Advice on dealing with customer disputes for tradespeople

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No matter how hard you work on a project or how happy you are with the job you’ve done, you can’t please everyone all the time - that’s why you need to know how to handle disputes...

Lots of common disputes are caused by simple issues, many of which can be avoided by sticking to a few basic rules:

  • Keep it professional - No customer wants to chase you up because you’re late to work or because you’re leaving early. Be there when you’re expected, clean up after yourself, let the customer know when you’re leaving - it all helps to build trust and prevent conflict.
  • Spot the warning signs - Maybe your customer is asking an unusual amount of questions or inspecting your work very closely. Speak to them to find out what’s concerning them and help put their mind at ease.
  • Communication is key - The majority of disputes come down to poor communication. Being open and proactive with your customer is crucial. A quick phone call can go a long way.
  • Be honest - Customers are pretty good at spotting lies, so don’t tell any. If you’ve made a mistake, hold your hand up and address it. If a request isn’t feasible, explain why instead of saying you’ll think about it.
  • Try to keep a paper trail - Getting a written quote or contract agreed before you start work is the best way to make sure both you and your customer know exactly what work will be done and at what price.
  • Aftercare - Remember, your job doesn’t necessarily finish when you pack up your tools and take payment. If a customer reaches out to you after the job is finished with an issue, don’t ignore them. If it’s a problem with your workmanship, make amends. If it’s a separate issue, take the time to explain why and see if you can help.
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Resolving disputes

Some disputes are unavoidable. You might have spotted the warning signs and tried to work with the customer to avoid problems, or issues may have seemingly come from nowhere - what’s important is how you respond:

  • Don’t take it personally - Nobody likes feeling like their work is being criticised, but it’s important to remain professional. Try to see things from the customer’s perspective too.
  • Act quickly and calmly - Whether there were warning signs or not, act quickly before any problems get out of hand. Don’t put an issue off and risk letting it escalate.
  • Take a step back - One of the worst things you can do is get locked into an argument with a customer. Never reply in anger. Sometimes you need to cool off and think about a practical way forward,but that doesn’t mean “ghosting” them - tell them you’re thinking about the best course of action and will be in touch.
  • Find out what the customer wants - It might sound obvious, but it may well be that the customer doesn’t actually want much or that you’re willing to make a concession to draw a line under things. If you know exactly what the customer wants it will give you a starting point to negotiate a middle ground.
  • Know when to walk away - Of course, you won’t be able to get all customers back on side. No matter how hard you try to sort things out, sometimes you will need to walk away and seek a resolution through official channels.
  • Put things in writing - Just as it’s important to keep a paper trail of quotes and agreements before a job starts, once things start going wrong you’ll want to make sure you follow up any verbal communications in writing. If the relationship between you and the customer completely breaks down and you find yourself having to present your side of the story in a formal setting, such as the courts, this will be invaluable.

Customer service