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Screening customers

Discussion in 'Business Fundamentals' started by Mick, Jun 2, 2003.

  1. Mick

    Mick PlowSite.com Veteran
    from Maine
    Messages: 5,546

    Something happened the other day that got me to wondering if anyone else does this. I got a call last winter to clean up a small office complex after another plow guy. Then, the owner wanted to talk to me about next winter. We met briefly; I told her what it would be for a small snow storm and she thought that was kind of high. I went through the usual "Yeah, but my level of service is worth it" speech. She agreed that she tried to "get by on the cheap and it didn't always work". We left it that I'd get back with her in May to discuss it further. I wrote to her and haven't heard back, yet. In the meantime, I check with some people who know her. They tell me she's hard to work with, has never had anyone work for her that she liked their work and can't even keep temp office workers. So, I decided I don't need that kind of aggravation, badmouthing or negative advertising and won't take it at any price. Then I got to wondering how many others screen out customers based on potential for being a PITA. As a sole operator, do you tend to take on these customers to generate income or are you more like to turn them down than a larger plow company would? As a manager for a larger company, are you more likely to take them since you won't need to be the one to deal with them? Or, does everybody take anyone who'll hire them and weed them out later?

    Sorry if this is confusing, but there is more than one way to think about it.
  2. Arc Burn

    Arc Burn PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,138

    Good question Mick,I have found myself taking on some of these customers and here's why-In my area we have about 7 contractors plowing full time in the winter,one of our "blessed" second homeowners quickly grew a reputation for not paying for services,lawn/plowing etc.,he screwed a few contractors who told the other to beware and quickly found nobody would work for him.He went thru half a winter with no plow servicse(mild winter) and out of the blue we got nailed with a storm,he got my number from a neighbor and called me(I already knew all of the above)I told him i could not rather politely but he was persistent,i told him it would cost him and i wanted to be payed up front,"no problem"I went down,(1/2 mile from my house) charged about $15 more than the drive is usually worth,he payed,i plowed and have been for 3 years now,he comwes up every weekend and calls me to find out what he owes and pays me right away.

    OK,so that was a long drawn out story!Anyways,i've seen that scenario work out a couple times just like that,and when it does not,i drop them instantly.

    I guess the point is that the PITA customers will ultimately run out of options and that is when i like to jump in
  3. wyldman

    wyldman Member
    Messages: 3,265

    Same opinion as Arc.I'll take them on,and usually I can convert them into a respectable customer.Don't know why I do it,but it usually works.A few of them are now some of our best customers.I'm talking more about property managers,owners and commercial clients though.Back when we did a lot of residential,we had a few that we could never please,even if you did it for free.So glad we dropped most of the residential stuff.

    Usually people like that have been screwed on time to many,and are just fed up.Once the realize you are doing a good job,at a reasonable price,they chill out.
  4. szorno

    szorno Senior Member
    Messages: 308

    Hiya Mick,
    I agree with Arc and Wyldman with a spin though. I will listen to the "other guy" when he says they don't pay or are picky. We specialize in picky. We can work anything for a fee... but If a commercial customer has a reputation of not paying, I joke a bit at the first face to face contact. I tell them that at 45 days late I return the snow. (usually at their entrance) And chuckle a bit. They ask if I have ever done it. I say yes, but only twice in 27 years.
    That seems to set the tone adequately. Then I talk about our quality work, dependability and backup. Sometimes they sign, sometimes they don't. If they don't I just say "thank you Lord" and move on. I figure I was saved some heartache.
    Good luck...:waving:
  5. John Allin

    John Allin PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,327

    We go to great lengths to obtain the expectation level of the customer, and then price the project to meet that level. Often times the expectation level is not what is written in the contract, and sometimes we all find out after the fact.

    I also think that everyone has the right to be a PITA - as long as they don't mind paying for the privilidge.
  6. Michael F

    Michael F Senior Member
    Messages: 203

    John Brings up a very good point, what is in the cintract is not what is expected often times. I t seems that people can't read a ruler.
    For example last season we bid two nice properties, 3 inches, per trip, we were told as general specs, didn't get the properties. We do a proerty within view of these, at zero tolerance this past season I saw the contractor that got them(2 different contractors) out for 1 inch.
    It happens ALL the time around here. I guess its just an experience thing, doesn't make you want to go to unlimited visit contracts for one price though.
    Good luck.
  7. Chuck Smith

    Chuck Smith 2000 Club Member
    from NJ
    Messages: 2,317

    A neat little trick is to bring a ruler with you when you are discussing a contract with a property manager. When they mention the trigger they want, show them on the ruler just how much that is, and how much of their shoes will be covered if they have to walk in it.

    What I have also found, is often a 3" trigger is desired, but they will call you in at 1.5" because they feel the need for service. This is why it is best to use 0" - 4" (or whatever the first price range is is) as the first pricing increment. They usually say "well we only want you to come at 3", to which I reply "that's OK, we just want you to know what the price will be for less than 3". Having 3" - 6" as the first increment opens the door for "Well you want $x for 3" so shouldn't less be cheaper?"


    Spelling out all pricing from the start ends late negioations on the phone... We also always give loader pricing, though we won't use one everytime it snows, it is there so when the need arises, the customer already knows the price.

    And I have always screened customers. If the job requires more than a single truck length of backdragging away from the garage door, it is not worth it to me. I refer them to the younger guys just starting out, and those who use blowers. As far as the 'non-payers', I don't need the aggravation of trying to change them.