Adopt the mentality of the phrase, “There’s always 3 sides to any story: your side, my side and the truth.”
On the “truth” end, or the neutral end, try to do the right thing first, not the right thing to you or her, just the right thing. Set aside your feelings and biases from it, for now. “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” (Daniel Patrick Moynihan) I trust your foreman too, but let’s look past attribution of blame. Right now, look at the core issues and the eventual consequences. There’s stuff that’s broken and needs fixing. There’s the potential that the customer could really hurt your reputation. There’s also the chance that she’s just kicking and screaming because she can and others will recognize that. On the other hand, she could be somebody who’s easily appeased with lots of smiling, joking and some money in repairs. Or maybe she’ll take advantage of that and exploit you. Go through a couple more scenarios, just as a mental exercise, and then get down to your “net cost” conclusion. Is it easier for me to recover from bad press or from some repair costs? If you’re a PR & Marketing genius and generate lots of positive reviews on Angie’s List and other review sites, then it might be more productive to move on and keep generating more positive press and let this one customer be a lesson and a reminder. If repairing the damaged items, regardless of cause/fault, keeps you from losing leads and prospects who would have otherwise hired you, if not for the bad press, then it’s quite possible that repairing the items results in a lower net cost in the long run.
I really don’t know what’s going to happen, but I do know that it helps to look at things from a “numbers” point of view, as it can be a window into objective and neutral decision making. As food for thought, here’s the nature of working with customers: A customer will tell 4 people about a good experience at a restaurant, but that same customer will tell 10 people about a bad experience at a restaurant. The figures on that statement varies, but the basic idea remains that you’re the one on stage with a spotlight on you, not the customer. Now, don’t make any decisions based solely on this line of thought. Consider the other thought experiments below.
After looking at the “truth” side, swap your roles with her. If you were in her shoes, with her viewpoint, how would you act? Would you try to get a service company to do right by you if you were completely convinced that they had damaged your property?
Finally, imagine her in your shoes. Would she “fire” you as a client? Would she drop you as soon as you became a difficult customer?
Whatever decision you make, do your utmost to frame it right. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s quite possible to tell her “Yes, I’ll repair the damages” and still end up with a very grumpy person. Fortunately, that means the opposite is true. You could tell her “No, I’m not repairing the damage” and leave her feeling like she’s the most important person in the world. It’s all about how you convey your decision, not the actual decision. This is a long post as it is, but I’ll give you a story to bring this point home.
There was a family seated in an area of a stadium that wasn’t meant for seating (they brought their own chairs). There was nothing that we could do to force them to move, but we could ask and we could ask the right way. We started off by apologizing to them. They had no idea why we were apologizing, but it put them in an unthreatened state of mind. We also made sure we were on the same level as they were, literally. We got on one knee and matched their eye level, making it clear that we weren’t trying to be in a dominant position. Then we explained why we were sorry, stating that it was our fault for not clearly marking the area as prohibited for seating. We then stated that we would assist them in moving to an area set aside for seating and that it would be a breeze as there were so many of us to help them move their belongings. We also made sure to let them know that it was only a short distance away. The family had previously refused to others, but had submitted to our request. Why? Well, there were a couple of things that made it work. We made sure that it was framed in such a way that it [I]seemed[/I] like there were no other options. They didn’t need to know that there was nothing we could do to force them to do things our way. To put it another way, why do you drive in the right lane and not the left? Because you’ve been instilled with the frame of mind that you don’t cross that double line. There’s literally nothing stopping you from doing so, but you’re possessed by a mental/internal barrier that’s represented by the double line. Same thing with the family. Additionally, we didn’t mention the inconveniences, we discussed the conveniences. By focusing on how there were so many of us to help them move and that it was a such a short move, that it was hard to refuse the attention and accommodation we were providing. We did our best to be on their side: we smiled, we didn’t stand above them and we introduced ourselves with an apology. There were some other things, but the point is that we framed the move as an advantageous one to them, even though they had felt very differently about this before.
[U]A beautiful picture can look ugly in the wrong frame and an ugly picture can look beautiful in the right frame.[/U]
Moving forward, you’d do well to list off all damaged items at the time of the bid, and have them sign an Acknowledgment & Indemnification statement (in plain English, “I understand that these items were damaged before cleaning and won’t try to make you pay for it after you’re done cleaning”). You could list the damaged items on the bid itself (be detailed) and have the Acknowledgement & Indemnification statement attached to the bid, maybe adding it to whatever legal disclaimers already on the bid sheet, such as an Authorization statement (“By signing, I authorize you to do the work at the price listed on this bid”). Now, keep in mind, I’m not a lawyer, so if you’re looking into these things, you’re probably better off speaking with a legal professional who speaks more Legalese than English.