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How To Spot A Cowboy Customer

Gas trainee working on a boiler while another trainee takes notes

We’ve all heard the phrase “cowboy builder” before, and there is no denying there are rogue tradespeople out there and the public need to be wary.

But we don’t hear the phrase “cowboy customer” quite as much despite being much more common.

Speak to any tradesperson, and they’ll have a few customer horror stories to tell.

Just like the general public are advised to remain vigilant for cowboy builders, as a tradesperson, you need to know how to identify a cowboy customer.

Costing you money, time and causing a whole deal of stress, tradespeople need to know the warning signs – from the very first phone call to when you’ve finished the job.

Blame Other Tradespeople

If the phone call starts with a customer complaining about other tradespeople not having done the job correctly in the first place, be cautious.

Of course, it is possible that the customer previously hired a rogue tradesperson. So don’t immediately assume they will be a cowboy customer, but be wary.

Regularly Change Their Mind

When having work done on your home, plans can change due to unforeseen circumstances or simply a taste change.

But regularly changing their mind on everything from the most minor details to the project as a whole is unnecessary. It will result in extra work for you and make more room for things to go wrong.

Insist On Cheaper Materials

It makes sense to save money where possible, but insisting on the cheapest materials is a red flag.

And, if the cheap materials they insist on don’t provide the desired result, you’ll be the first person blamed.

Haggle The Price

Everyone loves a bargain, but it’s a different story regarding paying someone for their time and skills.

Just like materials cost money, so does your time and effort. If someone isn’t willing to accept the price you set out for a job, walk away.

Insist They Know Better

Despite your years of training and experience, they’ll always be someone who knows better – but that person is usually someone who’s been in the trade longer than you have, not a customer.

A customer is well within their rights to talk to you about what they know and give their opinion on things. If, however, they’re ignoring your advice and insisting you do it their way, they’re not the customer for you.

Make Unreasonable Requests

What you class as unreasonable will be different from what someone does. Generally speaking, unreasonable requests are tasks that are not in your job description nor entirely necessary.

It’s one thing for a customer to ask you to move a piece of furniture to get to the boiler because they can’t do it themselves. It’s another being asked to work 16 hour days/rush a job because it suits the customer.

For more unreasonable customers, read our blog post about shocking customer requests.

Overly Picky

Having a keen eye for detail isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can help pick up small issues that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

Some people, however, have standards so high you’ll never be able to meet them.

Unsanitary Conditions

No one should be working in unsanitary conditions, yet 27% of tradespeople have reported walking off a job due to lack of cleanliness (Source: Axa).

From dog mess to maggot and flea infestations, you have every right to refuse if you’re not happy with the conditions.

Unsafe Conditions

Just like no one should work somewhere unsanitary, no one should be expected to work in an unsafe environment.

In a customer’s home, this can mean working around aggressive animals. A staggering 1/3 of tradespeople have been attacked by a pet, and it’s simply not acceptable.

Refuse To Pay

We recently asked over on Twitter what tradespeople would prefer, a rough job with immediate payment or an easy job with late payment.

The answer was pretty unanimous. Payment is the most crucial factor in any job. Materials cost money, bills need to be paid, and quite simply, no one should be working for free.

If a customer isn’t paying up, it’s a massive cause for concern. Getting paid on time is essential, and thankfully, there are a few things you can do to ensure you’re paid both on time and in full.

All data correct at time of publication.