Few things in life are guaranteed. The sun will rise in the morning and set in the evening. You can literally set your not-guaranteed-to-work clock to that. Death and taxes are both infamously guaranteed. Celine Dion once sang about rain being inevitable, but she obviously never spent any time in the Atacama Desert.

Here's another guarantee for you: Things will go wrong on the job. Perhaps you're working on a planned-down-to-the-last-detail home addition and dealing with a missing pallet of tile. Or you're a plumber who just discovered that the leak they called you about - which you allotted 30 minutes to - is actually a burst pipe that will take hours. Now you have to cancel (again!) on poor Mrs. Jackson who stayed home from work to wait for you. No matter your area of expertise, things go awry.

Problems will come up - it's the nature of the business. The key for any successful contractor is knowing how to best avoid - and deal with - these setbacks and still come out smelling like roses...even if you're a plumber. 

Mutual Trust

The homeowner-contractor relationship is one that must be built on mutual trust and respect from the very beginning. Everybody needs to be on the same page. 

If you've been hired for a project - no matter how big or small - a homeowner has decided to trust you. They've done extensive research, sifted through different proposals, and vetted every prospective contractor carefully. In the end, they chose you. They have faith in your professionalism and skill to do an excellent job. With their trust, you'll be relied upon to steadily handle anything and everything properly. Problems that would normally be the source of great friction and anxiety will seem petty - because they trust you. From your end, you recognize this and want to deliver. 

As with any successful relationship, communication is key. It's important to keep the homeowner informed about everything. They'll appreciate you for it. Complications arise when communication breaks down and the trust and respect is lost.


Being a great listener is one of the finest qualities you could have. Communication may break down because of something that wasn't heard - not because of something that wasn't said. Your customer may not be as knowledgeable about the project as you are and may have a hard time expressing themselves. If you're unsure about what your customer is trying to tell you, repeat what you heard and ask them to confirm their main ideas. Your customer will feel confident that they were understood and admire you for it.

Pay attention, be patient, and listen! You'll ensure that everyone sees eye to eye about everything.

Best Laid Plans...

As a project progresses, even the best laid plans may need to be revised. Things come up that can extend the timeline or increase costs. The way you react in these situations is crucial for the overall success of the project and will dictate how the homeowner feels about it as well.

  • Bad weather can delay a construction project. React to the delay positively - get organized in advance and you'll be prepared to start working again as soon as the weather improves. 
  • Shipping and supply delays can really grind production to a halt. If the tile delivery is running late, you need to be able to make changes to the daily schedule so that things progress regardless. Or, if the tile your customer painstakingly selected is out of stock, having 2-3 backup suppliers on your speed-dial will come in handy.
  • The project may be in full swing before it becomes obvious there was an error in the original design. The space you thought you had isn't there...or the space you thought you didn't have is there. Or, it's possible the customer will see how things are turning out and may decide a wall needs to be moved over by a foot. Changes to the design are common enough, but they can be stressful. Your positivity will make all the difference. Instead of viewing any necessary (or even unnecessary!) modifications as annoyances, view them as opportunities to improve the overall project. Your customer will be grateful and, most importantly, serene. 
  • Hey, we're all human. Someone is going to back the truck into the fence or forget to place an order. Mistakes happen. Take responsibility. Get in front of a mistake by informing your customer about it immediately and explaining how you're going to make it right. Never try to cover it up or pretend it didn't happen.  

No matter the situation, always keep your customer in the loop and remain professional. Your customer will be understanding and will roll with the changes. Even the smallest lapse in your communication or professionalism can be difficult to overcome.

Go the Extra Mile

Anyone in the service industry knows that you need to go above and beyond to ensure your customers are happy. This concept is even more prevalent when something has gone wrong...it's called damage control. Even when something has gone wrong that was beyond your control, your customer still needs to be placated. 

Let's talk about the canceled-upon Mrs. Jackson from above who stayed home from work to wait for the plumber. Naturally, Mrs. Jackson was feeling frustrated and maybe even a bit resentful. Of course the plumber was genuinely apologetic and told Mrs. Jackson that she'd be his first stop the next morning. This was effective for sure, but the plumber went the extra mile and waived his standard $85 trip charge. Mrs. Jackson was already feeling more positive about the situation by the time the plumber showed up on time the next morning. The plumber quickly fixed the leaky faucet so that Mrs. Jackson was able to get to work on time too. All-in-all, it turned into a very positive experience for Mrs. Jackson who will call this plumber again the next time she's experiencing a plumbing issue.

There are plenty of methods you can use to smooth things over. A discount, an upgrade. I knew a roofer who gave customers a gift card for dinner-for-two at a nearby steakhouse. He said the gift card cost him less than a 5% discount on a new roof would have and they were really happy about it too.

It's always worth doing what it takes to keep your customers happy. And as long as you're a true professional - from the very beginning until the very end - your customers will be happy.