How Would You Handle This Customer?


From original questioner:

We finished a fairly big job and have been paid in full.

The customers move in and discover their custom wall cabinets are 12" deep and thought they would be deeper. They never mentioned deeper cabinets to us, they thought they would be the same as their old house, never thought to mention it.

We didn't ask as all of our showroom cabinets, which they saw, are 12".

Their drawings show 12" although probably not as clearly as it could. (Cabinet Vision)

They would like them rebuilt and for us to absorb half the cost. We can reuse all the face frames and doors except for two corner cabinets.

What do you think?

For what it's worth, they have been a pain to work with.

From contributor Bo

I would tell them "I'm sorry for the confusion but 12" upper cabinets are an industry standard"
Any changes would be at their expense

From contributor ri

"We build to industry standards unless specified otherwise."

From contributor Ca

Industry standard at our shop is 13 inches.

I would re-build them.
It's your job to educate them not their job to know what you assume.

From contributor fr

A PIA customer is still a customer who's word of mouth is invaluable . His good referal keeps the chain strong a bad referral breaks that chain . I get industry standards and contracts but isn't satisfying a customer just as important . I'm just a small fish and I'd redo the uppers at no cost whatsoever except for a bunch of apologies .

From contributor ja

I sounds to me as if you did all you could do A) you provided plans, B) you were not exposed to the previous house nor was it stated,

There is value in Cabinetry even if it ends up in the work shed or Garage. sit with them. look at the total value, give them the break that helps you sleep, obviously 50% is too high, offer to hand the reused cabinets in the garage and the discount is less. or take them with you for a little more, Donate them to Habitat and take the tax deduction

There is Value in Cabinetry

From contributor D

I would think your plan states 12" deep wall cabinets ? If not then it could be left up to assuming .

If you have the space ,
Just grasping but could you add an inch to the back of the boxes and make a special scribe mold where it shows ?

From contributor Ma

I personally wouldn't absorb half the cost. It sure sounds like you did everything right and if they were in your showroom and didn't notice it until their large items wouldn't fit in the uppers that's on them.

It's not to say I wouldn't work with them to make it right and soften the blow a little but 50 percent is way too much for something where there is no shared reslonsibility.

They can go to any number of other places and see the same depth cabinets. I'm assuming your not taking about slightly deeper (an inch).

From contributor C.

It would be irresponsible to walk away from this situation even though ethically you could certainly make a case for doing so. All these critical dimensions should have been discussed beforehand so there are no surprises. I often am asked to make uppers 15" deep as the standard 12" is quite shallow, I don't find it to be an unusual request. This one just fell through the cracks; It happens. If they are offering 50% and you only have to replace the boxes and handle installation issues, I think you should do it. Might make you look like a real hero in their eyes. At least they will have the special kitchen they envisioned.

From contributor Al

Architects and designers are used to things being a dimension, a 36" door is 39-1/2" wide with casing but they specify a 36" door which is the clear opening. How deep are your lowers? Do sinks fit or are you 24" lowers deeper?
I am talking about the dimension from the face of the wall to the face of the door.

The issue is shop drawings should always show a clear inside dimension.

We build 13-7/8" to face of door which is 13" box and 12" inside by default. We build lowers 24-7/8" to the face of the door. If we build less or more there is a ID dimension shown on the architectural drawings.

The only question I have is if you make new boxes what happens at inside corners if there are any.

You have to decide if winning the battle is worth the potential "bad advertising" or won't refer your company in the future.


From contributor Ma

I think a big part of this, that of course only the OP can quantify, is that the customer has already apparently been a pain in the a $$. The chances of a customer like that suddenly turn into one that runs around singing your praises and winning you work is slim to none even though that still leaves a chance.

I don't think anyone is saying tell them flatly no, but the 50% implies there was MAJOR error on the part of the OP. It doesn't sound to me as that is the case. It sounds like they were in his showroom, looked at cabs, we're given a drawing with likely a multitude of dimensions they probably just ignored. Now upon moving in they realize their stuff doesn't fit like it did in their old cabs and may possibly be implying that "custom" cabinets are somehow deeper by default. Not true.

I would work with them and may offer to build the boxes at cost and charge a reduced rate for tear out and replacement but that'd be it. If they want to keep the old cabs and hang them in the garage that's a reduced cost for the boxes as the hanging as well even though you'd likely drag them back to the shop and give them away or burn them.

Fair is fair but getting run over is another.

From contributor Ki

The fact that they were a pain in the a$$ has to be set aside.

Did your drawings clearly and simply specify the interior dimension? Do you point out the interior depths specifically, asking if there are things that require special dimensions? There is no industry standard other than yours, and it is your job to specify it. Assumptions are not only foolish, but will eventually cause trouble.

