Too Professional: A lesson I learned


I received an intriguing call from a customer today.  This property manager had a bill for some work that was done by another electrical contractor and she was questioning if the charges seemed reasonable.  She made an inquiry with her district manager and was recommended to call me for a second opinion.

We had done a fairly significant job for this manager in the past and our paths had crossed many times at trade related lunches and events and despite the fact that we had not done too much work for her recently, our relationship was always very positive.

I arranged to drop by the building as I was heading back to the office from another appointment. When I arrived she filled me in on a bit of the background and presented me with the invoice.  The work related to an issue with a couple of fixtures that were not working in one area of the building. The first call seemed pretty straight forward, access the issue, determine what parts were needed and arrange a return trip. Billing for this call was for one person at 2 hours.

Her concern was more with the return trip. The contractor had obtained the parts and returned to install them, however in this case the charge was for two men at three hours. I suspect that the three or maybe even four hours for one man might have seemed reasonable but what was this second person doing here? The work involved was not complex.

I don’t really have to comment further on this issue, the manager had already concluded that the second person was not really needed and it was in fact increasing her cost with no real benefit.

This is not the first time that I have heard this complaint from customers about other contractors. Contractors are very concerned about presenting the lowest hourly rate that they can to the customer. If you send an electrician and a helper and charge them both at the same rate you have essentially reduced your manpower cost without having to adjust your hourly rate.  Of course, as you see this strategy may come at some risk.

So why did the manager call me for my opinion and why did we not get called to do this job?  The answer to both questions was the same.  Over the years we had gained a reputation with this property management company as being true professionals and our opinion was valued.  When I asked why we were not doing more work she explained that like this job, many of the jobs were small and she perceived us as being “too professional” to be bothered with these small jobs.

I was blown away.  I never imagined that because the first job that we did was on a slightly larger scale that we would be passed over for the day to day service work.  Just to make it clear, we are pleased to use our fleet of service trucks and staff to do jobs of any size. And no we do not have apprentices or helpers. Our approach is one licensed electrician per truck at a completive rate providing the highest quality of service.

Yours in honesty and integrity,

Mark Marmer