After the job agreement has been signed, there are two phases during which perceptions can either improve or degrade.

John Smith has gone through an extensive process of selecting you to replace the roof on his house. At this point he might think your firm:

a) is clearly professional and can be counted on to do a good job;

b) is the best he could find. Your company will probably do the job as promised, but he doesn’t entirely trust you; or

c) is the best he could afford, but is likely to shortcut the work unless he watches you like a hawk.

The last two perceptions are prescriptions for trouble; and even the first one can deteriorate if you are not careful. After the job agreement has been signed, there are two phases during which the perceptions above can either improve or degrade. Phase one is the period between the signing of the job agreement and the start of the job. Phase two is the reroofing time itself when your crew is onsite.

During phase one — I call it “the limbo period” — homeowner hostility grows or shrinks based on the level and quality of communications that take place with your company. In the absence of communications, suspicions can fester, fears can worsen and perceptions can degrade. What started out as a very positive attitude toward your company can turn suspicious and negative by the time your crew arrives to do the work.

Positive attitudes can turn negative for many reasons. The customer might hear a horror story about a roofing job that went south. A newspaper article might raise suspicions. Personal problems might turn someone negative about almost anything, including your job. The longer the time it takes to get to work, the more opportunity there is for negative feelings to surface.

On the other hand, the limbo period is a great opportunity to move your customer from a suspicious or doubting perception to a positive, confident one. All you have to do is establish a positive relationship and keep him informed. One or two calls may be all it takes. Someone from your company should call, introduce him or herself, offer to be available should questions arise, and explain the current status of the job on your schedule. The caller should say when he or she is likely to call again. And then call again as promised. This simple communications program can do wonders for your image.

Phase two is much more difficult because it involves your crew, up close and personal, bad breath, hangovers and all. One thing you can do is dress them up — uniforms, company t-shirts, caps, etc. Sure, this will cost you some money; everything does. It’s part of your overhead cost. The customer pays for it, gladly, in the end.

You can also set behavior standards on the job. Insist on workmanship standards. Behavior on the job is a very important part of workmanship. You may not have thought about holding a toolbox talk about behavior, but why not?

When a job goes wrong and an owner turns hostile, turn it into a case study. Ask the customer to help you prevent this from happening again. Find out what went wrong. You will discover that a large part of the hostility could have been prevented with better communications. Train workers, sales force and administration to prevent it.

Customers turn hostile for the same reasons employees and friends do. They think you have disrespected or cheated them. Once they believe that, trust is lost and very difficult to regain. Do you have a communications strategy in your company? You should.