When do you stop guaranteeing work for a problem customer?

FibreFresh

New Member
Mar 23, 2022
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Jamie Klima
I'm hoping some of you seasoned professionals can help me see if I handled a recent problem customer properly, or should have done things differently...

She was a customer since before I owned the business (I bought it 7 years ago). She has always been one of the most demanding of my customers, and has always had very untidy pets (the kind that not only urinate in the house but also deficate). I have always provided additional pet spotting and other services at no charge, however, the last two times I performed work, I found worms under some of the furniture and had to decontaminate my tools and truck; the first time I did this with no extra charge. The last time, I charged for the decontamination because she had not had the issue dealt with, and explained that to her (I don't do pest control).

I did the work in mid August last year, and in November (more than 90 days later), she called me back for an issue with her main entry stairs, saying "your guys didn't do a good job on my stairs" (I am an owner operator and she is fully aware that I was the "guy" who did the work). I apologized for the mixup and asked why it took over 3 months for her to notice and call me back. She gave 3 different reasons (including, I know you're busy, so I waited an extra month). I told her I would come back to look at it, but explained that after so much time had passed it would be difficult to tell if it was an issue with the work, or if it was as a result of the stairs being used by people and pets every day, and that if I couldn't determine that it was an issue with workmanship, there would be a charge to clean the areas in question. She tried to show me a "line" halfway up the side risers (the little triangles) on one side of the staircase, which I honestly couldn't see. Maybe it was just the way the carpet reflected the light (which was off to the side of the staircase) created a shadow, even with a flashlight I couldn't tell. I also (probably a mistake) explained that I often don't need to clean the side risers because there is no foot traffic and they usually only need a dry vacuum to look really good, but that I always clean them if there are spots or spills (which there were none on these).

Since I felt that I could see no real visible issue with the stairs, even the treads still looked quite clean, I told her that I could not offer a free clean of her stairs, but that I would make an exception and waive my minimum charge (keep in mind that this would also require another decontamination of my truck and tools, since there was no mention of whether she dealt with the insect issue) which would be about half of the minimum charge. She wasn't very happy with that, and I did apologize again, but also reminded her that 3 months was a long time to wait if she wasn't happy with the work. She said not to worry about it, she would have another company fix it. I wasn't excited about losing a longtime customer, but I also realized that I have never made any profit when I do work for her and have often had to return at no charge at least once (I very rarely have to return to other jobs). A month later, she called me again (I was foolish to keep answering her calls, but it's a small town and I know I'll see her around), she proceeded to tell me that I would return to "fix" her stairs because "she knows a lot of people" and essentially said that she will go out of her way to do as much bad advertising as possible for my business if I didn't return. When I politely told her that I would return for the cost of cleaning, she proceeded to yell at me about my questionable business ethics, my morals etc. until I finally hung up. I wrote off the whole thing as experience, and moved on, but now about 2 weeks ago, she called saying that she wanted us to try things again "because I do good work" and said it was my choice if I wanted to continue the business relationship. Absolutely not. My wife returned the call and told her that it was nice she wanted things to be amicable but that we felt it was best for her to find another cleaner since she wasn't happy last time, to which she answered "No!" some choice I had...after trying to calmly talk to her, and after she once again threatened to tell as many as possible how much of a bad person I am and how bad our business is, my wife finally had to just hang up. Now she's written a bad review (my first bad review in 7 years) about a job that was done 7 months ago.

So, should I have guaranteed my work longer than 90 days? Should I have done more to put up with a problem customer rather than have a dissatisfied customer? Should I have walked away sooner? When does being an angry disgruntled customer cross the line to harassment?
 
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thedunknz

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Mar 21, 2022
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Duncan Clements
It sounds like you've gone above and beyond in your customer service. We should always be polite and respectful but having nothing more to do with someone like that is a good thing. People like that will just drag you down. I wouldn't worry about the bad review. Being in a small town may well work to your advantage - people talk. Someone who behaves like that may well have a bit of a reputation around town, they lose all credibility. You may even find a customer or 2 will speak up in your defence. Anyone with common sense would look at all the positive reviews and see that somethings probably not right with the one negative.
Also, jobs need to be profitable. We're there to give them a quality service, but to also make a living. Otherwise we're just doing people favors.
Hope my 2 cents helps!
 
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sbsscn

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Sep 17, 2009
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Arm Ben
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I am sorry for the experience that you have and are going through.

This is my opinion and hopefully respectful advise to you

I have a 15day warranty/guarantee stated on my invoice (in writing).
Only mention it to customers that you feel that might have issues.

Document everything down and get a signature.

I think what will help you is to SLOW down

If this is the 1st and only bad review then relax, its ok.
Yes, its true that no one wants a bad review but knowing how to deal with a problematic customer or a bad review is worth more than gold, and the peace that it brings you along with wisdom.

whenever you have someone who has crossed the line, never, I mean NEvER loose your cool, patience and professionalism.

