When a Customer Calls Too Often

Advice on managing clients who like to check up frequently on their job's progress. November 26, 2007

How do you handle the client that is continually bugging you about a completion date? This is assuming that you are not behind schedule on their project. I have a client that calls and calls... "Just calling to see how you're coming on those cabinets." If I tell him 3 weeks, he calls back in a week and a half... "Just checking to see when you might have those cabinets done." I built another cabinet for this guy before this one. Same story, calling me every week until it was done. He had to have it done by this certain date to beat the carpet installers. I got it done on the date he requested, went to install it, and there was no electricity and no lights. What do you do? I have started screening my calls, by the way, and usually don't answer his.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor B:
Caller ID, the best gadget. As you said, I just don't answer his calls.

From contributor P:
Sure, it's irritating, but how long does it take to say: "We are on schedule for delivery on the XXth." This is a chance to keep your clients happy or to start making them nervous (when you don't respond). There are all kinds of clients, and some are a pain, but their money is green. If a client really takes up an inordinate amount of time, ask them to contact you by email instead. That way you can control the response. If you don't want to pick up the phone while you are on the shop floor, leave an email address in your message. I think that ignoring customers is risky.

From contributor J:
I agree with both previous posts. I screen all my calls. This way I can return their call later when I have a free moment to spend with them. I also communicate frequently by e-mail. This allows me to keep in contact after hours, on breaks, or whenever, and allows them to respond likewise.

From contributor B:
I like e-mail. I can return it when I have time, and there is a track record of the contact. Not returning a call might be risky, but when I am interrupted several times a day from the same customer, it is difficult to get something done. If I had a secretary, that would be different.

From contributor D:
A speaker/consultant I've seen refers to the time between the order and the completion as the "twilight zone" - she recommended being proactive and setting up a day/time (once a week, if I recall), where you call the clients and give them updates, even if there's no update. That way they don't have as much of a chance to obsess, and you look good in their eyes. When I worked for Crate&Barrel Furniture, they also talked about that period of time, where the order becomes much more than just a custom sofa - it becomes the key to a perfect, happy life, and being proactive helps keep their expectations in check. Also, it structures your time rather than running to grab the phone at all odd times. This is also one of the reasons I like email now... I can send it when it works for me; they can read it when it works for them.

From contributor H:
So if I got the numbers right, he calls you maybe twice in three weeks? What's the big deal? If he called you every other day or twice a week, I could see a problem. If this guy really bothers you so much, why do you work for him? Raise your prices to him on successive jobs. If he wants it in a hurry, he needs to pay a premium. It is a pain when folks interrupt what you are doing, especially if you're on a productive roll. If they did not come through the door or call on the phone, then what? It's part of this biz.

From contributor T:
Every time he calls, just tell him that everything is right on track and in a joking manner, tell him that by him keeping you on the phone, he's delaying your production so it may be late! He's just excited about his project. It's happened to me before. This is a good client because he obviously has a big mouth and that will lead to referrals!

From contributor N:
So is this guy retired? Contributor T has the best advice. Stay upbeat, answer his questions, but keep it short each time so he gets used to the limited phone call length. This guy could be a great source of referrals, then again he could be your newest best friend and may call you every week for the next 20 years and have lots of little projects for you to do.

From contributor S:
When I start to get irritated with a customer, all I have to do is think back to the Carter years when customers were few and far between. Or when Reagan changed the tax laws in `86, kicking off the S&L fiasco and shutting down entire industries - again, customers were few and far between. Maybe that's why I have zero tolerance these days for suppliers who act as though my business is not important.

From contributor C:
How does Wood-Mizer treat those customers that can be a pain? I have never heard anyone say that WM would not return a call as soon as possible or was impolite. Look at their reputation. I do my best to emulate. I take all calls. (I know how to be polite and brief at the same time.) I get back to all calls on the answering machine, I answer all e-mails ASAP. I delegate these calls if necessary.

If a customer is calling too much about his order, nip it in the bud by calling them before they call you. It will relax them. You have made them important. I look to WM as setting the bar high when it comes to customer relations. Do you think their business is booming?

From contributor K:
This kind of guy is excited about his new purchase, and wants to be involved in the process. If you really want him to stop calling, try this: Take a quick digital photo of his project at the end of the day, maybe once a week, and email it to him with a short note telling him "we're still on schedule for your delivery date." It takes 2 minutes after work hours, and you'll look like a hero. If the guy's got any friends, you better bet he is going to tell them how great you are and what exceptional customer service he received! Your reputation for great customer service will always help your business.