It’s not uncommon for service companies to screen potential customers, especially on larger jobs. Like any professional, a contractor’s time is valuable and he or she should be confident their client will actually pay up once the project is complete.
Unfortunately, sometimes the reasonable request for information gets lost in the translation and potential clients get scared off by what they think are invasive, personal or rude questions.
Among the most poorly phrased (but usually well-intentioned) questions:
- “Will you be alone when I get there?”
- “Are you married?”
- “How much money do you make?”
- “Do you have a job?”
- “What’s your credit score?”
- “Can I see the other bids before I give you mine?”
“We had an elderly member who lived alone call, terrified, because she had called a contractor to do some work and he had asked if she was widowed, if she’d be alone when he arrived and if she had any savings,” said Angie’s List Founder Angie Hicks. “She was ready to call the police.”
The contractor was trying to determine if the prospective client would make the hiring decision project or if others needed to be present when he made his pitch, and if she seemed like a good risk for actually paying his bill – both legitimate concerns.
“Instead, he literally scared off her business by how he framed his questions,” Hicks said.
Hicks has spent more than a decade advising homeowners to investigate their potential contractors’ reputations in the community before making hiring decisions. Contractors deserve similar information about their potential clients, Hicks said. They’ll have an easier time getting it – and winning customers – with clear communication.
Angie’s List spoke with about 30 highly rated contractors across the country to determine how much emphasis they place on client communication. The contractors were selected based on their high grades given by Angie’s List members.
“We were secretly pleased that most of the contractors were a bit offended at the suggestion that they would be so clumsy with clients,” Hicks said. “They said homeowners should walk away from anyone asking questions so poorly that they came across as scary. I wholeheartedly agree.”
Three questions a contractor should never ask.
- Will you be alone when I arrive?
- What’s your credit score?
- Can I see your other bids before I give you mine?
Why contractors shouldn’t ask those questions:
- Asking a potential client if he/she will be alone when you arrive could scare them into thinking that you have criminal intent and don’t want witnesses. Also inappropriate are the companion questions of: Are you married? Do you live alone? Are you widowed?
- Asking about a potential client’s credit score is akin to asking them if they can really afford to have you on their property. It can easily cause offense, as can questions like: “Do you have a job? Have you ever filed for bankruptcy? How much money is in your savings account? Can you get a hold of cash pretty fast?
- Asking about other bids is sort of like asking if you can cheat off your neighbor during a 4th grade spelling test. It could make your potential customer wonder if you’re offering the best bid you can.
What contractors could ask or say instead:
- Are you going to be making decisions about the project and payment? I want to be sure not to waste your time if we’ll need to go over it again so it would be best if everyone is available at the same time.
- How would you like to handle payment? You can check your potential client’s credit history through normal channels without getting their dander up.
- I hope you’ll give me a chance to talk this over after you review all of your bids. I’m offering a fair bid, but it reflects my qualifications and training.