On June 15 in Ravenna, Ohio, a lady went into a McDonald’s and demanded something not on the menu. The staff politely told her no, but the customer pushed back on being told “no” to and proceeded to increase her demands. The staff did not change their message, and the “conversation” escalated to vicious epithets that would make a sailor blush. After that, objects were thrown at the staff and eventually the “conversation” went to the ground with the customer throwing punches at the staff. It ended after 15 minutes with the customer in handcuffs.
I bring this up because human nature is interesting. Being refused service can lead to a few common responses, the first of which is acceptance. For example, if I were to go to a Mercedes dealership and “demand” a free car, they would say no—obviously. Some people respond differently and would go to the mat in an attempt to secure free stuff—free stuff at ANY cost, even losing their freedom (by going to jail).
Where am I going with this? Be prepared to be amused (or mortified).
I have said many times in various places (FB, articles, chats, messages) that I have found a safe place as a business owner by assuming everything I do is going to get me sued in my business, and I start my defense from the very first phone call request for info or estimate. I save the text messages, voice mails and emails, constantly patching “holes” that could possibly lead to an issue till the end of the contract. Meanwhile, I dot every “i” and cross every “t” to lessen the risk that I have done something that will undermine my integrity. As I found out this year, sometimes none of this matters.
At the first hint of an issue, I lose sleep, sometimes going over each intricate detail of a contract, and everything that has been said, done or written in my head to make sure nothing has been missed or overlooked. I begin running damage control even before there is the slightest hint of a problem. Like playing chess six moves ahead, if I sense a cliff up ahead, I start making bridges. If the issue arises, I traverse the chasm in a single bound with not even a loss of rhythm or cadence. Even though this can consume time, sleeping soundly every day is its own reward. Recall the movie “Red October”—the captain would ask the torpedo guy, “Do I have a firing solution?” That right there stuck with me, and when I sense damage control is necessary, I proceed searching for a “firing solution” to avoid an escalation of circumstance. It is after I possess a “firing solution” that I can sleep soundly.
I have been told I overdo it and even been accused of being meticulous, but when the job is done, it is done, and I do not think of it anymore. Complete closure, if you will.
Because of this, I am mostly defending myself and my business and my guys from stuff that can be defined as “small,” like running into unexpected traffic and getting to the job 15 minutes past the scheduled time . We can experience tiny things like this and still get five-star reviews when it is all said and done.
However, like a once-in-a-100-year rain storm, sometimes we run across a customer that breaches our entire defense grid and plainly wants to inflict damage at any cost. Not small stuff, but diabolical harm. We all will resand a floor once, or maybe put a free coat on a floor, but I hope no one gets to experience the darker side of the human animal that I experienced earlier this year.
Last month, I went back and digested some emails in my business account that I had been ignoring. I was ignoring them because they were painful to go over, but after a while I archived them to the customer’s folder, and it is all history now. The emails pertained to this customer that I ultimately prevailed against. As my victory closed in, absolute RAGE from the customer became so apparent that I was asked to document it so we can all either learn from it or at least be amused by it.
As requested, here is my story.
In a nutshell, a customer contacted me to help because another contractor abandoned their contract and they were left in the lurch (the details about how this came about could populate another article, but I digress). I was asked to refinish a new install—that is all. The refinish was simple and perfect in every way when complete. I was paid with a smile and the promise of a five-star review, which I never got.
Seven weeks later, this same customer called to say her friend came to their home and felt the floor and said, “If you can feel the grain, there is not enough finish on the floor. Don’t let this contractor rip you off.”
That was the whole basis for what happened next. My customer demanded additional coats of finish be applied until she could not feel the grain anymore.
I said “no” and that feeling the grain is not the way our industry determines proper coverage. Then I asserted that the contract was complete and performed to industry standards, and that I did not intend to give her a free recoat for the reasons she gave me.
At this point, I went non-verbal and communicated only via email and text; that way I could document everything and avoid “he said/she said” issues.
Well, like the Ohio McDonald’s customer mentioned at the beginning, my customer went full nuclear against me. Making oaths of destruction, promises of scorching the Earth with my remains and making complaints against my bond and my license, and doing this all over every social media site possible.
I ended up prevailing against it all, but the flak I took was not kind. The Better Business Bureau, Facbook, Yelp, Google … all of these and more were populated with unflattering hunter/killer reviews. They are all gone now because all received complaints from readers about personal attacks—except for Facebook. That may come as no surprise, but I was thinking of responding to the customer’s review by saying, “Thank you.” Thank you, because many customers called me and said, “What’s up with that customer who left you that awful review? That review stands apart from all the others and does not look legit.” Yup, I got lots of work from that lone remnant review, and I leave it for now.
As the complaint progressed, the customer made saw cuts into her own floor and spread an oily substance on it to make it look like I harmed her floor so she could get a cash award to “fix” her floor. That never happened, partly because I had pictures, text messages and emails to support my good work. She got two other contractors involved, but they simply told the truth, which was the final nail in the fake accusation against me.
My customer files at the end of the contract typically are at least a gigabyte in size, and consist of many pictures, all the texts, emails and even voice recordings left on my cell phone. Remember when I told the story in a past article about an attorney who wanted free service and was frustrated with me saying “no”? (He ended up throwing my final paycheck on the ground.) Same thing here, but this customer went so far as to harm her own floor and invent a reason for my demise. She was not taking “no” for answer, and how dare me for refusing.
I think back and thank those two contractors for their honesty, and I thank myself for keeping extensive records. I almost got beat, but I endured the nasty—actually, diabolical—accusations when all was said and done.
I archived those final emails and put it all aside and think back on the cost. I would do it again but would hope for another 100 years before I have to arm myself for battle like this.
I hope none of you must experience this, but, again, I strongly advocate documenting everything from start to finish on your jobs, even little ones. A simple $2,000 install contract can balloon up to $15,000 with ease with the right mix of attorneys, depositions, court costs and an ill-awarded judgment.
Some business owners are inclined to settle when they are innocent, but I will have no part of that. I understand that fighting back is not everyone’s decision, but it sure is mine.
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