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Problem client.

Ok so I think I have a bit of a problem client on my hands. On a relatively large job with lots of patio work, poor access everything needs handballing up, 3 tiers steep hillside etc etc Had some staffing issues and had to get shot of some people for continuous no shows and not enough getting done and damaging a deck through idiocy! So I've been up against it doing the work of 3 and no joy in securing another to fill the void. (some of the muppets I've interviewed recently!) 

Now some of the issues with this client. 

Under some misguided impression that I had a 'team of guys' ala garden rescue or something when I was quite clear at the time that I was a small company and had a couple of regulars.

Was expecting it all to be done in 3 weeks. (3 weeks was the intitial estimate for the top level patio that needed some serious tonnage put in to level it off for a start) but additional tiers of the garden, retaining walls and pathways were added on to be slabbed during the 'design process' as they kept changing ideas on what they wanted. So not a chance 3 weeks especially with getting rained off a few time to say the least.

Have been upset about 'lack of progress' when I have been there everyday possible. I even pushed on on a less than ideal day and got rewarded for my efforts with some slumping!

Moaned because I ripped out the bottom patio by the house that was to be replaced anyway (on a rainy day I might add so we didnt lose anymore time) rather than continuing from top tier to bottom and then kicked up a stink so much I had to put the patio in there asap.

Complaining the site is messy (Its actually pretty clean as far as worksites go imho) and that they keep trapsing muck into the house even though there is absolutely no reason for them to be in the garden until its finish and the have a pefectly servicable front door!

Been very nonwithcoming when it came to payments, first payment was fine but second they kept back (even though contractually it says on request) because of percieved lack of progress the fact there was a few grands worth of materials sitting out the front of the house notwithstanding.. and it was 1k short of what was in the contract but which I iagreed to verbally because I just wanted to get the next stage of orders in.

Expected me to pack up tools and not use a grinder because somebody in the household was working nights (this was after being rained off for 2 days) then had the cheek to moan about when it was going to be finished the following Monday.

Letting their dog p**s and s**t in all the sand and over the freshly laid patios.

Let the dog run through all the wet concrete I had cleared out of the mixer and run all over the slabs.

Mopped over my fresh pointing after I left so had to throw some acid onto it to clean the cement stains off it!

Walking all over freshly laid slabs and popping them so when I turn up the day after, loads are loose! Two days in a bloody row!

Put in a really long path following the exact same line as the old path (600mm wide slabs) as discussed before and wait until I'm 90% done with that to tell me they want it 900mm wide and dont want the same concrete either side as before 4" up to the existing walls that arent square and 1' respectively to the bushes on the other side. The extra materials arent factored into this, not to mention possibly having to dig all this back up!

There is probably more that I've forgot. I'm probably rightfully worried that they wont be satisfied at the end and will be funny with paying me.

Any ideas which way to go from here because I'm about ready to walk. I'm exhausted. I think I've grinned and bared enough. I'd rather finish a job though but I'm so angry about all this nonsense atm that I probably wont be very diplomatic.

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  • PRO

    I suppose it feels like you’re being taken for a ride. At the start of my business I walked away from a job halfway through and asked for payment to just remove the waste and I was so angry with my decision and also their ‘ok no problem’. 

    I learnt from that and other jobs and now if I think that the customer isn’t quite satisfied (which is usually me being paranoid) I subtly say things like “made good progress today really I’m happy with how much I’ve managed to do and the weathers held out” and wait for their response. 

    Personally what I would do is explain that you’re going to do this, this and that today if you get the opportunity and see if you get any dissatisfaction and  show that you have a plan each time you visit but some people may not agree with this. 

    My projects aren’t big landscape jobs and really general gardening but a lot are one off customers.

    if you do get a strong thought that they’re unhappy then if it were me I would be completely honest and say that you are doing all you can to complete the work and hope that they are satisfied with how it’s going.

    Keep a cool head and explain that you are working with them to get the job completed. When I imagine  myself having a disagreement with a client I always imagine myself being clear, straight to the point and not coming across a pushover and coming across highly confident when inside I may be frustrated, tired and ready to walk. 

    I think that you would be more annoyed walking away now than if there was a dispute over payment as they still owe you money so getting part payment of the inevitable happened is better than no payment at all.

    some customers really don’t care how you feel so don’t communicate how you feel on an emotional level in my opinion.

