I thought I would never say this. After all, isn’t customer service what distinguishes the mom and pop shops from the big box stores? We’ve all had the experience of having to search ad infinitum for someone to answer a question, help us find something, even take our money at (Name of Big Box Store). But, is the experience that different from what we get from many small or local businesses? Yes and No. Certainly, I have found several local businesses that are very customer centric and go the extra mile to help their customers. But, recently, I have also experienced just the opposite behavior.
As a newcomer to Suffolk County and the east-of-Port Jefferson section of LI, I have contacted many local businesses in different service categories because I wanted to support my local business community, and because I needed to get things done in my new home! The services range from painting to landscaping, to cleaning to plumbing. Although some of my service needs have been met, I was amazed at how many businesses I had to contact just to get an estimate, much less a commitment to schedule and actually do the work. This is very disturbing, particularly as there are still many people without jobs – people who would gladly return phone calls and follow up with customers to ensure the job got done and got done well. As an example, I contacted six local landscapers about a spring cleanup. Two returned my call and actually made a site visit. Neither followed up with a proposal, even after a followup call from me. Another contractor never showed up for the scheduled site visit, and never called to cancel or reschedule. A third contractor provided a proposal, which we approved, but the company never followed up to schedule, even though I called and emailed several times to inquire about the status. I have since called a seventh business and they have made a site visit. We’ll see if I get an estimate and the job actually gets scheduled!
I was also looking for a painter. Our condo community publishes a monthly bulletin for residents, so I called several contractors who had advertised in our bulletin. Again, two of the three I called made a site visit in preparation for preparing an estimate. I never heard anything again from one of them, got an email proposal from one and a printed proposal from another. Ultimately, we did hire one of the companies I contacted. The problem was the actual cost of the job was about twice as much as the estimate that we received! The contractor basically took no responsibility for the unexpected price---just said the cost of paint made the difference. If that were the case, the estimate should have clearly stated "cost of paint NOT included." Okay, maybe I should have KNOWN that, but then, I'm not a painter. Very misleading way of doing business.
Needless to say, my confidence in mom and pop is now waning. More importantly, this kind of unprofessional behavior serves to undermine the reputation of small business owners in the same industry who may be doing a good job for their customers. Even if your business is doing well, and you’re not looking for new business, can you really afford to blow off a serious customer? If you're a small business owner, EVERY customer should count, and if they don't, then you may be on your way out of business.