by Anthony Noel
The fourth in a five-part series on developing a good client base looks at contracts and the ways communication affects customer relationships.
In the previous installment of this series (see A Selling System, Part 3), we discussed how to present prices to new prospects. In earlier articles, we focused on the prospective customer's concerns and how to give him a comfort factor about the way your company conducts business, from the first impression through presenting your first proposal.
Many people believe it is one thing to close the first sale with a prospect (who then becomes a customer) and something else to deliver what they promise. But if you take nothing else from this series, remember this: Selling does not end when the sale is closed. Every time your business comes in contact with a customer, you are still 'selling' him on your company. Every phone call, FAX, installation or new proposal plays an important role in the customer's ongoing decision about whether to continue working with your company in the future.
After you land that first contract, the relationship between your company and your new customer continues to evolve, usually in one of two ways - for the better or for the worse. Before we discuss methods to assure that things stay on the positive 'better' side, let's go into a little more depth about the contract itself, because a good contract can go a long way toward keeping the relationship mutually beneficial.
You don't need to spend a lot of time and money for lawyers in order to develop a standard contract which will work nicely in most instances. In fact, you probably don't need to obtain legal counsel at all if you follow one rule: Keep it simple.
I've met all kinds of business owners over the years, from those who will initiate court action at the drop of a hat to others who avoid the legal system like the plague. Personally, I opt for the second approach, and I use a contract to help me do so.
My standard contract is a simple, one-page document like the one shown.
Everybody's Architect Inc.
123 Enterprise St.
Noel Custom Woodworking Inc.
295 Hunter Forge Road
The design, construction, delivery and installation of one custom wall unit.
I/WE, the undersigned, hereby agree to pay Noel Custom Woodworking Inc. (hereinafter referred to as 'the Contractor') a total sum of $9 zillion for the above-designated work, drawings and/or specifications of which have been reviewed and approved of prior to the signing of this agreement.
I further agree that said payment shall be made as follows:
$2 zillion at the signing of this agreement
$2 zillion upon completion of first phase
$2 zillion upon completion of second phase;
Balance ($3 zillion) thirty (30) days from completion of last phase.
It is understood that this work is to be installed at/delivered to:
The Pentagon, Washington, DC
If is further understood that the Contractor shall make every reasonable effort to have this work completed 500 weeks from the signing of this agreement, but that the Contractor cannot be held responsible for delays in meeting this timetable due to material shortages, acts of God or other circumstances beyond the Contractor's control.
Agreed to: / / by
Countersigned: / / by
Anthony G. Noel
President, Noel Custom Woodworking Inc.
Other terms and conditions:
It names the parties to the agreement (my company and the client); the scope of the work being contracted (for example, 'one custom entertainment unit'); the total cost and terms of payment, and a delivery/installation location and approximate date.
I like to think of it as a kind of hybrid 'performance contract.' It lets the client know exactly what is expected of him and just what he can expect of me. It makes me accountable for delays in the delivery date, while exempting me from accountability when delays are caused by material shortages (for those times when I hear that joyless phrase, 'Sorry, Tony. It's still on back order'), acts of God (I can't stop a flood), or other circumstances clearly beyond the contractor's control. In short, I use a contract which keeps me and my client honest and communicating.
Want to keep clients happy? Let them know what's going on. Invite them to your shop, if you think they would be interested in seeing their project in progress. Make sure that the decorative hardware you want to use is aesthetically pleasing to them, too. Until you have a couple of jobs under your belt with a client, send them (or stop by with) finish samples to be sure they are confident in your ability to match existing finishes.
Put simply, communicate. I have yet to meet the client who complains about 'that darned woodworker who is so careful about getting things right.' And let's face it, for what we're asking many of our clients to spend, they deserve nothing less than our careful attention to detail.
I mentioned that relationships tend to go in one of two directions after they are established. It is no coincidence that the healthiest ones involve people who sweat the details and won't rest until they know the job is right. On the other hand, if you are difficult to work with, slow to return phone calls, lawsuit-happy or just plain non-caring, you act so at your own risk.
Just as there are all different kinds of woodworkers, there is a huge variety of clients out there. Your chances of getting repeat business increase exponentially every time you treat a client with the respect he deserves. A satisfied customer will tell a few associates how happy he is with your work; an unhappy one will tell people to avoid you at all costs, and he'll tell everyone he can think of.
Still, despite all the careful planning you put into client development, you will occasionally run into a situation that turns out far differently than you expected based on your initial contacts. There are clients who simply cannot be pleased, no matter how hard you try.
When you get stuck with one, redouble your efforts to be kind and courteous (it can be very difficult, to be sure). Then get the job done and go out of your way to stay out of their way in the future. Life is much too short to suffer at the hands of insufferable people.
In the next and final part of this series, we'll tie up some loose ends, including how to deal with clients who have a hard time visualizing projects, using clients as references and service after the sale.
A checklist for developing good customer relations
- Have a good contract.
- Maintain ongoing communication with your client.
- Pay attention to details.
- Treat all customers with courtesy and respect - even the difficult ones.
Anthony Noel writes, consults, and teaches woodworking and journalism, along with doing an occasional custom job in his shop in Macungie, PA.
Have a business related question? Visit WOODWEB's Business Forum. The Business Forum is co-sponsored by ISWonline and is moderated by Anthony Noel. All business topics are welcome, from sales and marketing to dealing with difficult customers.
This article is reprinted by permission of Custom Woodworking Business Magazine.