Managing Pesky Clients

When clients are living in the home while cabinets are installed, sometimes they take a little too much interest in the work. In this thread, installers suggest tactful ways to deflect their attention eslewhere. October 22, 2005

I used to install prefab cabinets in new homes but now I work for a shop that does 100% remodels. I am uncomfortable with homeowners peeking over my shoulder while I work. I believe in customer service and pleasing the customer but I am finding that it is taking me too long to finish jobs due to the constant interruptions. The homeowners ask many questions and before you know it, itís time to go home and youíve gotten little accomplished. Sometimes the owner wants to help, but instead just gets in the way. What strategies have you installers used that were not offensive but yet made the customer leave you alone to concentrate on your work?

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor A:
Sincerely tell them that you appreciate the company but that cabinet installations require uninterrupted concentration to do the best job and you plan to do your best for them. If they want to chat or quiz you, let them know you'll be happy to answer their questions when you have finished.

From contributor B:
I keep a .22 caliber Power driver in the tool box. When necessary, I get it out and load it with the hottest load in the tool box, excuse myself, and put on some ear protection. I then warn the client to be ready for the loud bang and they usually ignore the warning. I secure cleats to the floor where the base will fall. Four or five nails usually work fine. These are completely unnecessary I know - but after the first shot rings out in the kitchen I am left alone with my ear protection on all day. I canít hear them and they donít want to be near me.

From contributor C:
I cut up lots of scrap on my miter saw. Homeowners hate noise and dust.

From contributor J:
I switch from the radio to a CD and pop in something like Judas Priest or Metallica. If it turns out they like that kind of music, I go back to the radio and turn on National Public radio, loud. The key is to find something that causes them discomfort and then use it.

From contributor D:
My insurer doesn't allow homeowners to be in the work area with me.

From contributor E:
Whenever I find a customer peering over my shoulder during installs, I immediately mention my billing policy. I charge 10% extra if customer watches, and 50% extra if customer helps. That usually stops them in their tracks. If that doesn't work, then immediately upon setting up in the morning we start every power tool we own, all at the same time.

From contributor F:
I usually state that I have a limited number of brain cells to devote to this job and if some of them get side-tracked answering questions I can't guarantee the quality of my work. I also work with a set of Peltor radio headphones on because I don't like the noise and those give me a good reason to just ignore them, because I can't hear them!

From contributor G:
If it is the general contractor, I simply get rid of him. If it is the customer himself, just be honest with him.

From contributor H:
90% of the things installers think of as flaws, most people don't even notice. A general contractor I once worked for had a great move. He'd walk into the room, and when nobody was looking at him, he'd say "what happened over there?" Sure enough, any rookie on the job would turn and look right at the worst mistake made on the job.

There's also the theory of making sure you leave something blatantly wrong so the inspectors who aren't happy until they find problems will have something to focus on, like reversing the dishwasher panel so the other color shows. The homeowner comes in and freaks out that the wrong dishwasher was installed. You apologize, convince them that you'll take care of it as quickly as you can, and when they leave, you flip the panel. Perception cuts both ways.

From contributor I:
I was doing a kitchen recently where the homeowner had two small children. Every time I turned around she would be asking me questions. I showed up one morning with three tickets to the local movie matinee for her and her kids. She understood, and started to laugh. Situation handled.