Business

Many Voices = Better Choices

The customer isn’t always right, so find the right customers.

As the Owner of an AV company that specializes in custom solutions for both commercial and residential home/office automation, I have the opportunity to meet with almost every type of tradesperson: contractors, developers, architects, interior designers and electricians, just to name a few. I have built my “small” business on my own, and I take pride in creating and cultivating a culture of loyalty. It’s cliché, but I live by the golden rule, which is also the golden rule in business: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Success in business is measured not only by how you treat your customers, but also by how they treat you.

Ask the owner of any business, large or small, and you’ll hear any number of stories about customers/clients they wished they had never worked with; often, they can name ones they wish they could work with more. I’m no different.

Years ago, I was working with a fairly well-known builder in Chicago IL. When I first met him, he engaged me in a sob story: One of my competitors had left him in dire straits, with nowhere to turn to finish the job but me. I was his hero. I came in at the last minute to fix something no one else could do. I was in. When he didn’t pay me on time once, I didn’t think much of it…until, suddenly, as I continued to do heroic job after heroic job, I realized he never paid and never was going to. That was 2007, a tumultuous time in my industry and pretty much everyone else’s. I was one check away from going out of business. So, you can imagine my disdain when, a few years later, I was at an industry meeting with some of my competitors and I learned that was the builder’s MO. It was how he got people to do things he couldn’t afford. We weren’t the heroes—we were the suckers.

It was an epiphany of sorts. It’s not just about getting jobs and adding to the book of business; it’s also about getting the good jobs…the ones I will see through and for which I’ll be paid. The ones that will sustain me, and maybe even bring me more work. What if, 10 years ago, I could have typed this guy’s name into a website and been privy to others’ experiences before having embarked on a project with him? Sure, I might still have done business with him. After all, business is business, right? Or is it? Maybe I would have asked for more money up front, or asked him to put some funds in escrow for my protection. Perhaps I would have changed my traditional contract terms—anything to allow me to be more cautious, but still pursue my business.

We live in a world where Google, Yelp and Angie’s List tell consumers everything they need to know. What are the best quality, best price and best location to purchase? You can find the best of the best, and you can learn how to avoid getting the worst: bad products, bad service and bad longevity. You name it, it’s out there. When customers feel mistreated or misled, they give you what they got. Regardless of whether they refuse to do business with you again (if they’re able to), they often pay back bad service by badmouthing your company to others. That can be costly.

But what about the good customers, the good interactions and the good outcomes? You know…the ones that happen so much more often than the bad ones. They add incalculably to your business. They give your employees and you a sense of accomplishment; there’s a feeling of camaraderie that radiates from your office. People want to be near you; they want to work with you; and they want to push you to do better.

Getting business and growing will always be our goal. But, imagine the possibilities if you knew more about clients before you got into bed with them. By commenting, anonymously and respectfully, on our experiences, we could create a network of possibility…a world where you know what you’re getting into before you start. All of us can join, as a team, to consider what it would be like to grade every tradesman, freelancer, programmer, electrician, etc. The list is endless!

We could empower ourselves to have at our fingertips—any time we need it—information about communication style, work ethic, timeliness of bill payment and clients’ preference to work together again. This isn’t about just doing business—it’s about doing smarter business.

Many voices equal better choices.

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