  • PRO

    Not sure what can be said here repect of current project, but I would step back at some point and ask yourself;

    • What could I have done different ?
    • What have I learnt from this project ?

    We are always going to come across clients with unrealistic expectations / demand ... often in retrospect..

    Our goal has to be clear about what is to be delivered, in what timeframe, in what manner and any other deliverables from both sides.

    Ideally, one would commit all this to project plan / description, specification and quote, in writing and signed-off by client.

    One thing for sure if leave you any holes, a client will find /exploit them. That’s not to say all clients are problematical but you must assume this.

    If they are, youre covered. If they are not, you’ll have an enjoyable project.

    Finally, I’d sit down over a cuppa with your client, listen to their issues, respond where appropriate and then put a plan into place to complete to the required level and exit out of there with as soon as you can and move into your next project

    • PRO

      I may sound paranoid but are these clients setting you up to fail so they can create a reason not to pay you for the work in full . 

      It's happened to me twice and in the last case we happened to be working at a neighbours near to the said property and discovered same tactic , same conversations ,same scam  took place with other victims . 

      Stop now and ask them their priorities at this stage , fulfill their request and ask them if they are satisfied before moving onto the next stage and so forth otherwise they could just keep on moving the goal posts 

      exceptional circumstances sometimes require an exceptional approach . 



      • PRO

        Totally agree this happened to me and I still get paranoid on jobs from 1 or 2 occasions where this has happened thinking if I've done the best job and will they pay in full etc 

    • This is the best advice on here

      Never walk off a job as it leads to a reputation.

      this can be resolved with better communication on both sides. End of the day before leaving explain what’s been done and ask them to approve it hard been done.

      The issue is partly down to not having enough staff and you are working your balls off but clearly you need at least another person to be working with you.

      clients just want their house garden back ASAP and become frustrated when it’s not done on time and this can lead to problems. Talk with them and get at least a labour in with you 

  • personally I would just walk away and write it off as a bad idea.

    If they are pissing you about this early into the job it's never going to end well

  • Firstly Neil, you have my sympathies. You are oviously not in a good place with the project or client.

    So, how can we help you? Firstly, I am going to step back, take a deep breath and say that you see a 'problem client' and he sees a 'problem contractor' so who is right and what can you do together to work this out?

    You mention many things in your post, some I would call 'major problems' and some 'minor irritations' that would not have arose with better 'housekeeping' - unfortunately all end up with the same significance and you can 'drown' in problems.

    My first impression is that you have taken on a logistically difficult project, with inadequate staff, which has caused you to become overwhelmed with the task and lead to you dodging from one part of the job to another, completing little other than what looks to the customer, like 'a mess'. I think at this stage most clients would begin to panic. 

    Regarding some issues raised:

    • 'Progress' to a customer is showing completion of something - anything! Always a good idea to finish something.
    • 'Dog pooping in sand' - cover sand etc with a tarp.
    • 'Dog walking in washings' - tip washings into barrow to drain overnight.
    • 'Expect to pack up tools' - do it! Round up your stuff and neatly cover with tarp.
    • 'Walking over fresh laid slabs' - don't trust the customer not to! 8x4 ply sheets placed as a 'path' overnight will give protection.
    • 'Traipsing in mess' - provide temporary path with 8x4 sheets after any excavations near house.
    • Lastly (and this is something we all forget at times). It is their house and their garden, they actually don't want you(us) there, you(us) are an irritation, we impact on their lives and it is up to you(us) to make sure the project is run as smoothly as possible.

    So, where do you go from here?  A meeting, cards on the table, work out a plan with the customer. Find their priorities - I'm sure you both will walk away and be able to breathe.

    Good luck mate.





    • PRO

      Again my sympathies, it sounds a nightmare.

      if they are changing the scope of the job there is a revised 

      costing to be submitted.

      There are a lot of other issues which other members have given good advise on.

      i recently did a big garden clearance in Chorley which went sour, the customer was refusing to pay I handed the debt to Expert Collections Ltd to collect the debt early this week to save wasting my time. Never used them before and I’m not connected to them in any way.

      When we all have so many nice customers we don’t need the stress of the awkward ones / poor payers. I have already got to the stage where I’ve dropped a couple of customers this year due to this. 

      Good luck with your outcome.


  • PRO

    Walk! It’s not worth the stress mate. 

    • easy to say but he's going to lose a lot of money for work/materials he has already done.  

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