In an age of customer service, you should never turn your back on a client with a problem. Realize that a problem is really an opportunity.
It may be the ability to fix a problem that truly sets you apart from the multitudes. Upon learning of a client's problem, there are two things that must be done. First, acknowledge there is a problem. Some contractors have a hard time even admitting that it is a possibility. Then you need to realize that this is not a problem, but an opportunity.
Five years ago we installed a project that had turned out beautifully. The owner designed, engineered, and supervised his own project. He researched materials, and the chosen product manufacturer recommended us as installers. The client was adding a two-story wood-framed addition to the existing building, and the upper deck of the addition was actually an extension of the existing pool deck. Our scope of work was to install a waterproof stamped overlay.
As is our procedure when we are unfamiliar with a product, we requested that a representative from the manufacturer be on the job with us. The installation went smoothly, and the project was completed.
Two years later, far past the industry-standard one-year warranty, the owner called us with a problem. There was water damage and wood rot, and ultimately part of the framing had to be replaced. Whether there was a design flaw, a material failure, or installation error, we will never know. What we did know is that we had a relationship with this client, and this was a critical point in that relationship. Our reputation was on the line. The manufacturer had already told the owner that they did not believe that it was product failure. The owner knew the lengths we went to so we could be sure to install his material correctly, so he looked to us for a solution, not blame. We helped him find a waterproofing contractor and made ourselves available to the owner in whatever capacity we could.
Once the structural work was corrected, we were left with the original pool deck that had a colored stamped overlay, and a new wood deck with a plain gray stamped overlay. We had to make both areas beautiful again. We stripped the sealer off the existing pool deck, sprayed the entire surface with a cementitious spray coat, and recolored the deck. It turned out even better than the original.
If there is a moral to this story, it is that you never know when you might hear from a past client. In this age of customer service, you should never turn your back on a client with a problem. The way you react to their issues will determine the way they will react towards you. I know the hairs on the backs of our necks stand up and our stomachs knot up, but the initial reaction to that first call will be the foundation, weak or strong, that you will build on from that moment on. Be patient and choose your words wisely. The way you address a problem is just as important as the materials you fix it with.
Larry Ross is the manager of Richard Smith Custom Concrete, based in Canoga Park, Calif.