When this woman began to threaten you with negative reviews and black listing you, You needed to not call her back. Even if its a small town you do not communicate with her no matter what.

You have gone far and beyond in helping her. No matter what she says and no matter what you do, you will never be able to satisfy her. Let her go.

Ive had people try to yell at me, either in person or over the phone I NEVER allow it, Period. I also never let anyone begin to curse at me no matter what. And if at any point I feel threatened or disrespected then I do NOT serve them, no matter what.

I would not answer or return her calls.

90 days is toooo long of a guarantee.


Never engage with a person that has already signaled you that their intentions are malicious.

I am extremely respectful and never use any fowl or profanity .
Therefore I do not give anyone ay excuse or reason for them to cross the respect line.

Remember this, You are the professional.

If they are upset, let them vent and express their concern but never allow yelling or screaming, Do apologize if you are wrong and accept accountability.

Man do I have stories, a ton of them!

What I always do is pay SUPER ATTENTION to their tone, attitude and body language.
On the phone I pay attention and even take notes.
I feel that I am interviewing my customers and I do Filter what job and people hire me.

You need to always take your time and inspect everything as thoroughly as much as possible.
Communicate and observe the person making the decisions.
If at any point something is just not looking or feeling right, walk away.

You do not want to end up owning a job.
 
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FibreFresh

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Mar 23, 2022
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Jamie Klima
Thank you for the reply! That is all fantastic advice. I will be adding the warranty/guarantee to the invoice as suggested. It's good to know that I did most things right, basically just shouldn't have answered the phone again after she yelled at me the first time.
 

Sapphire Steamer

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Feb 13, 2011
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Bret Furtado
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I also feel that you went above and beyond to help this customer and try to make it right, but we all know you did the job right the first time and were happy to invest in your customer by offering free redo's. Personally, I take it a red flag if a customer starts asking about my redo policy, mentions "they have to keep coming back because this spot comes back", or things of that nature. I do all the work, know I did the job right the first time and typically always charge for return visits. It's all about setting expectations. The best course of action for me is to advise the customer on why the spot may be coming back (wicking), that I usually charge for return visits unless I missed something, and do a post cleaning walk-through on the job to allow an opportunity for the customer to express their feelings about the work.

Granted, the customer is the most important part of any business, but I've fired customers that were too much stress to work for and have denied return visits when a customer tries to pressure me just to get an extra free cleaning. This also goes for those who want me to charge less than my asking price. At the end of the day, it's my business, and I'll do what I feel is best. Keep the vision, man!

Sorry about the bad review, I worry often about getting one and I know it's coming sooner or later regardless of how good a job or customer service focused any cleaner is. Email your other customers that haven't left a review yet and ask for one, you will get a lot of hits and it will be forgotten in no time. Also, reply using your professionalism and own the situation.
 

sbsscn

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Sep 17, 2009
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Arm Ben
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I have a 15 day guarantee and I explain how it work to my clients/customers. I only will come back 1 time and redo free of charge, after that I wont do any more free work period.

I also never reply to a negative review. I do not do that because I do not want to enlarge the situation with a back and forth, and worst of all ( and I see this all of the time) the customer aggravates or provokes the cleaner and it gets seen by everyone.
Understand this

NO ONE is going to take sides when you loose your cool and professionalism, because its not about wining the argument. Dont listen to anyone who tells you to argue especially on a review website.

If you want to reply to the customer , resolve it in person not over the internet.

in your case I wouldnt communicate anymore with this person Unless she apologizes and accepts that the relationship is broken.
 
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mark5975

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May 16, 2015
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mark haynes
If I was there I might just clean it for free and when she called back for the next job explain that I I don't think I will meet her expectations and would not want to leave her unsatisfied again and pass on the job.
I wouldn't worry about a bad review If you have 7 years of good ones, I think It makes you look like your reviews are real.
I would respond to her review by starting off with "I'm so sorry we did not meet your expectations" then go on to explain all the steps you took to do so.
 
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FibreFresh

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Mar 23, 2022
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Jamie Klima
Thank you all for the awesome replies, I really appreciate the great advice! It feels really good to know I did almost everything right to prevent this.
I've since learned that she went into at least the local flooring store to slander me, but her reputation preceded her and they just laughed. They also let me know that she got kicked out of several local restaurants for causing a disturbance the same week she wrote the review, so she's just crazy.
I have stopped all communication with the customer and blocked her phone numbers. I will be adding a 15-day guarantee to my invoices to prevent this being an issue in the future, and I'm always working to improve my customer service skills. The review only came after I declined to do more work for her because she wasn't happy with the previous work. The yelling and threats of bad publicity were simply meant to scare me into continuing to work for her, which just made me more determined not to return. I do find it frustrating that I couldn't find a way to dispute a legitimately false review. I did post my side of it in a professional, but honest reply and decided to just move on.
 
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