Many of us are now shivering in the depths of January's deep freeze, and work has slowed down a bit for many companies. But that doesn't mean it isn't time to start doing some advance planning for when the busy season hits again.

Summertime is special for many of us in the service trades. It is usually the busiest time of year by far. And although January may seem like a silly time to be thinking about the summer, it will roll around again soon enough. Requests for work and estimates can be more than double the average in the busy season.

Trouble often strikes when it gets busy. The phone keeps ringing continuously and you can't seem to get anything done. Things can get knee-deep in your truck and harder to find. It seems like the smaller your company, the less time you have to yourself. Specializing in residential work often means making evening and weekend calls for customers.

The customer who made you swear to “squeeze them in” doesn't return your calls all week. Everyone has one last thing to be done after you've put away all the tools or decides to negotiate the price of the job after it's all done.

Sometimes life gets hectic, and most of the time we're able to handle it, but there are times when even a familiar mixture can make for an explosive atmosphere. One small spark and Kaboom! Your first gut reaction is to vent on that customer who can't make up his mind or who makes yet another unscheduled change. Unfortunately, losing your temper can mean losing your customer. Before you do, realize that they may not know how to be a good customer, but that's not an excuse for not being a good professional.

Electricians who are in direct contact with the customer are in the sometimes difficult position of trying to meet their customers' needs and enhance the reputation of their own company at the same time. We are in the service business, and it is a big part of what we do and who we are. We must sometimes bend to ensure their satisfaction. Any company that does not try hard to understand and meet the needs of their customers will not prosper. Taking that little extra time to explain something or get it just right can have a big payback when it comes to referrals.

These days, when hearing about someone's bad experience with a contractor, a happy customer is more than pleased to brag about theirs. They can be your best form of advertisement and lead to the most satisfying jobs. A new customer that has gotten your name through a glowing referral is usually easier to satisfy and more likely to pass on your name to others.

Some customers may be a bit mistrusting at first, and you can't really blame them with all the negative things that one hears nowadays. If you show them that you are interested in their satisfaction and are methodical about your work, it should be no problem to gain their confidence and win them over.

Some others may be very unsure about what they want and seem to constantly make changes. Once again, showing an interest in their project and making honest and constructive recommendations can ensure them that they are doing the right thing and make the next decision easier for them. The old saying, “can't see it from my house,” doesn't usually amuse them.

We all try to believe that the customer is always right. I don't think that anyone really believes that, literally, but we do believe that everyone is entitled to certain rights as a customer. Most requests seem to be within reason and are sometimes negotiable.

These are things that you, yourself, might expect if you were in their position. If you think a request is unreasonable, you should try to explain your position in the calmest way possible. Take some time to gather your thoughts and present your case as clearly as you can.

Showing respect for their feelings is also an important part of it. This is where you can either lose a customer or gain one for life. Counting to 10 is for people looking to survive, counting to 11 is for those who want to prosper.


Bill Addiss, a licensed master electrician, is president of Addiss Electric, Centereach, N.Y., and a Webmaster for the Electrical Contractor Network at www.Electrical-Contractor.net.

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