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Balancing customer service with contract terms

Discussion in 'Business Fundamentals' started by Billious, Feb 11, 2015.

  1. Billious

    Billious Member
    Messages: 72

    Hey everyone,

    My company took on a larger corporate customer with a number of properties this Winter, which easily doubled my number of properties. I'm well equipped for it, and we've been providing good service. This customer is a non-profit org. that has retail outlets, a corporate office and a number of residences.

    We've definitely serviced this client above and beyond the terms of our (well-written) contract, but they are starting to demand services in excess of our contractual terms. I get the impression that since their account manager knows we're a smaller company and they represent a large amount of business for us, they are pushing us.

    Has anyone else been in this situation? The relationship isn't beyond salvage, yet - but I've put my foot down recently, and out-of-scope service requests are being met with T+M billing. Any helpful hints on how to stand firm without damaging the ongoing relationship?
  2. edgeair

    edgeair Senior Member
    Messages: 597

    Just keep the communication open, maybe have a sit down with the director and review their needs vs. the contract inclusions. Approach things from their needs first, make them feel important. Then compare that to the contract and offer to make an amendment to the contract for $XX.xx.

    Don't rely on just sending them invoices for extras without the communication to go with it. That will build their resentment and may cause problems over time.
  3. maxwellp

    maxwellp PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,123

    Sounds like it is time for a face to face sit down to reaffirm what is in the contract and what is not. I think to do this by email, tx or phone is just not the same and leaves too much room for misinterpretation. Plus you can not read body language to see if it is sinking in.
  4. Billious

    Billious Member
    Messages: 72

    Several face to face meetings have been had. Seems reasonable face-to-face, then I get hit with emails that act like nothing we talked about actually happened. I feel like somehow there's some game happening on the client's end, and he's trying to make an email-trail on their side to defer blame. It's weird and I don't like it.

    We had an 8" snow last week, and we were very proactive plowing with the storm. No fewer than 4 visits (and we don't bill per visit, but per depth) to their retail locations. In the afternoon I get an angry phone call saying "Our retail people are saying you've NEVER shown up!". I respond with the times and durations we have visited, and am faced with "well, you still need to go over there RIGHT NOW and meet with our store managers".

    Next day I get called to one location because "it's drifted, and why the hell did you go out starting at 9pm last night knowing the wind will blow all night? You should go out no earlier than 4am and be done by 7:30am on a storm like that!" (9", and we service 20 properties of theirs). I show up at the site, there isn't a single drift, things look great, the store manager's complaint is that there is still some hard-pack on the pavement at a loading dock. Hardpack was melted by 1:45pm.

    A few days later get a panic phone call that a fire-hydrant has been buried at a different location and that we need to to get there RIGHT NOW. I show up, dig it out, and send a photo that clearly reflects that the neighboring property's snow contractor pushed a pile up on to my client's property, covering the hydrant.

    Client has a 1.6 acre lot at a corporate facility, where they want the entirety of the lot to be pushed to one corner where there is a drain field. Problem is, for most of the Winter they've kept a semi trailer parked right where the access to the drain field is. So with the 9" storm, we pushed to another corner and now they are demanding we move the entire pile at our expense (nothing in our contract says that all snow must go to the drain field). Same property, they keep a bunch of storage containers parked at the end of the lot. Our contract says we don't plow within 3' of a parked vehicle or obstruction, but they are demanding our walks crew go and clear a whole line of parked storage containers every storm at no additional cost.

    I mean, we're not Joe's Snow, Inc... we provide top-notch service, and our prices are competitive. But I feel like I'm getting caught up in some corporate power struggle game, and I don't appreciate it even a little bit. I know that next year, my contract will have a site visit provision so that I can charge every time I show up to discuss/fix something that's not my problem.
  5. edgeair

    edgeair Senior Member
    Messages: 597

    Sounds like you are beyond the face to face damage control. Maybe the next step is to make a professional clear and concise letter outlining all the things you have listed, and hand deliver it to this person, and cut and paste the sections of your contract that apply to each instance to show your position. Explain what happened, and show why they have to pay extra. Let him know that you can provide a copy to each manager, but he should issue a company memo indicating what is not included to each manager. Stick to your guns, otherwise they will try and keep walking over you.
  6. Mark Oomkes

    Mark Oomkes PlowSite Fanatic
    Messages: 13,249

    Sounds like someone had a preferred contractor and that contractor lost out to you and the contact person isn't happy. (kickbacks?)

