How I Handle These Common but Difficult Customer Scenarios

Angelo DeSanto Headshot
Walking into a job after another contractor gets kicked out is one of many situations that wood flooring pros like us must handle carefully.
Walking into a job after another contractor gets kicked out is one of many situations that wood flooring pros like us must handle carefully.

Difficult scenarios we encounter as flooring pros remind me of the old saying, “A good captain is not made from calm seas.” When I think about Facebook posts from the flooring groups over the years, I see some common themes: disgruntled pros who show up and find the work site is full of tools, debris, or furnishings; difficult clients; no power; color-matching …  you name it. And many ask about pricing. Before I go over scenarios, let’s establish a baseline idea about pricing: No matter what we do, it should always end with profit; I live on making at least 30% profit.

With that said, here are some real-life scenarios and how I handle them.

Scenario #1: They don’t like the stain

Problem: The customers signed off on the stain, but after it’s dry, they don’t like it.

Solution: We all should have our customers sign off on a color in writing before we stain the entire floor. Clients seldom change the stain after that, but it does happen (usually right at the end of the contract, only days before you must start your next job).

A full resand is in order, and you must have the courage to charge the same price—again—plus add in the cost of potentially losing your next contract and/or losing integrity with your next client.

Scenario #2: Now they want railings and spindles done (or anything else you don’t want to do)

Problem: Your clients love your staircase refinish. Now that the job is complete, they want the railings and spindles to match (ugh!). This example could be any extremely time-consuming task not in your wheelhouse.

Solution: When this happened to me, I wasn’t sure what to charge. I put the question to the pros on Facebook, and was I happy I did, because I was guessing way too low. One suggestion made all the difference: to seriously consider the length of time it would take, which was  likely three weeks. I had only enough juice for a single week, so I passed on this project. It may have been a nice feather in my hat, I just didn’t want to do it.

Scenario #3: They have board placement requests—after installation

Problem: Years back, after we were one coat from completion, the client remarked how all the boards were beautiful but some looked better when placed next to others. In the end, I removed one-third of the floor; laying board after board next to a particular board until the client found the right board to complement it. I resorted to just finishing the contract any way I could and took a hit on my profit.

Solution: I learned that I need to politely assert my dominance as the professional and not allow the builder and/or client to run the show. Our place is to be a leader and guide the process like the experts we are.

Scenario #4: The other pro got fired

Problem: Sometimes it is something the contractor did or did not do, but whatever the reason, we are walking into the wrath of a situation gone bad, and all eyes are on every single thing we do and say.

Solution: I have developed an affinity for navigating these crocodile- and emotion-infested waters. A delicate attention to the personal aspect of the drama works for me. For example, I try to find out what happened (usually not difficult, because the potential clients want to vent). I become aware of what the problem was and—if the project is a good one—I take the job and simply do not do what the previous contractor did. It could have been volatile personalities colliding or simply a failure to show up on time every day. I liken the awareness to knowing a client’s “unlock code.” Once I know their “code,” I am free to complete the contract without aggravation. One word of caution: You must figure out if this is one of those people who will never be happy (I wrote about this in my blog post “The Customer Who Wanted to Inflict Diabolical Harm on My Company").

Scenario #5: They like you—but now they want a lower price

Problem: The client likes you best out of all the other contractors—but now they push you to agree to their lower price. Sometimes it’s a builder making grandiose promises to the client who then leaves it to you to perform in whatever way necessary (like working on holidays or at night) to make the schedule work, with no consideration of increased labor costs or your crews’ family plans.

Solution: When I was young, I overly accommodated the client, but now … NOPE. The price is the price, and if I must stretch out my crew with odd hours, first my crew has to approve. Then, the crew and I chat about how much it is worth to them. If all agree, I’ll create a revised quote. If not, I politely decline.

More scenarios that aren’t worth further discussion

Here are scenarios I’m not going to go into detail about but I’m sure you can relate to.

1. A superintendent is rushing the project, telling us to compromise on established guidelines: That’s a firm “No.”

2. The builder has scheduled too many trades on the job at the same time: Nope, that isn’t safe or efficient.

3. There’s extensive prep work that wasn’t previously disclosed or able to be discovered: The prep work must be done correctly—it’s a dealbreaker. But you must be paid to do it (your contract must clearly state that such issues and adjustments are possible).

4. The retailer deliberately did not measure the correct size, then asks you to collect the additional amount from the client and/or explain it away as a harmless mistake: This has happened to me, and I cut all ties to that store. They were black-hearted and unethical.

5. You simply have a sense of distrust of the builder/client you work for: Again, I cut all ties and move on.

6. Your client is “YouTube smart,” or a social media influencer, or says they “know people,” or looks down at you for being a “laborer,” or built a birdhouse once and therefore “knows wood”: I have experienced all these. I cannot work for everyone who dials my number and requests a quote.

The lesson is that not every client or project can be brought to a successful conclusion. Three main ideas have helped me immensely, and perhaps they will help you:

1. Know your worth.

2. Hold your clients’ concerns in utmost care—if you can.

3. Don’t compromise your standards of workmanship or safety.

We are wood floor pros, but it seems we are predominantly in a people business and do “wood floor stuff” on the side. When we understand that, our chances of business success increase dramatically.

Author’s note: Add your own “difficult scenario” story in the comments below so other pros can benefit! “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”—Proverbs 27:17.

See all of Angelo DeSanto's popular blog posts and magazine articles here.

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