Customers have every right to do their research before hiring a plumber for their next project, and why not? It is their hard-earned money that is leaving their pockets after all.
So, Plumbers hear questions like: Are you PIRB licensed? Is your company registered with IOPSA? Qualified? insured? Can you charge less for this? Do you quote free? Please clean up before leaving. The list goes on and on.
Unfortunately for plumbers in South Africa, checking a consumer’s reliability is not so simple. Most of the time plumbers rely on their gut feeling and hope that the consumer won’t be too difficult or pay late.
So how can plumbers avoid difficult customers early on so that they don’t end up pulling out their hair doing the job or grinding their teeth as they chase after money owed once the job is complete?
We have put together a few tips to help plumbers avoid these situations.
1. Charge a call out fee
This is probably the best way to check if the customer calling for a quote respects your time or not. Quoting is a lengthy process. It takes time and money to travel all the way, inspect the job and settle over a quote. It’s only fair for a plumber to charge a call out fee. If a customer is not willing to pay a call out fee then they may not be serious about having the work done. For help calculating your call out fee, download the App Plumbers specifically designed to assist plumbers in calculating an accurate and fair call out fee. Download the app here.
2. Listen closely to what they say about the previous plumbers
Of course if the work is not to standard and is incorrectly installed, consumers have every right to complain, but if someone is bad-mouthing the previous plumber and is speaking ill of them for no apparent reason, they will probably try to find faults in your work too.
3. Watch out for late payers
If your customer is too eager to get a discount or keeps on trying to negotiate a lower rate, this should ring a warning bell. You may need to insist on a deposit prior to commencing the job. You don’t want to get caught with someone who values price over quality and hard work. If you have done work for a client before and you had to wait for payment, the odds are good that they will do it to you again. Sometimes it is good to lose a customer who pays poorly.
4. Follow your intuition
When you have been in the industry long enough, you develop a sixth sense. While trusting your gut feeling can be risky, it can be very necessary. Most of the time, a first meeting is all you will need to decide to work for the customer or not. The trick is to be very observant.
Start with a checklist for yourself: Do they have a clear idea of what they need to get done? Are they realistic enough to know what timeframes are unrealistic? Are they complaining that the cost is too much? Watch out for those looking for continuous discounts.
5. Ask them for their budget and time frame
Your time is precious so use it wisely. Instead of spending an hour discussing high end finishes and extensive renovation plans only to later find out that their budget is for a basic installation, ask them about their budget first.
Most of the time, the discussion will end there.
6. Do some reference calling
Customers have the advantage of looking at their Plumbers licenses, certificates, work experience and so on, but Plumbers can do the same! Ask customers about the plumbers they have worked with before and call them to do a reference check, more than a few bad testimonials should be enough to ring an alarm.
7. Have everything written and signed
From the initial quotation where it is best to be as detailed as possible. Document when and how they are going to pay for the work done, who buys the material and how will the costing of extra work will be charged, get them to agree to all the terms in writing and have it signed by them before the work starts. If they disagree or try and negotiate too much, they will probably continue to do so throughout the job.
8. Ask them what aspect of work are they most focused on?
If a customer doesn’t have realistic expectations, giving them charge of the project can prove to be a disaster.
Let them tell you what they want but set the agenda yourself and walk them through the project scope, completion timeline, variations, materials and payment process. Ask them what matters the most to them. Quality, time or cost and you will be able to make an educated decision on the project going forward.
9. How many quotes have they requested already from other plumbers?
If the customer has approached multiple other plumbers before getting a quote from you too, it can possibly show their priority is the price and not the quality of the job.
10. Look for the right attitude
If a customer has called for a job, the plumber is under the impression that they want to get the job done. Respect for a plumber’s time is the number one rule for business. Are they calling for an emergency job that should have been done a long time ago? This may indicate a concern when it is time to pay for the job. Are they trying to suggest what the job should cost? They may understand the value of your skills.
If you are new in the industry and have just started running your own business, you might bump into the wrong customers more often than you would like.
But not all small businesses have the luxury to say no just because your gut tells you to. If time is on your side, be accommodating and patient. Take a few minutes to chat and laugh with them to see things from their eyes. But do your homework, before saying yes to your next job.