contractor advice

Fib to customers, face consequences


  • Customers are less accepting of lies told by contractors.
  • Common contractor lies deal with project completions, prices quoted, and time of arrival at the job site.
  • Using sound management can help you avoid small disappointments, schedule disruptions, and other non-lies that read as lies.

These days, it’s often hard to tell the truth from a lie. There’s evidence that people will actually believe anything as long as it lines up with what they want to believe. While lying is increasingly tolerated by all sides in the national discourse, consumers have been hoodwinked by (or have outright accepted) companies’ lies since the creation of a department called ‘sales and marketing.’ But for contractors of all stripes, lying to customers poses serious consequences.

Construction projects cost a lot more than a typical consumer purchase. Projects also come with warranties that contractors must honor. It’s not just about avoiding lawsuits; a critical “word of mouth” can cost as much as any court case in the long run. And, not to forget, there are all the unintended consequences like suspicion, distrust, and a tarnished reputation.

Here are a few of the typical lies contractors tell and the consequences of telling them.

“It’ll take (insert time frame) to finish…”

You’re under the gun to say something that will push the client to close the deal. Since you know timing is of the essence to them, you tell a lie. It’s a white lie, though, because the completion date you give them will be off only by a week or so. And if you miss the deadline, there’s always something you can blame that’s beyond your control.

Seems harmless and easy, right? But it will come back to haunt you, as most clients don’t know how construction works as well as they think—so they’ll make plans based on your lie.

It’s generally better to under-promise and over-deliver. If you can’t meet their timeline, then say so, but offer compelling reasons why the extra time will be worth it. When you lie about when you’ll complete the work, you face the consequences like loss of confidence in your abilities at best; at worst—claims and lawsuits.

“I didn’t include that in the price I quoted…”

The only reason for a disagreement regarding work ordered is that you most likely weren’t clear enough about what was included. Additionally, when changes came up, you might have not use a change order process detailing the reason for the change.

There is no shortcut for precisely detailing just what it is the customer is buying and getting their signature to attest to their understanding. If someone thinks you’re nitpicking, five others will know you’re just being thorough—and honest.

While you’re at it, carefully explain details about owner selections. Make sure clients understand that when they select a $1,500 faucet, it’s going to cost them $1,000 more than the contract price since the quoted price included only $500 for that faucet.

You need to match the allowance for owner selections to the style and substance of the build. Otherwise, you’re lying about nearly everything you’re saying you’ll deliver.

“I’ll be there first thing in the morning…”

Only contractors know how quickly their day can go from manageable to unmanageable. It’s not wise to expect customers to anticipate this. They’ll plan their day based on when you said you’d be there, so keeping them waiting is both frustrating and inconvenient. You’ll make this lie even worse by using more lies as excuses, such as your brakes going out or needing to rush your kid to urgent care.

When you say you’ll be there and then pull a no-show, the client starts wondering if you’re hiding something, if another project is more important, or if you simply do not care. Tell enough of such lies to one client and trust will erode to the point where it’s irreparable. If this is a common theme for you, it might be wise to figure out better time management.

Non-lies that feel like lies

Sometimes you say something in good faith, and due to circumstances that arise later, it’s no longer true. This isn’t lying, but it can read as dishonesty. Therefore, it’s best to do what you can to avoid the consequences of these non-lies. What often happens is that customers feel lied to when you made a promise on behalf of one of your subs, your general, or a supplier, and then those people didn’t deliver. The only thing you can do is plan thoroughly and then check and double-check on partner performance.

The main consequence of all these small fibs or accidental untruths is a perception by customers that you aren’t managing your jobs well. Those perceptions lead to less confidence in you, which may cause customers to question other aspects of the job—a road no contractor wants to travel down.

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