The Nuance of Navigating Clients
1. When I started out in Season 1 of the podcast, I said I learned through trial by fire, I’m not from a construction family. It was the school of hard knocks all day long. I always strove for definition in my work so I could express what I was doing for clients i.e “know what you’re selling” and understand why I was doing it for myself i.e. a need to understand purpose.
2. When I started my business I wanted to be different. Yeah yeah, don’t we all but I meant in the sense that I wanted people to think about contractors differently where I live. To remove the stigma on some level. Was that idealistic, yes. Naïve, a bit.
How exactly was I going to do this?
Not be a sleazy contractor?
Do good work?
Follow through with what I said?
That’s what everyone says. And, also, those were already characteristics I had. I’ve always been an if you’re on time you’re late kinda guy.
Ok, I wanted to create a positive overall experience. I started saying “specializing in kitchens, baths, full home remodels and client care.”
A couple of my good friends laughed when they heard the ad. “Client care?” These are good and supportive friends that were just giving me a hard time but I meant it. I was diving into being a better builder at the human level. And guess what, it resonated. Incoming potential clients responded to it. There was a sense of trust built into the first conversation.
Ok maybe some skepticism but just work with me people.
The need for definition in my work and bettering my understanding of clients brings me here.
What I know today is that, its not just money on the line, its not just a potential payday calling. It’s a person with a unique set of circumstances calling you. It cannot be dismissed as much as we would all like it to be black and white. Our interactions with clients are unique in that they are not familiar. They are not friends. They are not employees and staff. We use different language with those familiar to us. We talk openly about body language and nuance. We enjoy being able to read each other on a personal level and the person being read is often flattered by that level of understanding.
So you know what Im talking about
When something goes south or the wheels come off with clients, most of the time it can be traced back to communication. We as builders have the experience and its our choice whether to unlock our full experience and share it with our customers and benefit form this tool.
We must lead.
This is not about miscommunication, I mean, it is but it isn’t. It’s more about observation and, also, gut. Look, I believe in following my gut even though I don’t believe in being ruled by emotion. I follow information.
This nuanced stuff can also be picked up by observation, but it’s often what informs our gut. Knowing that actually allows me to rationally say “follow your gut”. You were informed through some non-verbal communication. Now, if you’re present, you’re paying attention, you’re practicing, you’re putting in the time. You’re going to observe the nuance of your interactions which will improve your building game and keep building enjoyable.
Because if you don’t like it, there’ no point in doing it.
The hard knocks of working with clients is when it goes wrong.
Nuance the subtle difference in or shade of meaning, expression, or sound.
We’ll take a look at this in the context of strangers on the phone and after a contract is signed and a remodel
Obviously, psychology plays into our everyday interactions so lets get into the first impressions. I’m not going into “qualifying clients on the phone” per se in this podcast. I hit on that in episodes 9 and 10 of Season 1. Also, this episode is not specifically going to talk about red flags. This is not the “do they have money” conversation. It’s not “get it in writing”
The contractor client relationship is complex. This is roots right here.
You take a call
Here are some factors shade your listening and response:
Bias- towards say project type
Naivity towards their set of circumstances or experience
So, you’re listening largely to tone and how it effects the definition of the words being said
-People are stupid- stop it- living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see
Factors shading their interview of you
Naivety of the construction process
Bias in preference and experience
So, the words start coming out
You’re exploring meaning “what do they want?”
and interpreting expression “what do they really need?”
How do they sound? This is big. Patient? Decent? Serious? Experienced
On the other end they may be sitting with the stigma, is this person honest?
They’re listening to your tone and candor
Is this a surly contractor, are they confident, are they listening?
All of this is flavored by your moods, circumstances and you wanting to know whether they are qualified. And there are many permutations of how each side interprets the other.
Self observation is key
At this point, you are qualifying them via GUT and if your gut says yes, then, a set of qualifying questions. Note: keep your eyes peeled for my article coming out in Pro Remodeler Magazine about Qualifying your clients over the phone. It should be out shortly here and will be a good complement to this podcast episode.
So, initial contact is mostly gut informed by nuance.
Hey, the answers you get to your qualifying questions may also inform your gut but they generally inform the mechanics and finances of your business. They check other boxes.
If there are red flags or they don’t pass muster, done.
If not, we move on to the next box.
As an aside here, because its happened recently
If, during that conversation, if I have heard experience, earnestness to do the job, or enthusiasm, those are ringing my bell (qualifiers notwithstanding)
I may not even like everything I’m hearing but here’s some “think again” influenced by that nuance, there might be a shift in my head from “I would never do that kind of project” to a “hell ya” based on the tone and expression of that person on the phone.
