Being a best customer

I don’t like being abused as a customer simply because I don’t resort to yelling at contractors to get them to deliver on their commitments. Holding contractors to account and still behaving in a way that is appropriate to me is the only way that I feel comfortable.

Being a best customer by Nancy Knowlton

A short time ago I was talking to a contractor who was doing some work in our home. He and his team had been in and out of our home intermittently over 14 years finishing off all of the things that we had left undone when we took possession of our new home. We had worked well together through the years with good alignment on the various projects. I trusted that his work would be good and his prices would be fair. He always had good clarity around what we wanted and how he would undertake the various projects. It was a good and productive working relationship.

On this occasion he was explaining a little awkwardly why he was several months late in getting to our project. This was unusual but not without precedent. He said that a customer had asked him to stay on and do more work after her planned project was completed. Because she was a difficult and abusive customer, someone who was not above yelling at him, he had stayed with her and pushed back our job. I asked him why he would do that – namely, give her precedence over us. He said that we were so great to work with, because we never yelled at him and always paid our bills promptly. I had to ask – and as I suspected, the yeller did not pay her bills on time. We wrapped up the conversation with a laugh and an admonition from me, “Don’t make me yell.”

Minimal disclosure

But I’m not as OK with the conversation as I might have seemed to our contractor. The truth was that he had made the choice that he did because it worked for him at the time. I have no doubt that face to face with a yeller, an abusive person from everything that I heard, the best way out of the situation was to give her what she demanded. But he put us off without consultation, and at the time that he was advising of the delay he did so without mentioning that another customer had extended her project.

Going back for more

As I talked to our contractor, I learned that this wasn’t his first engagement with this customer. He had worked for her before and she had behaved the same way. It’s hard to imagine that a contractor who was in demand and had work lined up for months in advance would willingly go back to a customer with this makeup and behavior. But he had and the situation was the same.

Minding my Ps and Qs

As a customer who doesn’t yell and who pays bills on time, I am disappointed that it is indeed the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. But while it is frustrating, it will not prompt me to change my behavior and become a bad-behaving customer. I can’t imagine seriously yelling at someone who is helping me get something done that I need and want. I also cannot imagine capriciously withholding payment to a contractor who has delivered both service and product. A deal is a deal, and I will continue to live up to my side of the bargain.

Fair is fair

But I will also take care to ensure that I get the service and attention that I deserve. Suppliers need to be held to reasonable commitments and the deals that they make. It is not acceptable to capriciously reschedule a commitment to a customer – me. While nothing actually turns on many of these projects, I make plans based on timing given to me. Now that I am aware that others think that they can push their way to the front of the line, I intend to hold my place against them.

I’ll continue to be many businesses’ best customer, but I’ll keep them honest in the process.

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.