodeled second floor bathroom that we decided to put our house on the market and move on up to the eastside. Surely the value it provided our home would negate the decrepit kitchen and sad-sack master bath, and our house would be swapped up within days, we reasoned aloud.
Our dreams were shattered, however, when I looked up one morning and spied a yellow stain creeping across our kitchen ceiling. Aghast, I followed the stain a few feet away and saw it’s nefarious fellow traveler: a nasty white bubble! And surely as I sit and retype this tale to you now it and receded before my very eyes; my ceiling had something very much alive behind it, even within it, it’s intentions unclear but certainly not benign.
I shrieked in horror and my wife somehow heard it above the din of a typical morn in the Noonan house which is perpetually filled with alternating screams of delight and anger and pain. If I’m sentenced at the end of my days to an eternity bathing in the lake of sulfur and fire with Satan himself, I shall fear not the sounds that await. I live them daily from 7-9 a.m.
Jill burst into the kitchen, followed my tear-filled gaze to the ceiling, and let loose a blood-curdling wail as we fell to the floor in a heap. We clung to each other for several moments in silence, each hoping we’d wake from this terrible nightmare if we wished hard enough.
Freed finally from our sweaty embrace, I dialed Mark. His pleasure at hearing my voice was soon dashed as I recounted for him the trauma we had endured. He told me he was on his honeymoon and couldn’t help us for 5 days. He admonished us to cease using that shower, and said he’d contact me upon his return. What choice did I have but to await our savior’s triumphant return to town? Afterall, we had a “2 year warranty” on his work. Why would I hire someone else who we did not love nearly as much as Mark? Why would I spend potentially thousands when Mark would do the work for free?
In 5 days time, true to his word, Mark did indeed call. Now here was one stand-up guy! He was at our house within hours of returning from Hawaii. Like some handy, modern-day yet pale-skinned Don Quixote, Mark and Sancho, his trusty squire and plumber, rode into town and made quick work of our situation, eventually deciding that the spout must have had some malady of one sort or another and they repaired it with great haste! “Never fear,” Mark cooed to us so sweetly Antonio Banderas himself would have quaked in the knees, “I shall return in one day’s time to sand your ceiling, re-mud if need be, sand again, and repaint. Tell your neighbors and friends, that a job by Don Mark-ote is a job done right!”
“Hooray!” we exalted him. Don and Sancho rode off to their next adventure, their good deeds done for that day, and the menfolk and their women of Lexington Lane in the Ville of Napes were left to swoon in the late afternoon sun.
A day came and went, and then another. Mark was nowhere to be found. Neither my wife nor I had heard from him. My texts were going unrequited. It was as if he had vanished into thin air. But we Catholics like to give things three days. (Don’t ask. It’s worked out for us in the past.)
On the third day I dialed him and caught him on a job site it seemed. “Hi Mark, just touching base to see what’s going on…what you think.” I was very in tune with the fact that every trip to our house was another trip for free to Mark. I love to “give people the benefit of the doubt” and see things from their perspective. It is a weakness of mine for sure. I said as much to him during our first call while he was in Hawaii. I was keenly aware that though he gave a “2 year warranty” on his work, the reality was that his numerous trips to our house were costly to him.
Not only was he working for free for us, but he was losing money on materials. And, obviously, each hour he was working for free at our house was one hour less he could work at someone else’s for $50-100 or more.
I knew this had to suck for Mark.
But this truly sucked for us too: Our house was for sale, and having an unfinished patch job on the kitchen ceiling left some ‘splainin for us to do, not to mention additional cleanup (selling a house with three small kids is rockin’ good fun! Love trying to keep that bitch clean!). We both were losing in this deal. But I’m a sucker for the small business owner, being one myself. I had already kicked it around with my wife and she agreed to give Mark a hundred when he came for our final patch and paint.
Still, though, I wanted to tread lightly out of respect for the free hours he had already put into our problem case. So when I dialed him I tried to be very nice and even deferential. Normally I’m painfully direct. With Mark, though, I wanted to let him lead our dance. “So, uh, what do you think?” I softly inquired.
To my chagrin, my dance partner was not interested in dancing at all it seemed. “Yeah, uh, your ceiling. I’ll get there when I can,” Mark spoke through gritted teeth it seemed.
