Boat Props and Negotiations

Danielle Putnam
Contributing Writer
President, The New Flat Rate

My dad (Rodney Koop) has owned a boat for as long as I can remember. As a contractor’s daughter, I clearly remember the evenings our family headed to the lake after work. In contracting, there are seasons of need, and seasons of abundance. For example, a season of abundance could be winning the bid on a large job that was so profitable you felt like a thief, terrified it was only a dream! In those moments of abundance, Dad would buy a new wakeboard or pair of skis…and all of us kids thought we were rich as we shared the skis, taking turns around the lake on those summer nights. Oh the memories! Those were the days.

Recently, Dad needed to head up to the lake to check on the boat at the marina. I had a laundry list of work items to discuss, so I tagged along…with my notebook and iPad in hand. In my head, we were casually heading up to take a spin around the lake and make sure the boat was still there with no leaks. So, I was surprised when we went into the marina office for a head-on confrontation with Dennis. Dennis is the owner of the marina, and almost a family friend. After all, we’ve been boating at this lake and buying gas, snacks, lunch and renting a boat slip from Dennis for 30 years now. That’s right, 30 years!

So, you can imagine my surprise to watch my dad say, “Hey Dennis, when you moved our boat the other day into the new slip with the lift, you bumped the prop…which bent and had to be replaced! Would you like to buy me a new prop, or take it out of the slip rental fees?” Dennis nearly jumped across the counter as he proclaimed, “No I will not. I did not break your prop and I will not be replacing it.” Calmly and rationally, Dad went back and forth with Dennis – and NEVER have I EVER seen someone hold their ground as firmly as Dennis did.

Believe it or not, in the end, Dad and I walked away…awestruck. We were awestruck at the years and years and years of loyalty we’ve shown Dennis – buying his gas, buying his food, renting a slip from him – yet in less than 10 minutes, we walked away discussing other lakes with boat slips, and how soon we should move our patronage elsewhere.

But why? What happened? Why did the relationship break down? What could the owner have done differently? What did the customer really want?

Running service calls, your techs may get blamed for something they may or may not have done. If you choose to stand your ground…here is what the customer wants:

1. Empathy
2. A listening ear
3. Your consideration

“Mr. Customer, I hear what you’re saying, that sounds very frustrating, and I know it was stressful to take off work for an AC repair only to later have the AC stop working again. But Mr. Customer, we worked on X, yet it was Y that now needs the repair, so this is not our fault. I cannot repair it for free, but I am able to offer you these pricing options…what should we do?”

Listening to the customer so they know they are being heard, and expressing your empathy towards their discomfort, will go a long way. How often have you wanted a refund or discount on a service, all along knowing you’d be happy if the company simply offered their ‘care’? When the company shows they care about you as an individual and not a number on the sales board, it makes all the difference in the world.

It really goes back to the basics: don’t pre-judge your customer. They really might not be looking for a full system refund, they may simply want options. Listen. Be human: let your guard down and throw your defenses to the wind. Show you care. When you work with your customer to find a solution, both parties win.

For the record, it turns out that my brother had actually borrowed the boat, pulled it in to the dock, and broke the prop unknowingly. So, in this case, both the company and the customer each thought they were right, and they were both “kind of” right. Neither one of them broke the prop. But that truth came out later…after the owner/customer relationship was already broken…or could have been broken. Fortunately, we happen to like that lake as much as your customers may like your loyal service, so we stayed put, but that is not always the case.

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