Many contractors have pretty clear boundaries between their business activities and their personal activities. After all, why try to mix the two, as wouldn’t that mean one was working all the time?
I used to feel like that for many years when we ran our company. Then I realized that sharing a meal with clients has the potential to take the business and personal relationship to a new level.
More often than not, about two-thirds of the way through a project, my wife Nina and I would take the person or couple we were doing a remodel for out to dinner. We had a favorite restaurant and left our credit card info with the host so the check never appeared at the table.
As the meal progressed, everyone got a bit more relaxed. I eventually would ask if there was anything that they felt like telling me about how our company was doing and how the project was going. This gave them the opportunity to say something to me that they might never otherwise gotten the chance to say.
When we did hear the occasional negative comment, I would ask some questions to get clear about the nature of the concern. I would let the clients know that I would gather information about their concern and be back to them by a date certain with a resolution.
Frankly, no later than the next day I would talk with the manager of the appropriate department in our company or the employee regarding the clients’ concern. Resolving the issue quickly would give the clients a better story to tell than if we sat on it.
Once I knew that the issue had been addressed, I then would follow up with the clients to make sure things were resolved to their satisfaction.
If my wife and I had not been having such a meal with our clients, we might never had heard about their concern. So I saw the practice of dining with our clients as having several benefits:
- We were letting them know that we did not regard them as simply customers.
- We cared enough to listen and then followup with them regarding their concern.
- We gave them a good story to tell their friends, etc., about their experience of having us work for them.
I wish we had started doing this earlier in the life of our
business. After all, you have to eat anyway! Once in a while you might as well add
a bit of marketing to your meal.