Kudos to you if you readily recommend your lawyer, floor installer, or all-purpose renovator.
Just be aware that if and when the referral goes south, it’s you that might take some of the blame…
Throughout my career as a Realtor, I have given out hundreds of referrals and recommendations to my clients – for mortgage brokers, real estate lawyers, contractors, movers, painters, electricians, carpenters, handymen, and even once for a dog-sitter.
Some of the referrals were good, and some of them blew up in my face.
It often takes years to develop a streamlined, bullet-proof referral network, but in the last year I’ve become very frustrated with some of the people that I recommend or some of the people who I have thought about recommending.
When you recommend somebody – no matter if it’s a baby-sitter, a mechanic, or a great restaurant – you’re expose yourself to blame if the recommendation doesn’t pan out.
Think of the last time you told a friend, “Oh you have GOT to go to the furniture store I bought my couch at! Ask for Michael.” Well when ‘Michael’ has an bad-day and doesn’t smile and jump for your friend the way he did for you, your friend will come back and say, “I don’t know what you’re talking about – he was a dick.”
When the mover you recommend to your cousin ends up breaking his dining-room table, he’s going to let you know about it!
I have completely stopped recommending any sort of contractor, renovator, or handy-man. When was the last time your renovation was finished early and for less than the estimate? In my experience, renovations take twice as long as the time quoted – and often more!
There are only two referrals I give out on a regular basis that have come with 100% client satisfaction, and those are my mortgage broker, Joe Sammut, and my painter, Barry Miller. These guys are solid as rocks, and I’ve never had a complaint.
The reality is, nobody is perfect.
I’ve had three dissatisfied clients in my career, two of which were my fault, and the third was a client that would truly never be happy.
But I strive to bring the best customer service to the table with every single client, every single time, and I aim to blow my clients’ socks off so that they’ll refer me to all their friends.
The same can’t be said, however, for three people who have been referred to me in the past two month – all three who I was using myself, and who I hoped I would be able to recommend to my clients.
As I said – assembling a roster of excellent referral candidates isn’t easy, and I would only recommend somebody if I had a great experience with them myself. But I feel as if many of today’s self-employed individuals aren’t trying to build long-term success, but rather look at each job as a single pay-day, and don’t consider how great customer service will bring them more jobs in the future.
A few months back, I needed a cleaning lady to make my new condo listing shine! She was recommended by a client who said that the cleaning lady cleaned for “ten or twenty” people in her condominium, so I called her up and said, “Do right by me, and I’ll throw a ton of business your way.” I was in a hurry, and I needed the job done asap, so rather than have her in for a quote, I just said, “Charge me what it’s worth.” After all, don’t most cleaning ladies charge within a few bucks of each other?
“Sofia” picked up a key that I had left for her at concierge, and when I went by to inspect the condo that night, it was sparkling! She left me a voicemail and said the job was $150, and while I thought that was a startling amount of money to clean a 600 square foot, 1-bedroom condo, I figured that she made a tremendous effort to get downtown to clean for me with only a half-day’s notice, and I’d stick to my word and pay her the $150.
A week later, I had Sofia clean for two of my clients – a young couple who purchased a house and who were selling both their condos at the same time. Once again, I told Sofia to go to both condos, pick up the keys at concierge, clean them, and then let me know how much. I told her, “I’d expect that the price would be similar to before?” She agreed.
That night, she left me a voicemail and said, “I clean for both the lady and the man – the price is two-hundred.” I paused, and thought that this was reasonable, but $100 per condo is still a lot if this is going to be a long-term gig. But then she continued, “…..and two-forty for the other condo.”
I was shocked. Was she really saying that cleaning two condos was worth $440?
I called Sofia and asked her how the hell she could expect $440 to clean two condos in the same day, when I know for a fact that she left the second condo at 3:00PM. She rambled on and on, saying, “I clean so hard. I work work work. I scrub hard – on my hands and knees!” I don’t want to sound insensitive, but isn’t that her job? It’s like a mechanic saying, “I can’t believe I got motor oil on my shirt!”