    Been there, done that. I fired the customer.

    I'd go with another face to face and be blunt. Tell them what you see vs what they request.
  7. maxwellp

    maxwellp PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,123

    I know about the last big snow here. I could not have left it and cleaned it all up at 4am. Way to much drifting to leave that one alone.

    I would document and take pictures and send it back for every complaint

    As for moving the snow if is not spelled out that it was supposed to be in one place, I would not move it for free.

    If the contract is worth doing it for free to keep it, do it, but sometimes you just have to say no.
  8. Billious

    Billious Member
    Messages: 72

    I've been proactive about logging contacts, taking pictures, etc. As I've said before, I have no doubt that our service has been above industry standard. We're a small company, and it would hurt to lost this customer going in to the growing season and for subsequent snow seasons. But I have to put my foot down and defend our right to bill for work above and beyond contract terms. For what it's worth, here's a redacted version of what I emailed him this morning:


    I'm sorry to hear there are still lingering concerns, as I was under the impression we had addressed these items during my site visit last Thursday? Regarding your bullet point items:

    As to the snow pile at the North-East corner, we discussed that snow was piled there because a semi-trailer had been parked long-term blocking access to your drainage field. We do not have the capability to move your trailers, and we have had our hands tied in choosing where to stack snow. You have a very large lot, and any comparable lot we've ever cleared has had multiple storage points, as well as mid-lot piles. It's commonly understood that in snow-management, some lot space will eventually be lost to snow piles - unless arrangements are made for post-event pile management.

    When we receive a 9" snow fall, the existence or lack-thereof of previous snow accumulation becomes moot. With 72,000 ft2 of parking lot, 9" deep - with drifts up to 4' deep, all pushed to one area, we are going to lose storage space. It would have been good to use the drain field to the East of the building, but once again your organization had completely blocked our access to push snow there.

    That being said, on Monday the 2nd we mobilized with the Skidsteer and cleaned up some piles in the lot at no charge to CLIENT. When I met with you in person earlier that day, I asked if there were any other piles that needed to be addressed. I specifically mentioned the snow near the shipping containers, and the response from you was "No, it's OK, we have a snowblower". No mention was made of the pile in the Northeast at that meeting.

    Tuesday the 3rd, I received an email from you with concerns from your transportation manager - regarding the pile in the Northeast. I sent several responses asking if we could meet, and mentioned I could get a skid-steer mobilized same day - and received no response.

    Thursday the 5th, we met in person, and you pointed out that you expected the snow pile in the Northeast to be moved or managed, and that the snow in front of the shipping containers needed to be cleared. We discussed in the company of your transportation manager that the drainage field was being blocked by a trailer, and developed a plan to make space for that trailer elsewhere. I then cleared a space in the grass for that trailer, and used my plow to stack and relocate snow at the Northeast pile. Once again, I did not charge CLIENT anything for this.

    I followed up Thursday with an email where I stated the following: "I used the plow to clear out the North East pile - hopefully enough to make things accessible for your trucks. Please let me know if that is not sufficient. I did all I could with a plow, but if we need the skid-steer I will move the pile for the 1 hour minimum price listed on the contract, and will eat any additional time/cost past an hour. I hope you recognize that trucks have been getting repositioned frequently, so we've been trying to anticipate traffic patterns in a very dynamic environment." I re-sent this email after a phone call on 2/9/15 as well with no response.

    The point I would like to make is that we have been extremely responsive AND proactive with your accounts, and I'm having difficulty accepting responsibility for addressing conditions that are not of our making. When we initially met in October, I told both CLIENT and yourself that working with CONTRACTOR will represent a good balance between service and cost. I believe we have gone far above and beyond on a number of occasions, while providing service at a cost that is below market price for a lot of such size and challenges. I've always done my best to be flexible and reasonable, without nickle-and-diming my customers. But with the goal-post constantly moving, I think I need to be clear about some of our contract provisions:

    "Unless otherwise specified in writing, service areas are to to include all parking lots, driveways, City sidewalks and entranceways. All snow will be retained on site. Skid-Steer service for management of drifts and piles available at $150 for the first hour, and $130 per hour thereafter (1 hour minimum)."

    "CONTRACTOR will not plow or sand/salt within 3 feet from any parked vehicles, equipment or other obstructions in parking lots, drives or other areas being cleared. Please attempt to move obstructions prior to our services being completed."

