Last week I received another overwhelming response to my article “Educating The Customer”. I thank everyone for their support and comments. It seems that many of the comments I have received relating to the customer being right, come down to negotiations. One person, who actually commented on the blog itself (which is greatly appreciated and helps promote discussions), explained that they were “A non-confrontational person” and had trouble when it came to educating the customer. While the example I gave in my story was based more on a safe and professional installation, those comments conflated with many other comments from my previous article “Who’s Your Customer”. So I thought I would share this story with everyone. This is an actual event, from when I worked on a hospital remodel project.
I was the project manager on an emergency room expansion project to an existing, well established, hospital in Florida. We had been working on this project for approximately six months and the overall project had been broken down into twelve different phases. We were just starting the third phase which was building out an old storage room into a new pharmacy.
Prior to starting this phase the GC had a pre-construction meeting with all the sub-contractors to discuss the plan. I had put together our electrical plan and our schedule for the execution of this phase and was well prepared for the meeting. The meeting went off without a hitch. Everyone seemed to be on the same page, and it looked as though this phase would run as smoothly as the previous phases.
The following Monday the GC’s superintendant came up to me and asked why we hadn’t started work in the storage area yet? Confused, I looked at him and stated, that I thought we had just discussed this at the meeting last week, and they were supposed to start the demo today. The superintendant said, “Yes, exactly, why aren’t you in there removing the fixtures?”
I tried to explain to the superintendant that the demo work was not in our contract and that all we were supposed to do was disconnect the power to the storage room for the demo crew. The super flipped his lid and started screaming at me and calling me some less than flattering names. Rather than become emotional and take it personally I sat there and listened to him, and allowed him to vent his frustration. I then told him, I understood his frustration and maybe I was wrong. I invited him back to my office trailer to check, and if indeed it was in my contract, I would get people in there immediately to start removing the fixtures.
I will not bother to go into the details of the contract but we were at a standstill. After looking over the contract the super was convinced that it was my responsibility, and I was convinced that it was not. At this point the super and I went to discuss this with the Project Manager for the GC. The Project Manager, again not letting emotion get involved, sided with me on the fact the there was a note on the electrical plans that said: “all demos by others”. The problem was that there was a note on the demolition plans that said: “fixtures to be demoed by others”. This was clearly a mistake and now we had to get it resolved.
The GC brought in the owner to discuss the situation and the owner was very adamant that they were not going to pay any money out for something that was in the contract, regardless of how unclear. They believed that it was not an acceptable reason for a change order and that the problem should have been found before this point in the project.
Again, I am not going to get into details but in the end the owner realized that since the architect was hired by the owner, and the architect drew up the plans and wrote the notes, that the liability lies with the owner, and if they wanted to they could go back to the architect for compensation.
Now in most cases this situation would have resulted in a change order, and the only person coming out of the whole process with a positive experience would have been my company. However, as I have said many times, I believe in giving the customer the best possible value.
What no one else knew was that I was also doing a project for a small warehouse facility. This warehouse had minimal lighting installed and the owner was planning on adding shelving and was in need of additional lighting. However, his budget was extremely limited to say the least. Keeping in mind that I am always looking for a win/win situation for my customers, I asked the owner of the warehouse facility if he cared if the lights to be installed where used. The owner quickly replied, that he didn’t care as long as they worked. I asked him to let me check on some things for him, and I would get back to him.
I went back to the hospital and spoke with the GC. I told him that if the owner was willing to let us keep the lights, that I would remove the lighting for free. The GC went to the owner and then the owner and I discussed it. I told the owner that if I could keep the fixtures we would not charge for the demo, assuming I could get the other customer to buy the lights from me. The owner was thrilled and in full agreement.
I went back to the warehouse owner and told him that I had the opportunity for him to buy 400 fixtures at $40 each. I explained that I understood he only needed 275 fixtures, but at $110 each that would cost him $30,250. Some of the used fixtures would not be working or usable, but I promised that we would get 275 working fixtures out of the lot, and for much less than buying new fixtures. He agreed and thanked me for helping him with his tight budget limitations.
In the end the Hospital got what they wanted, the GC was praised for hiring us, the warehouse owner got a great deal, and I walked away with three customers singing my praises all while taking a little coin home in my company’s pocket. If I had gotten caught up in the battle, and not stopped and listened to what the objections were, then I would never have come up with this solution.
When faced with a customer who is unhappy, stop! Listen, and try to find out how you can make everyone a winning proposal. It is not a battle, it is not an argument, and it’s not even a confrontation. What it is, is an opportunity for you to help your customer, and earn a reputation.
I have told this story to illustrate that you cannot get caught up in who wins and who loses. The fact is that if your customer doesn’t win every time, then I promise you, you are the one who has lost.