As salespeople, we go in and we sell. The sale is the goal—nothing stands in the way. And while companies depend on that passion, the company’s goal is not quite the same as the salesperson’s. What the company needs is not just a sale but happy customers, referrals, and a profitable sale.

Death by Dissapointment

Even a profitable sale can turn sour. Say the salesperson promises the customer something, and the company fails to follow through. The job’s over and looks great, but the customer blasts the company on Angie’s List. Any customer who takes the time to write a bad review is screaming at the top of her lungs: YOU’VE DISAPPOINTED ME. They expected A, and they got B. It could be something as simple as the start and completion date.

We had a customer who signed a contract in October. The contract said that we’d begin work in December. The customer started out as a nice, professional guy. But after a few weeks, I received an email saying: “You signed the order in October and gave me a start date in December and a completion date in January. Can I expect that the job will be completed by then?” This anticipated completion date ignores the fact that he hasn’t picked out the colors yet. He’s wildly impatient and we all know how fast impatience can become rage.

No Surprise Policy

We install roofing, siding, and windows day in and day out. We don’t even think about it. But the customer might do a project like this once or twice in a lifetime. So you want that experience to be as pleasurable as possible. Managing expectations starts with the salesperson.

There’s a higher priced fiber cement board that’s sold as a primed product that’s painted afterward. One advantage of it is that you can miter the boards to create a perfect corner instead of using corner posts. It’s a great look, but it’s also time-consuming. The mitered corner in the company sales brochure is perfect. But unless you’re going to paint it afterward, it’s not going to look like it does in the brochure. So if you sell that product to a homeowner, you’re going to need to explain all this. If you don’t, and it’s installed, then you’ve promised Product A and delivered Product B instead.

Make a Map

Installation is where most potential headaches reside. The best-managed installation in the world will upset someone if you, the contractor, don’t explain ahead of time what’s going to take place—and when, and how—and what the homeowner’s responsibility is. Our salespeople furnish homeowners with something we call the No Surprise form. It covers every stupid thing that could happen, including the obvious.

Installing a roof is loud. People who’ve never been around it don’t know that. A lady said to me: “I couldn’t believe the hammering.” Did she imagine that we just gently glued it together? Guess what happens when you put a dumpster on someone’s lawn? Grass dies. Put all of this in writing and you remove the opportunity for disappointment.

Our form also explains what the homeowner is responsible for. It says, for instance: “Please move all patio furnishings and related items to the furthest distance from the house.” This reduces the chance of a mishap but it also lets homeowners know that mishaps can happen. Imagine if we didn’t ask them in writing to move patio furniture and a nail gun falls off the roof and shatters a glass-topped table by the pool? Even if we immediately offer to pay for it, that sets the tone for the rest of the project and that will be what they talk about in their review.

Part 1, Part 2

The key to a great review is not just a great job. That’s only Part 1. You need to take control of the situation, and set the expectations for what will happen, and when. That’s Part 2. If you do, mistakes will be seen for what they are, which is random and sometimes unavoidable. Well-organized systems for setting and managing customer expectations are rare enough among contractors that if you do it, they will view you as the company that made order of chaos, and the great job you did will stand as proof.