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You Are Not Alone – Customer Relations Difficulties of Another Trade

There are many articles written about how difficult clients can make a developer and/or designer freelancer’s working life – so I thought I would take a look at a comparison with another trade – just to point out that as a developer or designer, you don’t feel that you are the only trade that gets the rough end of customer relations.

It so happens that my husband is a plumber, and it is amazing the parallels I notice when reading of the client/freelancer difficulties and hearing about the customer/plumber difficulties. So here I list five scenarios of customer expectations of a self-employed plumber – and you will easily recognize that they are pretty much the same as the expectations of a freelancer’s clients, and there are, no doubt, many more similar situations.

The Trials of Customer Relations

1. While You’re Here…

The plumber is at a customer’s house to replace a shower unit – simple job, one hour and finished. The price is quoted and agreed beforehand, but then the customer asks: “Oh, while you’re here, could you take a look at the boiler, the water doesn’t seem to be getting as hot as it should.” “Well, yes I can, replies the plumber, but it will add a bit to the bill.” “Why?” asks the customer, “You’re here, aren’t you?”

Once the plumber is in the customer’s home, the customer wants as much as he/she can get out of him for the original price quoted.

While You're Here...
Image credit: Bigstockphoto

2. Thanks For Coming Out So Quickly…

Panic phone call on Monday morning… “We have no hot water, can you get to us today?” “Yes,” replies the plumber, “I will be there in about 3 hours.” So the plumber arrives 3 hours later, spends a couple of hours finding and fixing the problem, and states his price. “Oh, I don’t have the money right now, I haven’t been to the bank, but I will be going on Friday.”

Thanks For Coming Out So Quickly
Image credit: Bigstockphoto

Actually, my husband used to let customers get away with this, as frustrating as it was, but the result of that was that he obtained a reputation: He will come out immediately and wait for his money! Now, if he is faced with this situation, he tells the customer that he needs the money tomorrow or the cost will rise by 5 Euros a day. That is met with more panic and the promise they will have the money the next day!

3. How Long Will It Take?

Two weeks before Christmas, a customer phones and says “We have family coming for Christmas, and we think we need central heating installed. They are arriving on the 20th, so we want it before then.”

How Long Will It Take?
Image credit: Bigstockphoto

Now, some of you may know that to fit a central heating system in a 3-bedroomed house takes a plumber on his own around a week – but the plumber has to add a few days to cover any problems that may be encountered. Bearing in mind that the plumber has other work on his books that may have been booked in weeks ago, this request is a total impossibility. The plumber is then faced with comments such as “Well, we will have to go elsewhere then – are you prepared to lose the work?” This creates a problem for the plumber, because he has to keep his temper and his ‘business head’ on, and explain that yes, they can try another company, but it is unlikely they will get the work done before Christmas.

Unfortunately, the customer is usually so upset with the original plumber that, even if they can’t get the work done before Christmas, they won’t use him when they do have it done!

4. Mates Rates?

We are English people living and working in Spain and my husband’s customers are mainly expats, most of whom are spending their retirement years here and not needing to earn an income. They have bought their homes outright so have no mortgage, and are simply enjoying the lovely summers and cheap booze! Under these circumstances, customers don’t seem to grasp that we DO have a mortgage, and we do need to earn a living, also, we are acquainted with more or less all the expats living in this small town. So it is a common occurance that the plumber gives a quote and then is asked: “So that’s your price, but we’re friends… surely we can have a discount!”

Mates Rates
Image credit: Bigstockphoto

To counterbalance this expectation, my husband started to add a ‘freebie’ with large contracts such as central heating installations or bathroom to shower-room conversions. This offer changes from time to time, but will be something like a boiler descale or a reverse osmosis water system (tap water is not drinkable here), and the freebie is normally offered after the quotation is submitted, so serves as a solution to the ‘mates rates’ request. Of course, the cost of these ‘freebies’ is factored into the quotation!

5. Can I Pick Your Brain?

This is a phrase that is directed at my husband time and time again. He is treated like a walking plumbing Google service! At first he was happy to share his knowledge, but quickly realized he was rapidly losing work to DIY enthusiasts wanting to save money. Now he tends to tell people that he would need to take a look before he can give any advice – and of course, the time he spends will cost them! People don’t consider that the plumber has spent years learning his trade – he’s been through the ups and downs, the highs and lows… now they expect him to simply give away the knowledge he gathered along the way!

Can I Pick Your Brain

He is also often asked “Do you have a three-quarter inch washer on your van?” Well, yes he might have, and no, it didn’t cost very much… but he still had to buy it, and it is still a convenience that people can ask him for such things, and let’s face it, if they went to a shop for such a small item, they would still have to pay for it – so when he says: “Yes I have, it will be 50 cents”, they get very offended that he couldn’t just give it to them!


So as you can see, being self-employed/freelance in just about any trade brings its problems and expectations that simply can’t be met if you need to earn a living. We would all like to be ‘Mr Nice Guy’, but in the end it does you no favors and the expectations just grow and grow, and you gain a reputation that may encourage customers to use your services, but don’t do your book-balancing any good at all!

It is necessary in all walks of life to find the balance between keeping the customer happy and keeping your head above water, and that is not easy and requires either good guidance or hard experience to figure out the best approach for your particular trade.

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