July 13, 2008

You Can’t Get a Good Bagel in Western New Hampshire, and Other Problems of Life

By Paul Bieber

It is just one complaint after another…it’s too hot, it’s too cold, the glass is warped, the other guy is ten cents a foot cheaper.

When I ran Floral Glass, we had customers who complained about everything, and those who found a way to make lemonade when life rained Sunkist. Everyone has problems, and the last thing anyone wants to know is that you are having one of those days. Here are some thoughts on how to keep your face smiling, rather than frowning.

•Set realistic goals. Two weeks ago, I had a lot of flying to do. Some people had a goal of landing exactly on time, and if we were ten minutes late, they would be upset. Many upset people on that day. I set my goal as being able to walk off the plane after landing. As long as there was no crash, I had a good flight. I knew up front that every leg of the flight could have been delayed. I scheduled enough time between flights to allow for this. I could have been home an hour earlier, and the cost would have been being under tension for the whole day. Not worth it.

•Order glass from your supplier with enough lead-time for them to do a good job. When your tempered shower doors are a rush, there may not be enough time for proper inspection, or to polish a slight chip. If you quote every job as rush, you will be disappointed way too often. If your customer insists on a rush, explain to them the difficulties and extra costs involved. If they still want a rush, get paid extra for it, and the extra dollars will cover your grief.

•Understand that Murphy’s law (If it can go wrong, it will; and only at the least desirable time) runs your business, and the lives of your employees. With about 240 work days, someone will take a sick day just when you have an important job. The average employee will take five or six sick days per year, or will have an ‘obligation on the first day of hunting season’ and you can’t control it. How to remain calm? Expect that this will happen, and have a good program of cross-training in your company, so that pinch-hitters can step up when needed. They may not be as good as the starting team, but you will get the job finished.

•Accept the fact that you will have to replace people in your company. Moreover, it will always be someone that you think is irreplaceable, but he comes in late, hung over, and can’t read a tape measure until 10:00am. When you finally make this replacement, the rest of your employees will cheer. It is not a problem to replace this guy; it is an opportunity to improve your company!

•“The check is in the mail.” Yes, this is a rough one. How can you turn this happy? Most people call their customers at sixty days and hope to be paid by ninety. Call your customers on the thirty-first day, politely reminding them of your good work, and the terms that were agreed to. It seems that no contractors pay their bills without thirty days of heartburn. If you start at thirty, you will be paid at sixty, and that falls into the “I am still happy time period.”

•You’re upset when your trusted vendor is undercut by a new fabricator from across town. Remember what you tell your customers when you get beat on a price–“If you buy from that guy, you will be calling me in three weeks to correct his work. He cuts too many corners to satisfy you!” When you call up screaming that your first vendor is overcharging you, be sure to compare qualities, and, probably, you will still be smiling. Yes, sometimes you will find a new, less expensive source, but do the experimenting on an easy job, and not the critical job for a fussy customer.