By Christine Corelli

That quote from Ben Franklin applies to many things in business and in life. It especially applies to handling problems and complaints. 

What’s the best way to handle problems and complaints? There are many answers to that question. Essentially, with the utmost professionalism; with cool, calm collectedness; with tact and diplomacy. 

Here’s the BEST answer: Avoid them in the first place! I’m a firm believer in the best practice of Proactive Complaint and Problem Prevention.

As a contractor, there are numerous actions to take that will help you to avoid problems and complaints. Review and implement these best practices of progressive contractors to reduce problems and complaints.


  • “Oh, come on Sam. We don’t need a meeting. We’ve worked with you for years!” Go over the punch list with your subs on every job—even if you have worked for years with the sub and you know they do a great job. Let the sub know that the prework meeting to go over the punch list is not optional. It is mandatory.
  • Document every complaint and talk about how they could have been avoided.
  • Hold weekly meetings to discuss “Hits,” “Runs,” and “Misses.”
  • Have your accounting team check and double check every entry into your accounting system.
  • On a regular basis, ask your project manager, accountant, office manager, etc. this question: “Is there anything I should know about?” If you don’t ask, they may not tell you.
  • Demand workers to start working at start time, and not stand around chatting and drinking coffee for half an hour before they get started. 
  • Keep your tools and equipment in tip top shape. Note when parts need to be replaced and equipment needs maintenance service. No one likes downtime.
  • Communication and accountability from each member of your team is imperative to accomplish even the simplest task. 
  • Hold weekly meetings with your superintendent, project managers, and foremen to talk about the week before; discuss any problems that occurred and how you could have avoided potential problems.
  • Make sure your estimator applies their expertise, skills, and knowledge to account for any uncertainties that might arise during a construction project. 
  • Make sure every department and every employee will make every effort to provide great service to each other. If they don’t, how can you develop a reputation for being a top-notch contractor?
  • Check and cross-check the punch list with pertinent documents.
  • Keep your client informed when a problem occurs. Honesty is the best policy. 
  • Instruct every employee to display a sense of urgency to respond to any request. 
  • Never make a promise you can’t keep.
  • Ask complete questions, paraphrase to reconfirm what customers want so you don’t make a mistake. 
  • If you are not sure of something, just ask!


What do you say when there’s a complaint or problem? Use words and phrases that display professionalism and empathy. This can be challenging—especially when you have to deal with someone who thinks they know better than you! The following are examples of phrases known by customer service professionals as “verbal cushions.” These should help you face these difficult situations.

  • “John, I would like to be able to tell you I can do this for you. Unfortunately, it’s not feasible with this project.” Then, explain why.
  • “Based on my experience, this could have been avoided if…”
  • “I don’t blame you for being upset, Mr. Smith. I would feel the same if I were you.”
  • “I feel really bad about this, John. It couldn’t be helped.” 
  • “I’m understand the seriousness of being behind. The I appreciate your patience. The weather has been against us.”
  • “I apologize if there’s been a misunderstanding. Mr. Smith, I’ll talk with the project manager immediately and get back to you as soon as I obtain answers for you.”
  • “I am sorry that you think you were overcharged, Joe. Let’s walk through the invoice together. If there are any errors, we will make corrections immediately.”
  • “I understand your position, John. If I could do more for you, I would.”

Take the leadership role. Work with your team to create your own list. Print it out so everyone has them and consistently update them.


A final word on problems and complaints: Never carry an encounter with a difficult client or situation over to your next job, or take it out on your team. Understand that times are tough for everyone these days. Accept that in the construction business, and in every business, complaints and problems come with the territory. What is most important is that you have systems and procedures to prevent them from occurring. Proactive complaint and problem prevention is a smart practice.  

About the author:

Christine Corelli is a conference speaker, workshop facilitator, and business columnist. She has worked with an abundance of construction contractor companies and been a featured speaker at industry associations. To contact her for an upcoming meeting, conference, or special event, call 847.477.7376. For more, visit

Modern Contractor Solutions, August 2020
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