I'm thinking they were a pain in the ass because both you and they made assumptions - assumptions that were not dispelled by good drawings and communications. It is your job to clarify everything you do.

Both god and the devil reside in the details. If you are not detail oriented, you are lost.

From contributor Ga

I am not worried about this customer ruining our reputation as they are fairly far away.

We could have been more clear as to the depth of the cabinets but they could have also been more clear.

We've built hundreds of kitchens and this is new one on us.

I have not decided how to handle it yet but appreciate the input so far.

Moving these cabinets into the garage may have some merit.

Alan has a good question. The door width of the inside corner cabinets will still be wide enough for the customer if we build deeper cabinets.

From contributor Ji

The customers move in and discover their custom wall cabinets are 12" deep and THOUGHT they would be deeper. They never mentioned deeper cabinets to us, they THOUGHT they would be the same as their old house, never THOUGHT to mention it. -

Do you have to treat grown adults (with money) like 5 yr olds? Major problem with our society is no one takes responsibility for themselves. It's always "not my fault, "you" should have brought to my attention, what "I" wasn't thinking of".
I'm sure you don't have anything else on your plate.........
If they needed deeper wall cabinets they should have brought that in on their "want/need" list. Like drawers, trash cans, ect.
What are you a mind reader? I would accommodate them by offering a quote "full price with a--hole discount applied" on new wall cabinets anywhere they wanted them. To ease the blow I might consider reusing the doors and dispose of the others at no charge.
You will get no positive referral from them even if you ate 100 percent. If you enjoy a kick in the teeth, be flexible, they will not disappoint. You did your job when they were in your show room and they were supposed to look at the drawings.

From contributor Ma

I realize this does not help the OP, but this is an excerpt of the information sheets I supply with each proposal. It might help someone else in the future. Don't ask how I came to include it in my proposals:

"Note on available depth space for upper cabinets: the standard dish / dinner plate ranges in size from 9 to 10 1/2". All our cabinets are built with a standard cabinet depth of 12". Since they all have backs (the structural wall behind the cabinet is not visible), the available space in our cabinets is 10.90", well within the space needed. If you have the need for a deeper cabinet, please let us know. They can be built deeper, at additional cost. This option would be clearly stated in the options list. We suggest base cabinets with rollout shelves or drawers with or without plate racks as an alternative for oversized dishware. " Mario

From contributor Le

If they didn't mention it in the beginning how are you to know? Standard is standard for a reason. And it is what it is.

I wouldn't redo the job for 50%, that implies you made serious errors. If they looked at the prints and couldn't find the interior or exterior dimensions of the upper cabinets why didn't they ask?

For them to assume you knew how deep the cabinets were at their old place is beyond crazy.

All my uppers are 14" deep, I make that known to the client. I've had only one say they wanted 12" and that's what they got.

But for you to finish the job and then they come up with this.......nope, never gonna happen at that price.

From contributor Ha


1. Anyone who deals with the public runs into customers who are "difficult".

2. As professionals, we want our customers to be pleased with our work.

When we encounter 1., then 2. Is not always achievable.

We always try to explain to customers what they are going to get. Drawings are necessary, but not always sufficient for them to get it. Bear in mind that they are not experts and arrive with their own assumption set.
Most problems come down to a failure to communicate and a series of tacit assumptions.

How would you like to be treated in this situation. Do you feel that they had enough to understand that they were getting 12" uppers?

If the answer to that is an unreserved yes, then your contract is complete and you should withdraw gracefully. Obviously you will stand by your work.

If, however, you feel that they may have a point, then you should try to accommodate them in some way, as suggested in other answers.

If for no other reason, you will feel good and know you did what as right.

Let us know how it resolves.

From contributor Ti

Here's what I'd do. Pop the backs off,if they're stapled they're likely history. Use a track saw and cut the groove or rabbit off to get a clean edge, make a reverse face frame the thickness you need , allow a 1/16'' or so reveal so as not to fuss over making it flush,I'd make the top rail wide to act as a nailer and attach using biscuits ,glue and screws. Reattach back and rehang. You might have to fudge the front face frames some to deal with the deeper cabinets, hopefully you used wide enough stiles to begin with. With a little hand finishing of the inside back face frames it should work. Beats starting from scratch and losing all the boxes.
As for myself, I always bring up the depth thing, explain that 12'' is standard and uses sheet goods most efficiently, but personally use deeper cabinets due to modern plates being often times deeper. I charge accordingly for deeper cabinets. The customer always appreciates the suggestion as it rarely enters their minds.They go home and measure the stuff they have, and often as not opt for the deeper cabinets.

From contributor Ma

There is a reason we spend the time of submitting detailed shop drawings for approval before any shop work begins...everyone knows what's coming.

