It’s been an interesting couple of months. While I’ve been getting the business going, I’ve also been trying to get my house ready to sell, trying to sell the house, and picking up contract work. What’s been amazing to me during the process is how utterly unreliable some companies and individuals are that I’ve worked with. For instance, I’ve dealt with plumbers who said that the work they were doing replacing galvanized pipe under the house would be done within a single day and ended up losing some shrubs I just planted because the water was off for three days during a heat wave. The same plumbers also managed to knock some duct work and a dryer vent loose, ultimately causing moisture problems under the house, which made a buyer back out at the last minute.
Reliability is not free, nor is it cheap, but lack of reliability is even more expensive. In terms of business, the problems they created cost me several thousand dollars, both in repairs and in opportunity cost (because there were quite a few hours I was not able to work out of the house when I expected to be able to, because we had to go through the process of showing it again).
I don’t think that unreliable people set out to be that way. I think a lot of it, frankly, is misguided optimism on their part. When they estimate how long a job will take, they do so with the assumption that everything is going to happen perfectly, which is almost never the case anywhere. Others simply don’t have a backup plan for when things go wrong. My plumbers, for instance, took three days to get my water back on, because someone else had an emergency – they should have had people they could call so that they could handle it if things went awry, rather than leaving a customer with no water and no ability to use their own house for three days. At the very least, they should have made me aware that I wasn’t a priority if someone else called in with a bigger emergency, allowing me to plan accordingly.
I also don’t think that a lot of unreliable people consider what happens when they don’t do what they say they will do. The greatest risk to them is the loss of the contract. For me, it meant two days of working from a coffee shop, when I really needed to be working out of the house. And ultimately, because they weren’t careful, they ended up costing me a lot of money and time by causing a potential home buyer to back out after we had already put an offer in on a new place (and paid for a home inspection). Much of the problem could have been avoided with some communication. For instance, had the plumbers simply told me that they had an emergency and were going to be short staffed, I could have planned accordingly. At the very least, I wouldn’t have had a call with a client the night they were supposed to be finished. But they said nothing until it was too late to reschedule the call. Then, when they finally had the manpower to finish the work, they rushed to try and cover up the fact that they were so far behind and ended up costing me a lot more money and time.
At the end of the day, someone being able to rely on you isn’t because your scheduling and estimation is perfect. Nor is it because you are perfectly prepared for every emergency. It’s because you tell the client what is going on as soon as possible, so that the consequences of whatever problem you are having can be triaged before it creates a whole bunch of related problems for the client (and their clients). Folks I consider unreliable do not do this, preferring to be opaque about problems and to try and scramble to cover them up instead. It never works. Besides, if you are constantly trying to cover up the results of emergencies and mistakes, you end up working your employees half to death as well, which tends to result in ever-increasing numbers of emergencies, emergencies that you could have simply avoided by a little strategic use of transparency. And that’s the sad part. Being unreliable is not only a hideous expense to your clients, but also to you and your employees, and it doesn’t even make anything easier.