The Time We Had to Return A Customer’s $39,000 Deposit
And Why They Came Back To Us Anyway
We all know that 2020 was a year to be remembered (or perhaps forgotten) and our company was no less affected than any other in this nation. During the early parts of the pandemic, we experienced a revolving door of healthy and ill employees and, unfortunately, through all that tumult, a few things fell through the cracks.
One such thing was a large deck installation in Seattle that experienced numerous delays throughout the design process. So numerous, in fact, that the customer became nervous about the process and decided to cancel the project.
Doing The Right Thing Even When It Costs Us $39,000
Our company lives and breathes by the concept of doing the right thing. Sometimes that means taking a hit. This time, it meant returning a $39,000 deposit for a project that had been in the works for a couple of months. And that’s exactly what we did the morning following their request to end the project. But that’s not the end of the story.
Doing the right thing also means making the difficult decision to contact the customer to find out what went wrong so we could take steps to make sure it never happens again. Conversations like that can be unpleasant, but they are necessary if the problem is to be prevented the next time.
The Customer Told Us That We Dropped The Ball – Again And Again
The owner of our company contacted the homeowner and first assured them that their refund check, every dime of their $39,000 deposit, was already on its way back to them. Then he asked them if they’d mind telling him how we failed them. Turns out, we failed them several times throughout the design process by missing several deadlines.
Along with doing the right thing, we preach to all our employees to do what you say you are going to do. Unfortunately, our normally well-oiled machine experienced some hiccups. Each person in charge of the design process for this particular project ended up getting sick or having a family emergency before they could finish their portion of the design. Normally, we have procedures in place that can handle these types of situations easily but… 2020 was not a normal year. Still, no excuse. Deadline after deadline was missed and that is simply unacceptable.
We apologized to the homeowners, expressed our regret over being unable to provide them with the custom deck of their dreams, and wished them the best.
Our Integrity Brought The Job Back
Months later, the homeowners in Seattle called the owner of our company (he’d given them his personal cell number and told them they could call him for deck advice anytime) and said they wanted to go ahead and use us for the project. When he asked them why they had several responses.
First, was the fact that we cut them their refund check before we did anything else. This is unheard of in our industry, especially after months of labor had been invested in designing the project. The second reason was that when the owner called them, it wasn’t to try to save the sale (the refund was already on its way) but to humbly apologize and to listen, really listen, to their complaints. Lastly was the offer of his number and any advice they might need, even if someone else was going to complete the project we failed to get fully off the ground.
So, after making several mistakes and despite the very real costs we had accrued in designing this project, we decided to immediately hand back a $39,000 deposit we had every right to keep when the customer requested to end the project. We then took the unpleasant step of contacting the customer after the sale was lost, to find out what went wrong.
These weren’t business decisions, they were just the right thing to do. We didn’t expect to gain anything from these actions except, perhaps, to improve our process so that it would never happen again. The homeowners coming back to us came as a complete surprise, though a pleasant one, and is proof that integrity in all things is the only way to run a business.
Why We Do It
While doing the right thing worked out for us in the end, that isn’t why we operate that way. It is simply who we are. We do the right thing for its own sake. Sometimes, it can be financially painful or personally uncomfortable, like the owner calling an angry customer we have already lost after sending them a refund of their entire $39,000 deposit.
But… it’s the right thing to do and we don’t know how to act any other way.