    We have already - on 2 occasions - come to move piles around at the CORPORATE OFFICE, with no charge. We have mobilized to your RETAIL property to uncover a fire-hydrant that was covered AFTER service by the neighboring property's contractor, at no charge. I have come by for a number of site inspections and meetings at no charge. I'm happy to ensure that you receive quality service, but that service must be within the realm of the reasonable and based on contractual obligations.

    I will be happy to honor my offer from last week to bring by a skid-steer to manage the North-East pile based on a one-hour minimum charge. As part of that service, we will gladly remove the snow that's in front of your parked containers. As far as ongoing service, we can have our walks crew maintain clearance in front of those containers from here on out - but as that was not factored in to the cost of our original bid (We will not plow within 3' of a parked vehicle, equipment or other obstruction) we would ask for the following price increase:

    0-3" - ($15 more than original price)
    3-6" - ($21 more than original price)
    6-9" - ($30 more than original price)
    9-12" - ($42 more than original price)

    This is a very modest increase that will reflect the added labor time for what was out of scope of our original bid.

    As always, I'm here to provide exceptional service, and will do all that is in my control to ensure that you get the best value for your money.
  9. edgeair

    edgeair Senior Member
    Messages: 597

    It'll be interesting to see their response. Well done.
  10. Billious

    Billious Member
    Messages: 72

    If their response is anything other than "You're right, you've been awesome to work with, I totally remember our in-person conversations right now, let me take you out for a beer" I'm probably going to cancel their service :p
  11. Mark Oomkes

    Mark Oomkes PlowSite Fanatic
    Messages: 13,249

    I'll put $100 on the fact that you were lower than the other guy, the contact was forced to accept your bid and he doesn't like it, just like I said in my first post.

    He is making your life miserable so he can hire the other contractor back when you quit.
  12. edgeair

    edgeair Senior Member
    Messages: 597

    I've had that happen before, and I was even a tenant in the building. The lot has looked like crap ever since, but one of the other tenants was buddy buddy with the "other guy".
  13. derekslawncare

    derekslawncare PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,003

    My hat's off to you. I think you have handled this situation with the utmost professional and PATIENT attitude. I think I would have lost my cool some time ago and told him to go pound sand. I will say that I do have one customer that is a church. Very nice to work with, but it seems like just about every bill ends up with a phone call and me having to explain/defend everything that was done, even though it is explained clearly on the bill. I think that "not for profits" honestly feel as though they are owed something for free just because. Don't know if that might be part of the issue here for you, but JMO.
  14. Camden

    Camden PlowSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,604

    Nice job on that email. I've never had a customer be that needy so my hat's off to you for handling yourself in such a professional manner.
  15. redsox4life

    redsox4life Junior Member
    from MA
    Messages: 19

    Subbed to hopefully see the customers response. Initial Email is very well written.
  16. Billious

    Billious Member
    Messages: 72

    It'll be interesting. Customer has since actually responded to other matters (other properties that need T+M pile management) with no drama and was perfectly amicable. But this email has been responded to yet.

    I take a lot of pride in providing an honest service, and doing the right thing - even when it comes at my expense. But I can honestly say we've given this customer the VIP treatment, and that their expectations have been completely unreasonable. I've run across town on no notice too many times to see that the urgent matter was a non-issue, and I've just gotten to the end of what I can accommodate...
  17. allagashpm

    allagashpm Senior Member
    Messages: 797

    Honestly, it is guys like you that are doing good things for this industry. That was a great email, well thought out and well written. Not condescending or emotional. You keep documenting like you are and keep every thing in writing.
    I agree it sounds the the PM Is the problem not you. Stick to your guns dont let them try to push you around beccuse you're a "small company".
  18. MatthewG

    MatthewG PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,400

  19. snocrete

    snocrete Banned
    Messages: 2,862

    Well thought out and written...if the customer is even remotely reasonable, you should be able to resolve your issues without much problem.

    I kinda thought this, as well, after I read the initial post...If this is the case, I doubt the OP's "well thought out letter" does much other than let a little dust settle.....and then it will happen again.

    Im dealing with an unreasonable manager right now....I've decided to go over them, directly to corporate, and file a complaint(waiting till end of winter & paid up). I did some investigating and found a couple summer contractors that do work for this facility, and are willing to write a letter describing "her" rudeness & and unreasonable requests outside of agreed terms....this lady is a downrightbitch. Not sure if anything will get done, but don't care.....I wont be servicing them next yr if shes still there.
  20. Antlerart06

    Antlerart06 PlowSite Veteran
    Messages: 3,437

    I want join in to hear the reply