I have to laugh about a customer in the Washington, D.C., area who told me and the technician as soon as we got out of the truck that he would be watching us very closely so we wouldn’t steal anything.

I remembered many times when I regretted doing work after the service call started out wrong. So, I decided to stop the call and clear the air.

“Mr. Customer?” I asked. “Could I ask you a question?”

He told me to go ahead, so I asked, “Mr. Customer, did Jim or I or someone at our company treat you wrong sometime in the past? Is there some way that one of us offended you or in some way took advantage or you?”

“Why no!” he said, “What makes you say that?”

I continued, “Well, you said that you would be watching to see if we might steal something, so I wondered what one of us might have done to make you feel that way.”

“Oh, no,” he said, “It wasn’t anyone from your company! It was that guy that delivered my new refrigerator. When he left, I noticed that my favorite coffee cup was missing, so I decided that from now on I would watch closely when anyone new comes into my house. I hope you didn’t think I meant that I didn’t trust you or don’t want you to actually work in my home. I am so sorry if I made you feel that way!”

“Well,” I said, “Jim and I are here to help with your heating system, so how about you tell us what’s happening.”

From then on, the call went well. It turned out that Mr. Customer was just a little bit concerned because he knew he had very little knowledge about heating systems, and he thought he might need to understand all about how his furnace worked so he would know what to have us do. We quickly put his mind at ease by telling him that we didn’t want him and his family to be cold tonight, so we’d take a close look at what his furnace was doing and find out why it didn’t want to heat the home.

Our little conversation turned out well. And when we informed him that his furnace wasn’t coming on because the ignition system had a problem, he quickly chose one of our options that included replacing the parts that were causing the problem, plus a complete service and inspection on all the system’s components.

I tell this little story to remind myself that many times in the past I thought I had to go in and teach customers how their equipment worked by using technical terms and pictures and diagrams and really taking a lot of time. But most customers are like us when we need something: we didn’t come for an education, we just came to have a problem solved by someone who we felt we could trust.

So, here are four lessons I have learned:

  1. If I, the contractor, assume that the customer is going to want a lot of detail about what I need to do to solve their problem, I am wrong 90 percent of the time. They usually just want it done.
  2. If the customer assumes that I will think they are dumb because they don’t understand what needs to be fixed, 90 percent of the time they are wrong. I don’t expect them to be the expert that I am.
  3. If a spouse is asking for details, often they just want to be able to answer the questions that they know their husband or wife will be asking when they get home. They don’t want or need a lot of detail, just what had to be done and if it’s fixed.
  4. If I, the contractor, am afraid that they will think I am overpriced, I will explain my work as an entire system, not just a part. “Mr. Customer, for the entire system to work from beginning to end, we need to make sure we completely solve your problem and also run the entire system before we leave to ensure it’s right the first time.”

It's really about making friends and wanting them to be happy when you leave.

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