Have you ever been in the middle of a contracted project and thought, “This just isn’t working?” Even though you just want the project done, you can’t be afraid to speak up.
As soon as you start noticing red flags, you need to voice your concerns—and if you don’t get an answer or results that satisfy you, move up the power chain.
What red flags should you look for? You probably know them in your gut, but it doesn’t hurt to review them:
Are You on the Same Page?
You and your contractor need to be on the same page. One of the best ways to get there is to reiterate expectations. After discussions, the contractor should lay out in writing—whether in a statement of work as part of your contract or a memo to the team or an email copied to all involved parties—key details such as:
- the scope of the project (what are the deliverables, what’s included, and sometimes what’s NOT included)
- checkpoints and completion dates for key deliverables
- critical details you’ve already decided (the colors you want to use in your website, the size of the new packaging, the paper weight for your brochure . . . )
- how the product will match existing branding, product lines, or offerings
- contacts on the team and best communication channels
That last one is important because sometimes the person who sells you the service isn’t the person executing the plan. Who is your contact person throughout the project? They should be aware of the details listed above.
Red flag #1: Your contractor never finalizes to you in writing an understanding of expectations.
Action step: Don’t sign a contract or let work start without this basic information spelled out for everyone. Can you spell it out? Sure, but it’s a good sign if your contractor takes the initiative.
Communication Is Key to a Good Customer Experience
As a customer, you should expect your contractor to communicate with you regularly. The specifications mentioned previously are one of the first communications you should get, but it shouldn’t end there. If customer experience matters to your contractor, they’ll provide regular updates and timely, clear responses to your questions or feedback.
To facilitate communication, your contractor should find out the best way to communicate with you—and determine how often to communicate. Regular check-ins should be part of the plan.
Communication isn’t limited to these checkpoints though, and you should expect your concerns to be addressed soon after you raise them.
Red flag #2: Your contractor doesn’t return your calls or emails—or they do but they don’t really answer your questions or address your concerns.
Action step: Step up your communication—contact the owner or project manager if you aren’t getting the communication you need from your contact person. Ask for a stop to all work until your concerns or questions have been answered.
The Contractor Should Get Buy-in Before the End Product
Except in the smallest of projects, you should have a chance to give input at several stages in the project. Again, these can be outlined in the project schedule and description (the one you never got as red flag #1).
Imagine having a contractor working on your website, but not showing you copy until the site is designed or not showing you mock ups of sample pages before you see the test site. You could have told them early in the project that the copy or design is too soft or off-brand. But now you’ve invested a lot of time (and money) and you don’t like what you’re seeing.
Giving clients the chance to give feedback early and often helps the contractor get it right—and shows they care about the customer experience. Having predefined expectations for review and revisions will make this process smoother for all parties.
Red flag #3: The contractor won’t show you samples or work-in-progress. You hear “you’ll see it later” or “when it’s finalized” a lot.
Action step: Set up preset expectations or checkpoints to approve certain elements before more work proceeds). Don’t already have these in place? Let the project manager or owner, now you’re unhappy and set them up for the rest of the project.
What to Do If Your Customer Experience Isn’t Adding Up
When you first notice a red flag, do something about it—right away. Demand that you agree in writing on the specs of the project or revisit them if you realize something was missed or still vague. Stop work and, if necessary, hold the next payment until you’ve gotten a clear response to your questions. Move your concerns up the food chain—all the way to the top if you need to.
And if that doesn’t work? If you’re still not happy? It’s time for a hard conversation. And here’s the key: You need to be ready to walk. Yes, you may lose money. You may lose time. And you may not get anything out of it.
Sometimes you can resolve an issue to get the work done, but sometimes you need to fire your contractor, eat the loss, and start fresh to achieve your goal.
If you’re a contractor or service provider, are your customers and clients seeing red flags? Check your systems to make sure you’re providing a great customer experience.