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Always Do the Right Thing for Your Client

Doing the right thing might not always be easy. And it might not always be the most profitable. But a large part of being successful as an integrator is developing a solid reputation for always doing the right thing, and it will almost definitely win out in the long run.

Da Mayor: Doctor…

Mookie: C’mon, what. What?

Da Mayor: Always do the right thing.

Mookie: That’s it?

Da Mayor: That’s it.

Do the Right Thing, Spike Lee

A while ago I made the decision to hire someone to do basic mow-and-blow maintenance on my lawn. I made this decision much like many of our custom installation customers hire us; they needed a service—like connecting their system, or wall mounting a TV or troubleshooting a problem—that they either couldn’t or didn’t want to do themselves.

My gardener—Mr. R—comes every two weeks and cuts the grass, edges around the driveway, and blows down the clippings. Could I do this myself? Sure. But after analyzing how much time it took to do all of this—maintaining the mower, getting the gas, cutting the lawn, cleaning the equipment and putting it away, bagging the grass and then cleaning up afterwards—I decided that my time was more valuable than what I pay Mr. R to do the job for me.

However, Mr. R has a bad habit of driving over sprinkler heads and breaking them. He’s done it five times so far. Then he has the even worse habit of not telling me about it. So instead of dealing with it straight away, at some point I randomly discover that one of the sprinklers has been obliterated and that is has been hemorrhaging water for who-knows-how-many-days.

When I discover this, well, I get pretty upset. I no longer think about the great job Mr. R did cutting the grass or the time that he is saving me. I am rage-focused to seeing only that damn broken sprinkler and wonder why he didn’t have the courtesy to tell me about it, or, better yet, to take the initiative to repair the problem himself and saving me the time and expense. Instead I have to spend part of my time digging up sprinkler lines, cutting out the broken parts, driving to Lowe’s to get replacements and then repairing the system and putting the lawn back together.

Do you think this is likely to make me want to recommend Mr. R to others?

Over the years, I have made my share of mistakes on jobsites. I slipped off of a rafter in an attic and fell into a client’s kitchen, which was every bit as graceful as you are imagining. I’ve had drills that have “walked” on me and torn up other trades’ wiring. I’ve “missed” drilling up from a crawl space and drilled a hole up through a client’s floor. I’ve moved furniture that has scratched up a customer’s hardwood flooring. I’ve dropped a soldering iron onto carpeting. I’ve…well, you get the idea. (Hey, 15 years is a long time to accumulate some screw-ups…)

Mistakes happen, but if you make one, own up to it. And if it is in your power, then rectify it. In short, do the right thing.

Now, doing the right thing can come in different forms. Here are three:

Fess Up

Regardless of how careful you or your company is, if you’re in the installation business for any amount of time, you are going to mess something up at. And, it totally sucks each and every time. But after you get over that horrible, gut-wrenching moment of, “Oh, CRAP!!!” then you need to regroup, regain your composure and let the powers-that-be know.

On a construction site, that’s going to be either the builder or foreman or the other trade (electrician, plumber, etc.) whose work you damaged. Often these little “Whoops!” are fairly easy to fix. Even if it is totally fixable—say a cut wire—the right thing is to let the other trade know about it. Ultimately, if it doesn’t work after the fact, they are going to be the ones responsible for it, so you should give them the option of fixing it themselves, or letting them OK your fix.

In a customer’s home, this will mean telling the homeowner directly and will usually require a repair that is more involved. When this happens, my first course is to bring my team together and we “huddle it out.” What happened? Why did it happen? And, most importantly, what is it going to take to fix it? My lead installer, Tom, is amazing when it comes to repairing things or knowing what needs to be done. He can often detail a lengthy, “Here’s what needs to be done…” list for me to figure out the exact nature of the repair.

Once we come up with a game plan, I will meet with the homeowner and ask if I can have a quick minute. I explain what happened, show them what happened, and then explain what we’re going to do to resolve it. Sometimes this means paying out of pocket to hire another trade—floor refinisher, cabinet maker, etc.—but this is the right thing to not only fix the problem but to restore customer confidence.

Clients Before Profits

We’re all in the business to make money, but sometimes making decisions that don’t make you money in the short term will be the ones that pay off in the long run. We’ve all been on jobs where the client says, “I have a lot of old gear; can I use any of it?” While the easy thing may be to just scrap everything and start fresh, there are a lot of times where things can be easily incorporated into the system.

Other times the right thing may be the less profitable thing. We had a project where the client asked us to replace all of his speakers to improve the audio. For a variety of reasons (it was an existing 70-volt system, the client had a limited budget and didn’t want to increase any hole sizes) we were very limited on the speaker we could install. We ordered all new speakers and after replacing a few determined that what we were installing sounded no better than what he had before. We called the client and told him that without investing significantly more than our original budget, what we had was really no better and that we were going to take it all back and not charge him anything. Did this cost me in the short term? Yes. But I’ve got a client now that whole-heartedly believes me when I tell him that what I’m going to do something.

No Short-Cuts

Have you ever taken over another integrator’s job where the client shows you an equipment list of what they were told they paid for but that doesn’t match up to what they have? A receiver, speaker or sub that is from a different, lower quality manufacturer or that is a lower-end model than they were supposed to receive?

When you saw that, what’s your immediate thought? That the other guy ripped the client off, right? And even though the other gear might do exactly what it needs to from a features standpoint, it wasn’t the right thing. Other times you just know that the original component spec’d in really isn’t the best thing for a job. Maybe something newer came out. Maybe something better. Fellow Residential Systems blogger, Heather Sidorowicz, talked about this in her post, “Sacrificing Profits to Keep a Client Happy.” 

There are decisions that you’ll make in the rack that only you will know about. Times where a cheaper this or other brand that could be substituted without the client ever knowing. Maybe it’s as simple as a lower end cable or a surge protector. But you’ll know, and you know it’s the wrong thing.

Doing the right thing might not always be easy. And it might not always be the most profitable. But a large part of being successful as an integrator is developing a solid reputation for always doing the right thing, and it will almost definitely win out in the long run. And that’s it.