Houzz.com asked me to comment on what frustrates me about dealing with clients. It was sort of a loaded question. Why assume that frustration is allowed to be a big enough part the client-contractor relationship that it needs to be addressed? Is it possible to make the projects enjoyable and exciting enough for everyone to get past challenges that occur every day? Is it possible to cater to the needs of even our most challenging client without derailing the reason we are in this business in the first place? Why is it important to build life-long relationships with clients and colleagues? Come along with me as I try to answer these questions over the next couple of blog posts.
When starting out, I just wanted to build things. The importance of choosing the appropriate tools, materials, and procedures to get a superior finished product were learned with each new project. Immersed in, books, videos, trade shows, conferences, and trial and error to glean useful tips and tricks, I found myself rubbing elbows with like-minded men and woman. It took a while, but their personalities and opinions became just as fascinating as the craft. Some of the most talented hands and minds were so consumed with the craft, they became closed off from the rest of the community. Frustration was a common reaction to challenges and differing opinions that arose during projects. Others seemed to have a knack at diffusing, redirecting, and explaining in a way that was calming and empowering. I subconsciously chose the latter over the former. Honing those people skills has made my life as a craftsman far more fulfilling than I could have imagined.
Each day we are involved with this business, there are challenges. Before it begins, myriad factors effect how this day may go. Is the jobsite prepared for demo work to take place? Did the client sign last night’s change order effecting that sub’s scope of work? Did the demo foreman miss an email regarding changes because he had a busy night? Is that blowing snow going to effect a dumpster delivery? Oh and don’t neglect the punch list work across town. Wait. I should probably have some breakfast first; it’s going to be a busy morning.
I have a carpenter’s optimism, sometimes to a fault. Having been diligent with planning and communicating, many of these issues will fall into place and we can make some sawdust. The change order was signed, clearly stating we will save some closet door trim with markings from the children’s years of growth. The demo foreman slept in, but got his guy to cover for the morning. Dust protection and air cleaners were set up first, as planned. The snow is piling up, but the dumpster dispatcher was watching the weather and had her driver come in early. I check in with the guys, have a chat with the client, jot down a few reminders on the jobsite whiteboard, and oh yeah, the punch list across town. That one is going to require my personal attention. As it turns out, the special order doorknob doesn’t match the machining. We set up the door in advance to avoid making sawdust in a finished space. That client is annoyed, but thanks to a couple months of working through issues promptly, she shrugs it off and with a “I know you’ll make it right”, moves on to more important issues in her day. I sketch out a plan to come back as soon as the detail is worked out, and head back across town. As I pull into the new job for lunch, the demo foreman is dumpster diving for that door trim. Apparently, his guy forgot to save it, but when they were moving the whiteboard, noticed my reminder about saving the trim. I thank him for the effort and we head inside for some lunch. There is some light-hearted banter about saving the the trim, and the day. The client smiles as he wipes some melting snow from the markings showing Annie’s height over the last five winters. As the sun comes out, low in the December sky, we finish up the day with a quick review of progress and sketch a plan for dealing with a few pipes and wires found in an opened wall. I field a couple calls regarding tomorrow’s plan and get back to my home office to do some billing before six o’clock. That is when I do my best to check in, be present and help with dinner. Oh yeah, one quick email regarding why the cut sheet and doorknob were not right.
This day could have gone much differently. I could have gotten frustrated with several issues that came up, some in my control, some completely out of my control. The bottom line is, we made planned forward progress, made a couple of saves, and made the client smile more than once. Most importantly, everyone involved had opportunities to get frustrated, but did not. We have fostered a culture with core values of patience, inclusion and responsibility to the client, to the job, and to each other. Ready for tomorrow?