My tone also changed on a dime. “I’m going to need something a little firmer than that, our house is for sale as you know,” I flatly responded, a little taken back my Mark’s vibe. “Alright,” Mark fired back, “I’ll get there by the end of the week. I’ve got a lot of jobs going on. I’m trying my best to juggle everything.”
“Well, considering today is Wednesday, the end of the week is pretty much here: Will you be here tomorrow or Friday?” I retorted, my pulse starting to quicken. Clearly, this had broken bad somehow, someway. “Look, Mark, I’m sorry this has happened, and I don’t want to see you lose money by having to cut out of a job early to come here, or worse, have to outsource this to another contractor and pay him, but my house is for sale, and my kitchen, which looks shitty enough as is, has a fucked up ceiling. Let’s get this taken care of and move on.”
“I’ll let you know,” Mark hissed, barely able to contain himself.
I was dumbstruck. I wanted to tell him to go have a screw, but I also didn’t want to cut off my nose to spite my face. My temper has hurt me before. I fought off my base urges and instead said, “Alright, great, let me know.” And that was that.
We ended up calling another contractor we know, and he was very cool. He agreed to come by on Friday. Just minutes after our testy interchange, I called Lord Jagbag Mark and told him we were cool. No need to come back. Ever. I got a guy.
“I don’t want to leave you hanging,” he said sounding more himself.
“Too late,” I thought, but instead said, “It’s ok. We’ll have this other guy do this, and everyone will be happy. Thanks for all your help.” I’ve learned not to tell people off. It feels good for a minute, but always comes back to haunt me.
“Call me back if you need anything, and remember that two year warranty transfers to whoever you sell the house to!” Mark said.
Oh yeah, I’ll remember alright brother. I’ll remember how you pretty much told me to get fucked 10 minutes ago, that’s what I’ll remember.
See, all of the joy Mark had brought to Mudville previously was undone in one 90 second phone call. BAM! Like a shot out of the dark! All that goodwill…all the love…totally was zapped by one negative interaction. It’s almost unfair for Mark. Who knows? Maybe he had just gotten a call that his grandpa died. Maybe he had just had someone bounce him a check, two subcontractors had been caught stealing, his dog ran away from home, and he had just learned his old lady was banging the mailman…and then I happened along with my hat in hand, asking for another freebie.
There’s no way for me to know. All I do know is that I wish it had never happened. I’m sure Mark does too. In a world like contracting (and almost every business frankly) where referrals are your life blood, he really screwed himself. As clients go, I’m fairly loud. Make a friend of me, and I’ll shout it from the rooftops. Make an enemy, and I’ll…well, not shout your name from the rooftops. Finding a loudmouth like me who will go out of his way to tell the next 100 people he meets about this good experience or that wonderful dude…is worth it’s weight in gold. Mark could spend 100k in advertising in the next 3 months and not get as much biz as I would have sent him.
People talk. You know this. Leave them smiling and your biz will usually thrive. But one bunco phone call…one bad meeting…one missed opportunity…just one…and you’ve really set yourself back.
If you don’t have people skills, here’s a thought: Don’t answer your own phones. Hire someone to do that. There are millions of people around the world who will do it for you. There are some people who will do this for you cheaply and extrememly effectively within 500 feet of you right now. They’re everywhere.
But you have to know you need someone to work your phones for you, or close sales for you, or whatever it is you need done that you’re not doing well enough or often enough. That’s step number one: Know your strengths and accentuate them. That also means know your weaknesses and account for them and shore them up. I knew Mark wasn’t a “people guy” the first time I met him. Why he doesn’t know that is anyone’s guess. For many businesses, if not most, effectively customer service is the most pressing need they have. Need more proof that customer service should be your paramount priority? Check this out. What makes your business any different than Amazon.com? Even they knew they knew they needed a customer service upgraded. So they hired someone (sorta) to help them do that.
Don’t let one bad stretch on the job unravel months of relationship building. There are simply too many competitors to let the sweat equity that goes into making friends and winning clients go up in flames over one phone call.
But if for whatever reason you do run afoul of a customer and a call breaks bad…here’s another thought: Stop by with a card and a mea culpa, preferably in the form of a 12′er of Fat Tire or a case of Coors.
$20 bucks spent could prevent thousands lost.