Communication is key when using contractors - March 20th 2012


Communication is key when using contractors


Having been part of the home improvement industry for over 50 years, I've seen my fair share of customer issues involving contractors. In the majority of cases, it is clearly an issue of miscommunication between the contractor and customer or vice versa.

It's not uncommon to turn on your television set and see a "reality" type program dramatizing how a customer has been taken advantage of by an unscrupulous contractor. In fact, I recall seeing a write-up not too long ago, by a well-known television personality which stated something along the lines that over 90% of contractors do not know what they are doing, and do not perform their work up to industry standards. I must reassure you, this is not the case.

So, if the majority of contractors are reputable, how come there seems to be so many conflicts between contractors and their customers? Part of a contractors role in dealing with a customer is to educate them. Customers are using contractors because they themselves lack the knowledge or skill-set to perform the work required. A contractor needs to explain to the customer what they are suggesting the customer do, and why they feel that is the best route for the customer to take. If a customer knows why a contractor is going to perform a specific task, they will be better able to communicate with the contractor when they have any concerns regarding the work being performed.

Some contractors will take offense when they feel their workmanship or knowledge is being questioned by a customer. I am often asked for my opinion regarding work that was done at a customer's home, I will ask the customer if they have spoken to the contractor. Far too often the response I get is: no, we didn't want to upset them. This is an important point to emphasize, how can a contractor address your concerns if they are unaware that you have any?

A good contractor should have the patience and care enough to explain to you, the paying customer, what they are doing and why. If this is done, and there is a clear line of communication open between the contractor and customer, most of the issues I see could be easily resolved or even eliminated before they occur.

If most customer / contractor disputes are caused by miscommunication, how can these be addressed? Simply put, get it in writing. There is a guideline put together by the Canadian Home Builder's Association which outlines what a typical contract should include. If you want to make sure that an item or topic is covered when a contractor is doing work around your home, there is a simple way to make sure this happens. Get It In Writing.

Contracts serve as a guideline for the work to be done, what products will be used what the associated costs are, as well as estimated completed dates. If there is a dispute later on, the contract should serve as a guideline to resolve the dispute. We often hear at our office that there was no contract, because they trusted the contractor, or they were the friend of a friend. I can assure you, regardless how well you think you know the contractor, having a written agreement is the only way to make sure you get what you've asked for. Remember contractors, a clear, written contract not only protects the customer, but it protects you from having additional tasks added to the scope of work that were not included in the original agreement. Any changes to the original contract should be written up on a change order, and signed by the customer and contractor.

If a customer has exhausted their resources in trying to deal with their contractor to resolve a dispute, they will often turn to the Better Business Bureau. The BBB has a 16 element system that helps them determine the rating they give to their members. These elements include:

1. Type of Business
2. Time in Business
3. Competency Licensing
4. Complaint Volume
5. Unanswered Complaints
6. Unresolved Complaints
7. Serious Complaints
8. Complaint Analysis
9. Complaint Resolution Delayed
10. Failure to Address Complaint Pattern
11. Government Action
12. Advertising Review
13. Background Information
14. Clear understanding of business
15. Mediation/arbitration
16. Revocation

Do not let a contractor intimidate you from filing a complaint with the BBB, if you are unhappy with something, let the BBB know. If you do not let anyone know about your complaint, how can you expect others to avoid getting themselves into the same predicament you have found yourself in? I know for a fact there are members of the BBB who have positive ratings largely due to customers not filing complaints with that company. You may notice companies have complaints listed on their BBB report that are "Administratively Closed". This does not mean that the complaints were resolved, it means the complaints were closed by the BBB.