From contributor Ec

OMG. What kind of pusillanimous businessman doesn't demand that adults act like adults?

JimHerron has it exactly right -- these are not 5 year-olds. And nobody is a mind-reader.

The only fact that matters is that their drawings show 12", as Gary stated.

It doesn't matter that it might have been more clear -- every drawing ever made could no doubt have been "more clear" from someones vantage point.

There's no need for perfection in clarity, only a presentation of facts that a reasonable person can understand. If an inside dimension of 12" is indicated in the drawings then that's the end of that.

The customer got the facts and assuming they signed off on them they are solely responsible. Period. That being the case, they don't deserve a dime of allowance and I wouldn't give them one.

They want them rebuilt deeper, fine, they can pay 100% for the rebuild. They want the not-deep-enough 12" cabs installed in their garage or wherever else, fine, they can pay for that, too.

Why do people allow themselves to be run over by jerks and losers who never, ever admit that any problem is of their own making or the result of their own inattention to obvious details they should have been paying attention to?

The customer is NOT always right. And the customer who thinks he is isn't just a customer, he's a problem and a loss waiting to happen.

From contributor ca

Econ 101,

I think maybe the non-mind-reading customer interpreted the drawings similar to how you have interpreted this thread.
You assumed " inside dimension of 12" is indicated in the drawings . ..."

Nowhere in this thread did the OP stipulate the 12 inch dimension was an interior useable measurement. If you, an obviously fearless sesquipedalian, cannot differentiate between inside dimensions and outside dimensions how are we to expect a (jerk like) civilian to know the difference?

For the same reason you expect a customer to be attentive to obvious details how can you not expect the OP to be responsible for grey areas? The jerk only buys a custom kitchen once or twice in her life. The OP does this for a living.

If you can't differentiate between inside and outside dimensions, how can she?

From contributor Ec

What's the difference if the 12" -- which was on the drawings -- is ID or OD?

None to the end-user, because apparently neither ~11" ID or 12" ID is even close to their old cabs.

The point is 12" was on the drawings -- and, once again, assuming they signed off on it -- that's the end of it.

From contributor Da

I have been in the shop for 42 years and I can tell you that anyone that tells me a "custom wall cabinet is 12"" would get a series of uncomfortably probing questions from me. That alone is meaningless language. If they worked for me, they would also get the lecture about meaningful terminology, and the one about assumptions.

Cabinet interior depth of 12" is meaningful. Overall depth is 12", including overlay door is meaningful. "Industry standards" is something to cover your ass - since you say "custom' everywhere - and implies hiding responsibility.

Industry standards and custom are mutually exclusive terms. As soon as you state 'custom' you then have the responsibility to define all the things that anyone might assume, and give solid facts.

Lazy language, lazy specifications, lazy communications will eventually hang you.

From contributor D

O.K. so the clients in this case are not a favorite type but none the less they have payed the piper .

They may never refer your shop ,

but they might .

A tad more clarity and communications prior to building is needed for some folks.
even though it was in writing , maybe they didn't catch it , it is our job to educate and communicate to the scope of what we are selling .
More importantly is the fact that not all people understand the same way , so you need to become better listeners to become better at selling what they want , the way you want to build it .

Turn this problem into an opportunity , I am not saying to work for free but perhaps a compromised offer not a lot different then what they offered you in the end may be best.

I Agree with Tim , figure something out be done with it . Some folks may never be really satisfied , thank goodness it is not that often , else we'd show up with a nail gun .

From contributor Pa

"The point is 12" was on the drawings -- and, once again, assuming they signed off on it -- that's the end of it."

The mentality in the retail market and the wholesale market are different.

I have had ladies say this is not what I thought it was going to be, you will have to redo it.

I then would ask why they signed the shop drawings if it was not what they wanted?

She would say I did not understand the drawings.

True I could go to court and win. But is it more trouble than just fixing what they want, in this case it was rebuilding an entire library. This was near the end of the job on a very large house.

I think the time spent on getting them to understand is time well spent. Also build policies as you go on how to handle this. E.G. make the upper cabinets deeper than 12" to accommodate bigger plates.

We had a miss communication on the color of some large counter tops which was not my mistake. So I relaminated them in the right color, not a small amount of work, we ended up doing every one of their stores with a very good relationship.

I mean if it came down to it what would it really take to rebuild the cabinets?

From contributor zo


From contributor Al

How come a 3'-0" door is a 3'-0" clear opening but a 12" deep cabin is an outside dimension with no reference to an ID?

Google how deep should a kitchen cabinet upper be and we get a WSJ article that says 12" isn't deep enough.

a 12" deep cabinet with no back and visible naliers probably is deep enough, same with a cabinet that back that is stapled on.