I love when people change my mind, but I digress.
Let’s fast forward. They passed muster through your qualification process. You’ve met. You’ve estimated, provide a quote and contract. You’ve charmed them. You’ve explained your, possibly, transparent contract. You have signed the contract. Qualifiers and red flags be damned, it’s showtime!
Did hearing all that at once make you a little anxious? Good. It shows you’re open to suggestion. Still teachable.
So here you are with project underway:
have built trust, secured your clients confidence, and now you manage expectations, check-in, and monitor.
From their end:
We are excited and happy with our choice, he has all our money
Let’s just say for kicks, it’s a new home. It’s raining, things are moving slow with framing, the yard is a mud bath and you are meeting your clients, Phil and Claire, on site where there is no shelter.
Of course, this is just a bad permutation.
No one is in a good mood.
You’re a bit short with Phil and Claire bc the framers aren’t telling you what you want to hear but you didn’t transcend that mood, you’re transmitting it. Your state of being made Phil and Claire uncomfortable to ask you all the questions that were excited to ask.
They heard your words, you sounded different. You did’nt sound like Mr. or Mrs. I love Building Houses today. Your body language and tone expressed that you, in fact, didn’t love building houses today. You didn’t transcend your mood. You didn’t blow it off, whatever you wanna call it.
On your own time, you allow yourself to go back and forth between I love it and if I never build again I don’t give a crap bc we have the right to simultaneously hold two opposing positions. On our own time.
However, Phil and Claire are not your friends, they don’t need to experience this, they are the opposite side of a nuanced transaction and you are their leader.
Phew, the sun comes out, the yard dries up despite to ruts, the roof tin is on the windows are in.
Its time for a walk through and a landmark payment. You’re beaming when your Phil and Claire roll up. They are smiling too but their expressions are subdued. They love seeing their windows in. Hopefully you are reminding them of the special custom items, how the rooms will be used, cool switching, and finishes as you do the walk through.
When you get the check, the handshakes are weak and the smiles forced.
The change in tone and expression are unmistakable.
But you both brush it off. Its just words, just a blip.
To them Moody Mark, your new nickname, they say “he’s a pretty good guy”.
And you think, “it’s nothin”.
But you all experienced a shift.
Your facial expression showed absolute discomfort that didn’t match your exuberance. Their smiles, forced.
Ok, hopefully it’s not a big deal. This custom home relationship is long term. If you were just dating, you might have just got dumped right there. But, you’re not dating. You’re the leader. When you pick up on a shift like this do you act on it or just let it go? Tell me in an email to email@example.com, a dm on Instagram, or in a review
I would argue that you act on it.
Is any of this sounding familiar? Can you extrapolate this to a situation in your life?
If so, tell me about it in a review of this independently produced podcast. I enjoy putting this podcast together and if you find value or affirmation in the content, help me out by sharing it on social, texting it to a friend like Bergie did, or write the review.
On a remodel simultaneously going on, you’re explaining to Lily and Marshall why a radiant field in poured concrete is a better option than just removing a step up into the bedroom and replacing the subfloor. Marshall acting like he knows what you’re talking about, full BBQ Bob mode, she’s glazing over. You finish your explanation and move on to your next appointment. The couple calls that night and says they don’t want to spend the extra money to bring the bathroom in plane with the bedroom despite your best efforts to explain why it would make the bathroom universally accessible if someone becomes disabled. That it will be a fraction of the price to do it now instead of when someone becomes disabled and its an emergency and that it is a big selling point should they want to ever sell that house.
“Screw it”, you think to yourself, “their money, their house” but you’re simultaneously recalling that they were not really listening to your rational, to your wisdom, to your experience. Marshall was saying he understands as if he had experience, but was in fact annoying you and you let it get to you, so you disengaged. Lily was not engaged for whatever the reason might be that day. Fast forward 5 weeks, the bathroom is ready for tile. Lily says, I thought the bathroom and bedroom were going to be the same height, isn’t this why we are doing this?”
I know id didn’t give you all the details, that’s bc some were ignored.
And there you were all smug thinking you had explained yourself, communicated. You had been talking about it from the get-go. Lily, in particular, had never understood.
Is this the clients fault, hardly. Is this episode about miscommunication. Hardly. Its about nuance. Picking up on expression, tone, and meaning.
Moody Mark ignored the fact that Marshall’s “yes” actually meant “no, I’m not clear on this.” He watched Lily blink and lose eye contact when talking about elevation details, mostly bc her enthusiasm for finish materials gave him false assurance that she was “getting it”. Now, he’s in a jam because, guess what, he has to explain why he and they had different expectations, figure out how to fix it, re-schedule a lot of stuff, and money.
