I had to put it out there. I was looking for answers to my question: "What is the ultimate compliment you can get from a customer?" Putting that question to a bunch of techs and contractors - some of whom might have a testosterone imbalance - was iffy at best. I knew what I thought would be the best answer (more on that later), but I also knew what answers would be given to evoke more yuks, too.

For example, one person who responded to my online chat room question replied, "When they give you a marriage proposal." Or "When they name their first born after me."

Hmmm. I know from experience that not every question will evoke a serious answer. After all, these are techs we are talking about, some of whom may have answered after a long day of work or after having a few pops (of the alcoholic variety).

On a serious note - if there is one to be had - some of the answers were just what I expected. I'll share some of them with you and maybe you can return the favor, er, compliment.


I like to think that a good compliment is when the customer pays the bill sans critical comments (unlike the guy who paid his income tax with a check laced with profane comments about the IRS). Getting paid is a compliment, as one person said.

Here are some others that caught my eye:

  • "When the customer shakes my hand and says thank you for an excellent job."

  • "When they trust you with the key to their house and tell you to fix whatever needs to be fixed."

  • "When they ask me to return to their place to do more work or improvement."

    Some technicians believe that an ultimate compliment is when they are allowed to step out of their uniform, so to speak, and become more personal with their customers. There are no rules as to where a person can cultivate new friends, especially when it comes to close relationships formed out of the service trades. Here are some examples.

  • "When we go a little bit past the customer/contractor relationship, and I can stop by to say hello and have coffee whenever I'm in their neighborhood, even years later."

  • "When you get invited to sit down for lunch or dinner with their family."

  • "An invite to Christmas dinner when the customer knew my family was away."

    That last one got to me, much like this one: "I fixed a very prominent lady's heat on Christmas day years ago. She sent me a thank you card every year until she finally passed away three years ago. I'll never forget her, and don't mind those holiday calls to this day because of her."


    In my opinion, the ultimate compliment is a referral. I think the best form of recruiting new customers is through word-of-mouth from existing customers. If you don't cultivate this important feedback, you are missing out on the best and most cost-effective means of advertising.

    Obviously, other people shared that same opinion.

  • "One of my trademark sayings is ‘when you expect excellence and you are willing to pay for it.' Some of our happiest clients have referred us to friends and neighbors using this phrase. We encourage it because everyone wants high-quality work and service but not everyone is willing to pay for it. This keeps the better clients coming to us with realistic expectations."

  • "The referral is the best compliment. I've been in business for 19 years and have not had to advertise for the last 16. Most people can tell if they are being treated well and if the work is being done correctly, even if they have no technical knowledge. There are too many service companies that help themselves and not their customers."

  • "Fanatical referrals are great. Like when they call you up at 9 p.m. and tell you that you must come over to their neighbors, mother's, cousin's house NOW to get them on your schedule to replace ‘that thing' in the basement that is making their loved ones spend so much on fuel."

    I wish I had more to share, but my word count is too high. If you want to hear some more, including one tearful/joyful story, drop me a line. Or e-mail me your ultimate compliment.

    John R. Hall, Business Management Editor, 734-464-1970, 248-786-1390 (fax), johnhall@achrnews.com

    Publication date: 07/17/2006