Tough Customers

An outline of stereotypically problematic clients and tips for managing them.

June 30, 1999

"Controlling the project is everything to some clients," says Dan Bawden, CGR, owner of Legal Eagle Contractors Co. "It’s how they manage their lives, and it won’t be any different on something this important. When you encounter these clients, it should send up an alarm."

1. Engineers. "They have a million questions. They assume everything is empirical, and remodeling is anything but that. If you can answer their questions, they can be wonderful. But they also can be your worst nightmare."

2. Lawyers. "They can be tough on contract issues, and they know they have the power of the legal system if they want to wield it. If they don’t want to pay the final amount, they may simply tell you to sue them."

3. Retirees. "They’ve heard horror stories from their friends about being taken advantage of because they’re older. They need lots of extra reassurance that you aren’t going to suddenly disappear."

4. Architects. "Some of them have this wonderful, ivory-tower idea of how construction is done, sometimes with little regard for how difficult their plans can be to build. It can create problems when they want oddball things in oddball designs in oddball materials in oddball colors. They need more reality checks than most customers."

5. Doctors. "They, like lawyers, often have an omniscient attitude. They make sure you know they’re very important people who get paid a high hourly rate and time is money to them. As if it isn’t to you."

Bawden’s solutions for dealing with these clients: Decline the bid or charge more for what he expects will be more aggravation and man-hours. "You can be happy driving over for the sixth call-back if you anticipated it and billed for 10," he says.

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