As abstract an issue as arose here, the question is do you want to have your client say “I didn’t know it was going to look like that.”
But I ask you, is Lily right or is he right? You tell me. Same deal as above. Email, dm, review, no matter where you are listening in the world.
Ya know, I didn’t know exactly where this “nuance” rabbit hole would go but I want to give a positive example too.
You may know that when I am dealing with a couple, I like to identify the boss, the spokesperson, the representative of the couple as my single point of regular contact. At the same time, I am also careful to make sure that everyone feels included in the conversation, particularly if one person is shy or quiet. So, let’s talk about the shy one.
Their communication is essentially non-verbal.
In a meeting, you’re tossing out ideas and see eyes light up but no words from shy one. Type A partner is telling you the plan but shy partner frowns. Ok, here’s also that fine line between navigating clients and couples counseling. Do not couples council! Do not comment on someone’s relationship, ever! Hey. That ones on me, no charge. Ok, now I’m putting out ideas and watching body language. I’m politely listening Type A partner and feeding shy partner. You get the picture, just picking up on some signals can give you an opportunity to take a project in a direction that is better for your clients and potentially more interesting for you. Just from looking beyond the words or lack thereof.
When you get in a room with people, you have a small window of opportunity to learn about them and inform them. When you are inquisitive and speak candidly about the project at hand, the client notices. The sooner you build trust, the stronger the trust is. The better the project outcome.
So, are you an observer of your clients? Are you listening for the nuance in the conversation? Are you willing to take the risk and say, “this is what I am seeing, this is what I am hearing, or are you going to assume there is understanding.
Trust me when I say that stepping outside of your comfort zone to ask if you are reading something correctly will garner respect. No one likes to put themselves in a position of vulnerability but when you do, your clients will see it as a strength, not a weakness. It’s coming from a point of wisdom and being confident about that position.
Aside from reaching out with your answers or feedback in whatever form it takes, I want to do something else, if you’re not already. Start zooming out, after your conversations with clients. You can call it replay, rewind, whatever. Observe yourself in the conversation, you will be more informed about the conversation, and be more practiced for future conversations.
The sooner you start to practice new habits in the business, the quicker they will become second nature, fortifying your foundation, avoiding deferred maintenance, and allowing you to build upon that.
BEING A GOOD CONTRACTOR IS A NECCESSITY FOR ME, its not just about chasing the dollar. It’s not just a promise of quality at a fair price. It’s about a positive experience for my client and enjoying my work. If I don’t dissect the interactions to understand them better, I create blind spots, I make mistakes, I miss opportunities, and set myself up for not enjoying my work.
At the end of the day, I try to self-examine when something goes wrong.
Before I look to point my finger at someone else. Ive done it. I love building and I want to enjoy it because when I’m happy, the money follows. I love what I do my friends.
Next week: Desmond Tse. The Siding Guy joins me to talk about best practices in operating a trade contracting business, financial responsibility, how he got started in trades and, of course, his favorite hack.
In two weeks: Joe Mitchell of Finish Point Trim and Millwork joins me to talk about taking ownership of the project, leading clients, their apprenticeship program and how to prepare for a prospective employer in construction if you are leaving your career at a desk job for a life in the trades.
If you want to support this podcast financially, please click support at the contracting handbook.com, donations of any size are appre ciated, you can sign up for my email list there as well.
Remember, what you do each day is part of your legacy, so create a legacy that matters.
That’s all I got.
The Contracting Handbook podcast is all about the builders and skilled tradesmen and tradeswomen in the construction industry from all over the world and has recently reached the Top 2% of all podcasts globally. Here you’ll meet the tradespeople who took a leap of faith from working their craft to running the own construction company. You’ll meet people who left lucrative careers to enter the trades. For newcomers to running a construction business, there is a ton of advice on “how to” run your contracting company. For established contractors, you get to meet other industry leaders and get behind the scenes of their business and stay up to date with industry change. Mike Knoche, your host, keeps the conversation interesting. He’s been operating his contracting business for over 15 years in the oddly wonderful, Fairbanks, Alaska. Mike’s philosophy is “we are all experts in how we build where we live, but the business basics and business management are universal”. Join us for this global conversation on operating a construction company, mental health, cool projects, and construction industry progress.
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Host: Mike Knoche
Website: The Contracting Handbook
Music Credit: Tell Nobody (The Contracting Handbook theme) by Tiny Pancake Breakfast
Drew Frick- lead guitar
Scott Crass- bass
Brady Anderson- drums
Mike Knoche- rhythm guitar and vocals