May 7, 2007

More on Problem Solving

By Paul Bieber

Last week we defined a problem as an event that interrupts your planned day which will cost you money or time (really the same thing) to fix, beyond what you had planned.

Customers, vendors, your boss or your employees will throw you one curve ball every day. Guaranteed. I usually try to leave an hour free each day, planned, to problem solve. The best time is mid-to-late morning. Your problems of no-shows, bounced checks, late deliveries and delayed job sites will all be in by then. Leaving this hour for problem solving lets you regroup and salvage the afternoon for productivity. In the unlikely chance that no problem occurred, then use this suddenly found hour of time to attack the to-do list you have taped to your computer monitor.

If you still don’t have something to do, do the best thing possible…follow-up on quotes, call customers, and generate more revenue, which will give you more chances of having problems. Yes, it is one heck of a treadmill we are on.

Back to problems…Some days you’ll have more problems than you can solve in the allotted hour. The most important problems then get solved first. Easy for me to say sitting here. The most important problem is one that will upset a good customer. Forget about solving your vendor’s problem, and Aunt Margie. Good customers come first, next employees and then the loudest.

Then you have to have your own definition of a good customer. Mine is: Someone who lets you make a fair profit on your dealings. Solve this person’s problem first.

The best advice I was ever given is this: “Sometimes you can’t solve every problem”.

When a customer says come over and change something now, you have to decide if this indeed was part of the original job or is it really an add. Sometimes the answer to the customer is NO because you didn’t have that in your original time schedule and if you spend extra time, which would be billable, then you are throwing every job on the calendar back. Yes, it is a problem for the customer, but you have to be firm in that it is not a problem for your company, right at this moment.

The other very tough answer is when you say that you hear what the customer says, and yes indeed it is a problem, like the wrong color glass is being installed, but that you can’t solve the problem this minute because it takes a week to get the corrected order. Customers would rather hear that their problem will be solved in one hour, but you are better off telling them it will be a week. They’ll be unhappy, OK, but you will a have that week to make sure the second go will be perfect.

At the other end of the line, don’t go out of your way for the person that stops a check, or threatens you with lawyers and penalties. If you can’t work out something with reasonableness on both sides, you will never please that customer, no matter what. Once the customer has threatened you, to save face, they will have to be all bull and bluster until the job is finished, and they’ll show you with a silly punch list. When you get a feeling that a customer is more in love with the charge back than they are with job, accept the fact you are going to get beaten for money anyway, and let it be for your slow response to their problem. Either way, you are eating a certain amount on jobs like this.

So the real trick in problem solving is which problems to solve. If you pick the right ones, you will have many satisfied customers, which is why we are in this business.