If one does a captive back with nailers behind its 3/4" to 1" taken out of the space.

if you build 24" deep base cabinets to the face of the door with a thick splash are all the sinks fitting in the tops?

How come a 2" x 4" is not 2" x 4", I mean common I am buying a 2 x 4, If I needed a 3.375 x 1.5 I would order that.

Oh wait that's standard. Shop drawings should show what your standards are, the guy down the street didn't do the job so if his 12" works (12" door thickness plus back thickness plus nailer thickness) it just doesn't matter, he didn't get the order.


From contributor Da

One of the few kitchens we ever did was a batch of lowers that were 6" taller than the usual 36" net - for a NBA player. The original cabinet supplier had added 6" to the 4" toe kicks and charged an additional several thousand dollars for a day's work. It looked terrible.

As we started drawings, nothing was assumed, and every detail was examined, since no one wanted that to happen again. The owner was delighted with the 'no surprises' outcome.

From contributor Al

"The owner was delighted with the 'no surprises outcome'

Now that's a standard worth having

From contributor Ec

If one can gain massive further business from some deal where a problem arises because the end-user isn't bright enough to pay attention to rudimentary, simple stuff like cabinet depth (or whatever,) then, absolutely, by all means, do so.

Accommodate them. Humor them. Lose money by bending over backwards for them.

But, that isn't the case in Gary's example.

12" was on the drawings. The end. They want something else? They can pay for it.

I built my own cabinets and none of them are less than 13" ID, but if I were a cab guy building kitchens, this sort of thing would lead me to have a very long checklist of stuff that every buyer would have to sign off on, item by item -- height, width, depth, wood, finish, hardware, slides, etc, etc., cabinet by cabinet after discussing each item. Initials on every line. Not just drawings.

Nobody would be able to say "this is not what I thought it was going to be" or "I did not understand the drawings."

And there would be no freebies, no matter how much other business might be gained.

With any luck, every customer would understand exactly what they are going to get -- no ambiguities.

Of course, not all of the people who aren't bright enough to inquire about the depth of their cabinets will be caught by any checklist, no matter how long it is but at least you'll be covered by it.

Those that slip through that procedure and then demand unreasonable stuff just have to written off. They're so used to doing it and getting away with it that they expect you to accommodate them, no matter what they signed or initialed.

They think that they're entitled and there's nothing you can do about that other than to do no further business with them.

The upside of a checklist type of procedure is that it might alert you to an problem-child type of customer before you obligate yourself to work for them.

Which is probably a good thing -- my experience in a number of businesses is that about 2% of all customers cause about 98% of all problems.

From contributor Pa

In my experience you are better off trying to assuage a customer's issues rather than being a hard ass.

Nobody really wins if you go to court.

I agree with the 80 - 20 rule or 2% - 98% rule, true words. You have to be aware enough that if you are dealing with a 2% er it does't matter what you do they are not going to be satisfied. In which case yup that is why you have policy to circumvent these people.

I'm big on checklists. The Emyth is basically a book about checklists and they work.

Your policys should be updated to include the problems you have run into. Really the Constitution is just policies taken from other countries that worked well to prevent problems from reoccurring.

Time spent getting the homeowner to understand what they are getting through specs, a showroom, 3d drawings are all time well spent, especially with women.

But the overarching policy should be to create a product/service that the customer is satisfied with if at ALL possible.

I would tend to think it would be worth rebuilding the uppers on this job for free.



From contributor Ec

Who said anything about going to court?

If someone is an entitled moron, immune and impervious to reason you just write them off and move on. Without allowing them to abuse you for anything that's not due.

No lawyer is going to sue you on a contingency basis, it's clear that the client is an idiot with no leg to stand on and there are no damages to be recovered.

The client also understands this. Good odds on that because the same cheap jerk who wants to screw you out of a grand or two won't spend a dime on a lawyer because he knows he can't win.

And, Pat, while you know I love you in a sawdust sort of way, using the formulation "especially with women" is probably a bad idea even though I completely agree with you.

How about "especially with the spatially-challenged"? Or something like that.

In any case, while it's always better to accommodate everyone if possible, Gary's customer would get no allowance from me. They want deeper uppers? Write the check.

From contributor Pa

Who said anything about going to court?

It is just assumed, in Calif we have a quaint custom of suing for every perceived in justice. That is why we are the proud home of more litigators than any other state.

Rich homeowners are the worst on this subject.

You have to be able to read the customer, some are worth the trouble others are not.

"using the formulation "especially with women" is probably a bad idea"

I did not say tell them that, it is just a fact and a shop should have policy to make sure they understand. A show room and 3d drawings are a must in this market.

I will agree to disagree. The customers of the OP seem reasonable to me.

I'm going to shoot you an email about some economic stuff that has been rattling around in my skull.