SMH Small Business Trends
January 22, 2014
Many consumers prefer tradespeople who are unprofessional. So don't complain next time a tradie fails to meet your expectations.
I have little sympathy for homeowners who use second rate tradespeople, then tell the world about how bad all tradesmen are. The question I’d like to ask is what criteria are they using to make decisions about hiring the right tradesman?
I am a tradesman and can say unequivocally ‘professionalism’ is something few people are prepared to pay for when selecting a tradesperson. Qualifications, reputation, skillset, past knowledge and experiences stand for very little when it comes to comparing quotes. Ultimately, it comes down to who is the cheapest. As a result the industry continues to fail on delivering reasonable standards in workmanship and customer service.
Being ‘professional’ in the building industry is just not worth it to the tradesperson, as it does not translate into business. It’s not appreciated by homeowners until the job goes horribly wrong and they wish they’d paid more for a tradesperson with better experience.
In fact, sometimes promoting a professional image can be counter-effective. A tradesperson can have more chance of winning a job by parading him or herself as vulnerable, uneducated, sloppy and cheap, instead of being professional, thorough, conscientious, honest, caring, diligent and successful.
People don’t want to hire someone who looks successful; instead they want someone who appears down on their luck, desperate for the work and easier to take advantage of at the end of the job when it’s time to pay. In my experience, society has pigeonholed builders and tradesmen as uneducated morons who should be spoken down to, treated with contempt and made to beg for their final payment.
Indeed, lack of security of payment is a huge issue many tradespeople have to endure. These experiences create deep scars that impact their family’s wellbeing, and trigger sometimes paranoid behaviours, that make it hard to come across as ‘professional’.
There is a lot of talk about reforming building codes and standards, industry regulations, customer service and compliance coming from those at the top, but way too little action taken. There are government departments, industry associations and business groups that need to get serious about cleaning up the shonks in the industry by sticking to their words and taking severe action to clean them out.
At the moment, the cost of running a compliant business is significantly greater than running one that’s not compliant. Yet both compliant and non-compliant businesses compete for the same job in the same market. Half the contractors I know are unlicensed, uninsured or operating while insolvent, yet are knee deep in work. But many compliant ones that carry all the compulsory insurances and overheads are sitting idle, unable to land a job.
The industry needs to stop following the path of its past and start providing new, professional service levels that are on par with other service industries. Otherwise, the trades will continue to operate as a black market and never be taken seriously.
Educational institutes such as universities and colleges, which are responsible for issuing trade qualifications, need to include business management in curricula that cover basic accounting, marketing and customer service. Most apprentices coming through the system don’t know what a basic business model is, let alone the true meaning of professional services. And they are the future of the industry.
We are all responsible for changing attitudes and opinions about the building industry. But until we all start respecting tradesman for the qualified individuals they are, we can’t expect professionalism or customer service to improve.
Courtesy also needs to go both ways. It’s a small thing, but when I make contact with someone for the first time, I expect them to look me directly in the eye and show me the respect I deserve as a human being.
On the other hand, if a tradesperson isn’t punctual, fails to answer calls or return messages, can’t provide a clear and detailed quote, asks for cash, doesn’t have an email address, doesn’t have a bank account, can’t provide insurances and doesn’t present well, don’t reward him or her with the job. Continue looking until you find someone that ticks all those boxes. This degree of scrutiny is really the only way to eliminate or at least minimise risk.
Professionalism is more than just a flashy business name or logo, or even a website. It needs to be about the whole package. The industry needs to raise the bar. But it needs the community’s help to know how high to place it.
Allen Cetinic is a director of Render My Home.