(Some of my blog posts are constructive, this one is pure rant.)
There's a new amusement park ride opening up in town! It'll take you on a thrilling journey through ups and downs of successful projects, communication failures, happy long-term partnerships, and total failures in competence. It's called THE CONTRACTOR EXPERIENCE and you can hop on it today by opening up the phone book and calling pretty much any contractor you want to try to get some work done on your home or business!
Okay, I know that it might be a little pretentious or worse for me to sit on my high blogging horse and tell the folks who are willing to do some pretty hard, dirty work how to do their jobs when I'm not able or willing to do them myself. But at the same time, I can't help but see it from the perspective of how poorly some of these folks are running their small local businesses, and how their customer service values take a total back seat to their own preferred ways of doing things. Some war stories:
The most common failure in competence that I experience is that the contractor doesn't even show up at all. These are people who have access to the same scheduling and calendaring technologies as the rest of us (paper and pen much loved among them), and who still can't seem to make it work when they agree to show up at a certain time and place. With one contractor recently, I've had them not show up once, and then show up late to the rescheduled appointment. He then missed a follow-up appointment, and after I called three times to get some sort of explanation, I still haven't gotten a call back. If I were trying to make a really bad impression on a potential client, that would be a great way to do it. How can you run a business that way?
Another failure I regularly experience is that the contractor doesn't listen to what's being asked of them, or doesn't hear the customer's particular interests and needs. I tend to be on the overly-organized side of things, and so even with my written-down, clearly spelled out requests, I still often have to correct the contractor's course once or twice in the estimating and/or work phases. I know there's some amount of give and take that's normal here, but too often for me it's all give and no take.
And then there's just total dishonesty, abject incompetence, etc. I've blogged about some of that before. It's also included things like using my lawn for cigarette butt storage, or showing up to work in an altered state. Here's another episode:
ME ON DAY ONE: While you're replacing that window, please make sure you put a big cover down over the new carpet here, okay?
CONTRACTOR ON DAY ONE: Oh yeah, definitely, we'll put a big tarp out.
ME ON DAY TWO: I see you don't have a tarp out and that you've started pulling apart the old window. I'm worried about dirt and debris getting in the carpet.
CONTRACTOR ON DAY TWO: Oh yeah, we'll definitely get that cleaned up and don't worry about it.
ME ON DAY THREE: (grumble grumble grumble)
ME ON DAY FOUR: I see you're done now, and there's this big dirt spot on the floor where you were working that isn't vacuuming out. What happened?
CONTRACTOR ON DAY FOUR: Oh, that must have been there before, I don't think we did that.
I mean, come ON!
The hard part is that it takes so much time and "overhead" sometimes to even find the right point of contact for a job, I'm willing to stretch my tolerance of this stuff pretty far in order to not have the churn of saying "well I guess that person isn't interested, I'll just find someone else." And sometimes there ISN'T a someone else. The contractor who didn't show up this morning ("ah," you say, "that's why he's writing this") is someone who I know, really like personally, and who is uniquely qualified in the area for the particular work I'm interested in. For relational and practical reasons, I can't just say "next" and move on.
No, not all contractors are bad and some of them are even quite excellent. I recently had a GREAT experience with a contractor who was friendly, listened well, always showed up when he said he would, and did excellent work for a reasonable price. I have whisked him and his family away to an undisclosed location for preservation, as this is clearly the exception and not the rule, at least here in Richmond.
So, as to avoid making this post entirely complaints, I'll offer some simple suggestions to contractors for improving THE CONTRACTOR EXPERIENCE:
- Show up when you say you're going to show up, on time. If you make an appointment, please write it down somewhere you'll see it again, and if you have to reschedule, please call your customer in advance, and be ready with a few new times to reschedule.
- Make sure you've heard the customer's technical requests, but also make sure you know what their larger goals are. If they're clearly trying to "make this room more cozy" or "create a more useful workspace," there are opportunities there for you to respond to their "big picture" needs, and perhaps even make a little more money in the process.
- Treat the space like it's your own. I won't try to be any more specific on that one, but if you're in someone's house or business, and you're about to tear some stuff apart or make some changes that they'll have to see every day of their lives, put yourselves in their shoes and ask "how would I do this in my personal space?"
On a larger scale, I wish that there was some better notion of standards or certification for contractors in my community. I know there are websites and associations where you can rate contractors, file complaints, etc. but in this town, for now, it seems like we're just one bent nail short of total chaos when it comes to having any hope of knowing what kind of quality you'll get when you make that call. The good contractors out there deserve better, and the bad ones have gotten away with too much for too long.
Just as I was finishing this post up, the contractor who missed this morning's appointment called. He'd gotten the days mixed up, and we're rescheduling accordingly. Life goes on.