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August 28, 2011 8:00 AM CDT

The customer is always No. 1

Contractor tip of the month


The customer is always No. 1.

The customer is always No. 1.
How far do you go to please your customers? If they complain about something that isn’t your fault or that you can’t change, do you argue with them? Or, do you hear them out and let them know that you will try to do better next time? One thing in business never changes: The Customer is always No. 1.

For each of the last 28 years, I have gone quail hunting in South Carolina with Dad and 21 other friends. Dad put the original group together and always organized the trip. A few years ago, Dad asked if my brother and I would take over and carry on the tradition. Dad still does the cooking, while we organize and run the hunting part of the trip. Through the years, we’ve all become good friends with Henry, who owns the hunting preserve. So, every year when we return, Henry visits with us while we are there.

One night, while playing cards a few years ago, Doodle, the guy Henry had running the preserve, came to the poker table and said, “Henry and Damian, I need both of you in the back of the cabin to discuss a problem.” When we arrived there, Bill (a friend of mine who was pickled due to too much alcohol consumption) was standing there looking really upset.

Doodle said, “Bill, you just go ahead and tell Henry and Damian the problems you have with the hunting preserve, just like you have been complaining to me. That way, they can get it right from the horse’s mouth.”

Henry asked, “What’s wrong Bill?”

Bill replied, “Doodle gave my group a bad hunting dog today.”

Henry asked Doodle, “What dog did you give Bill?”

Doodle replied, “Sugar.”

Henry asked, “Isn’t Sugar the best dog we have?”

“Yes,” Doodle replied.

“Anything else, Bill?” Henry asked.

“Yes; Doodle won’t let us ride the all-terrain vehicles after dark.”

Doodle said, “Henry, you know they busted the windshield out of one last year, and you told me not to let them take them out after dark anymore.”

“Okay,” Henry said, “is there any other issues here Bill?”

Bill replied, “Yes, Doodle would not bring us any beer when we were out in the field.”

Doodle said, “Henry, they’re hunting, and you know they’re not allowed to drink when hunting.”

Again, Henry said, “Okay, are there any other issues we have here?”

Bill finally replied “No.”

Henry looked at Bill as sincerely as he could and said, “Well, we will just try to do better next year.”

We went back to the card table and not another word was said.

What a wonderful relationship-building lesson I learned by watching Henry handle that situation. Instead of trying to defend himself and the rules of his preserve, he just listened to Bill’s concerns, while focusing on the big picture. He could have argued in defense on every one of Bill’s complaints, but remembered that the customer is always No. 1. Henry knew he never had to do anything different to please Bill, and that when Bill woke up the next morning and thought about what he complained about the night before, he would solve his own problems. And, he did just that. Henry hasn’t changed a thing, and Bill has been back several years since that time. In fact, we’ve never heard anything but praise from Bill since. Even though there was nothing Henry would change to address Bill’s concerns that night, Henry developed a loyal customer simply by listening to the concerns of his customer.

You see, many times, customers, much like your kids, want to have your attention and be heard, to know that they matter to you. It’s their hard-earned money they’re spending, and they want to feel they are more than a deposit into your checkbook. So, when a customer complains about something you are doing, don’t argue or become defensive. Even if the customer is wrong or simply unreasonable, if you listen sincerely and reply honestly, it is a great opportunity to build a lasting relationship. And, if you think about that before you react, you’ll get a whole lot more of their hard-earned money in the future.

About the Author

Damian Lang is a mason contractor in southeast Ohio and inventor of many labor saving masonry systems and products. Lang has served as the Marketing Committee Chairman for the Mason Contractors Association of America. He is also author of the book Rewarding and Challenging Employees for Profits in Masonry. To network with Damian on contractor tips or tips you have and would like published, contact him at or 740-749-3512.


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