I told Sofia, “I’ll tell you what – I get 25 listings per year and I’ll have you clean for all of my clients. I’ll recommend you to dozens of other clients, but you have to charge me a reasonable price – something like $120 per condo. Or, I’ll pay you the $440, and you will never hear from me again. I will never recommend you, and you will lose dozens and dozens of potential clients. The choice is yours.”
No surprise here – she said, “Ummm…..so you pay me four hundred forty dollars?” And I did.
Terrible client-retention, terrible business sense, and awful customer service.
When I was renovating my condo earlier this fall, I was told to purchase my kitchen and shower tile from a local store, and I did so.
The lady was extremely helpful, and although the tile was two weeks late, I was still happy with the service to that point.
When the job was finished, I had eight extra boxes of tiles. I was all set to return them when I got a phone call from the tile-lady, saying, “I accidentally gave you two orders of tile. You’ll need to return them today, otherwise I’m going to have to charge you an extra $2,100.”
Um, okay. But isn’t that like a restaurant giving you the large salad instead of the small salad that you actually ordered, and then charging you for the large one because you ate it?
I brought the tiles back, as well as two full bags of grout. I told her that my tile-installer only used a half of one bag, and that he questioned why she sold me three bags. She tried to tell me that she “didn’t accept returns” on grout, and then finally she said, “I’m sure I can re-sell it, and I’ll credit you. I have your number – I’ll give you a call.”
For a business that sells 10-20 bags of grout each day, I have no doubt that she could have resold them.
But instead of pestering her for the $60 for two bags of grout, I simply sat around and waited for the phone to ring. To me, it was worth “paying” $60 to see if she would hold up her end of the bargain and whether she valued my business, and ultimately whether I could/should/would recommend her.
She never called. I never got the $60, and I’ll never recommend her. For a measly $60, she screwed me. She knew I was in real estate, and I could have recommended her to a ton of clients, but she chose the $60 over potential future business.
It makes no sense to me. My order was $2,100, and I don’t know what her margin was on that, but she chose an extra $60 over my future referrals.
My last experience is ongoing, and it’s the worst of all.
As I mentioned before – my new condo has a 1200 square foot terrace, and I hired a carpenter to build a raised cedar deck and about sixty linear feet of planter boxes and lattice. I met with him in July and said, “If I hire you today – right now – can you commit to starting the work on September 30th? And can you finish it on time? He agreed, and he took the job.
Today is November 25th, and the work is about 50% complete.
The deck was built in time for the housewarming, but the planter boxes are far from complete.
This carpenter came highly recommended by a colleague, who actually told him, “Johnny – please don’t screw this up! David is a good friend of mine, and he’ll give you a ton of business – but don’t screw him!”
Well, “Johnny” is a super-nice guy, and his work is fantastic – but that’s only when he works. I know my job is small, and he’s likely doing $100,000 jobs in Rosedale that are more important, but there are no excuses anymore. “Being sick with the flu” and “a bunch of my guys quit” were great in October, but as we approach December, it’s obvious that he just doesn’t care.
As I said myself – I’m not perfect. I’ve had dissatisfied clients. But I look at each client as the proverbial “client for life,” and aim to build on each successive buyer or seller that I work with. Last month – I paid $1,000 to settle a dispute over a kitchen appliance, and my seller-client never even knew. That’s the way I wanted it – she was a great client, and I didn’t want her to be pestered by lawyers.
But so many of today’s self-employed individuals are simply working deal-to-deal. Carpenters, painters, lawyers, and even Realtors – because they’re no different. Any time somebody is self-employed in the service industry, they make a conscious decision to either satisfy the client well beyond the transaction, or simply move on.
When you get a referral, just know that the experience your friend or family member had might not represent the exact same service that you’ll receive.
And when you give a referral, you have to know that if the service is poor – it’s coming back to you…