Wednesday, January 15, 2014

When a service provider doesn't provide

Hello Polite Readers!

This week's column was inspired by a friend's question about what to do when you're paying someone for a service and they're just not doing what you've asked them to do, and in fact are doing a bad job. There's a few situations where this could happen:

-You're getting a pedicure and the stylist shaves off your dance callouses even though you told her not to.
-You're getting a massage and the therapist is literally rubbing you the wrong way.
-You ask for a little off the top and end up with a mullet.
-You hire someone to clean your house and they didn't mop the floor.

So I'm not a big fan of the old adage "The customer is always right" because sometimes the customer is wrong, insane, or keeps changing their mind. But chances are you are probably right if you feel like you asked for one thing and were given another. It's important to remember that this person is not doing you a favor, you are paying them to do a job and they should do the job you paid them for. But it's also important to remember that being polite will usually get you further than yelling.

If you catch the person before the damage is done, stop them and politely remind them of what you already agreed to. When you see the nail tech reaching for that callous remover, pull your foot back and say "Oh, I'm a dancer, I need to keep my callouses, thank you!"

In the case of the massage, communicate clearly why what the therapist is doing wrong is uncomfortable to you. If they continue to do things wrong, ask them to stop and either ask for a refund, or if it's one of those places with multiple employees, see if someone else can take over. Say something like "I'm sorry, your technique is making me uncomfortable."

When you get a bad haircut, you should talk to the salon manager and ask for another stylist to fix it. This is a case where I'd have a hard time not getting angry -- my hair is seriously important to me and a bad haircut can be had to repair. Make sure to stress how upset you are without raising your voice. If you're a dancer or model, this is a good time to mention how important your image is to your career and how this might cost you work.

When you've hired someone to do a job like cleaning your house or yard or painting your fence or building your new website and they've left part of it undone, remind them of the parameters of your original agreement. Depending on the situation, you can ask them to stay and finish it, to return the next day, to get it done by a certain deadline, to give you a partial refund for the work left undone, or for a credit towards your next service. Again, be polite and stick to the facts. "In our original contract we agreed I would pay you $100 for you to do X, Y and Z but you only completed X and Y. I need you to have Z done by Friday or I will have to request a partial refund." Depending on the nature of the work and your relationship with the person, you may also want to leave them some room for negotiation, ie, "I paid you for X, Y and Z but you did not provide Z. I was curious if there was a reason why Z was absent, and if so, can we replace it with something else?"

It's a common belief that being polite means that you have to let people walk all over you, but it's not true. You can be polite while still standing up for your rights as a customer. The squeaky wheel may get the grease, but you can squeak without yelling.

Do you have an awkward social situation you need help with? Write to me at and your question could be featured on this blog!

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