Bad news cabinet industryI’m willing to bet that there isn’t a cabinet dealership or remodeling business out there that hasn’t had to tell a customer that their job has been delayed. With so many moving parts involved in the typical cabinet business workflow mistakes are bound to happen:  back-ordered supplies, underestimating quotes, delays in installation, etc. Not every single job goes off without a hitch. However, the businesses that manage to stay afloat through all those bumps in the road are the ones that know how to tactfully communicate these issues with a customer.

So how can you save yourself from the fire when having to deliver bad news to customers? For either retail or builder customers, you should follow these three steps to minimize headaches when things go wrong:

1.  Set clear expectations you can meet.

Sales people will occasionally promise more than they can deliver. Especially if the promise involves a deal-breaker or your suppliers have longer lead times than the competition. Following a structured kitchen sales process will teach you how to set kitchen jobs up for success during the sales stage.

2. Tell the truth, and use your judgement.

With both builders and retail customers, explain the problem up front and then add any details that are needed.  Make sure you do it on the phone or in person – email and voice mail are really bad and give the customer the chance to stew and fume before they call you back.  The natural tendency is to try and soften the blow.

For example, you know it is going to be 7 days late because you didn’t get the supplier paid on time.  Some people will offer that as a few days, when clearly, its more than a few.  It’s also important to avoid offering too much information – in this case, you really don’t want to tell them why the cabinets will be late.

3. Own the problem.

Your customer is counting on, and paying, you!  As a rule, they don’t know the manufacturer or their employees.  Own the problem even if it isn’t yours.  For example, if the the manufacturer is running long on lead times you should say that, “We are not receiving the cabinets when we expected.”

Knowing the different consequences of soured relations with retail and builder customers can give you a better understanding of why mastering the skills above can save your business. Even though both retail and builder customers have similar expectations, the consequences from having their jobs go wrong can be worlds apart.

For retail customers, they’re typically only doing their first or second kitchen. A hiccup in your work with them may be personally frustrating, especially if they’re currently living alongside the project. If relations go south it can lead to poor references or a lack of referrals which translates to a lack of leads for kitchen remodels.

Unlike retail customers, builders have to deal with managing many kitchen jobs done each day. What makes these jobs more complex is that you have to deal with more than one “master” bouncing back and forth between field superintendents and purchasing managers. Builders have a slightly stronger tolerance for dealing with construction delays from different trades, and plan accordingly for it. But if you are notoriously late or have issues you can put your business and relationship with them in jeopardy. You could lose 50 – 500 houses per year if you lose their account!