Making One Thing Perfectly Clear

RER interviewed a couple dozen contractors for this month's cover story, and while each contractor had unique pet peeves and expectations regarding rental companies, one theme stood out consistently: Do what you say. Repeatedly the contractors told us they can understand if, once in a while, a rental company doesn't have a piece of equipment available or isn't able to get an excavator in time for a Thursday 6 a.m. delivery. They can accept that. But they cannot accept being told it will be there and have the machine not show up.

A lot of rental companies like to live dangerously when it comes to making promises to their customers. Some believe in never saying no, running on faith that they'll get the machine. I've heard it so many times over the years. “We say yes and then we worry about how we're going to get it.”

In some cases, that practice seems based on a near-religious attitude that if they believe, somehow God will provide, that somehow, some way, they will find the piece. Some rental companies have big enough inventories and a wide enough circle of companies they re-rent from that they can come through most of the time.

But other times the problem is that salesmen aren't responsible, that they want the business but don't really consider whether their promises are realistic. More than one contractor commented that some salesmen are inexperienced, or that they move between companies too much and don't end up picking up the pieces and considering the consequences when their company can't back up their promises.

If a rental company doesn't come through and leaves the contractor waiting at 6 in the morning on Thursday, the damage to its credibility and customer trust may undo all the times it did come through. For some contractors, expenses may run in the thousands of dollars per hour on a jobsite, and not coming through as promised is a severe financial issue to them. And the contractor's credibility may be damaged as well. Their customer probably won't look at such delays as, “Oh, BBB Rentals made a mistake on inventory availability.” They will look at the contractor as having made an error in judgment in whom he does business with. Or they may not look at it any way at all except that the contractor failed to do what he promised. End of story, end of future business with that contractor.

To make matters worse, if a rental company fails to deliver the equipment on time and then doesn't even contact the contractor, it's as if it wasn't important enough to acknowledge. Though it's not a life or death matter, I like to compare that to an ambulance just not showing up after a person had a heart attack. “Sorry, couldn't make it. Call? Yes, I guess I should have called. Sorry.”

Obviously we're not talking about heart attacks here, but we're living in an age of communications technology. Everybody has a cell phone and many have Blackberrys and other pieces of communications equipment as well. We all know that in this industry, things happen and equipment breaks down. But there is no excuse for not communicating.

Contractors we spoke with have a lot of different preferences in their day-to-day business. A few called for more electronic communication, wanting to be able to reserve equipment at any time, 24/7, wanting to dial direct to the appropriate person at a rental company, wanting billing to be accurate. While most feel they are knowledgeable enough about equipment to know what they need when they need it, some expect rental companies to be able to advise them on complex applications. Or if a particular machine isn't available, to advise them about what piece might effectively substitute.

One contractor admits to a weakness for Krispy Kreme doughnuts and said it wouldn't hurt to have a rental salesman bring him a box on Friday afternoons. I remember a rental company periodically bringing six-foot-long submarine sandwiches to jobsites where their equipment was rented. You think those workers didn't like doing business with that rental company?

There are a lot of ways to develop relationships with customers: sandwiches, doughnuts, fishing trips, tickets to ball games or car races, barbecues and more. Ultimately, however, none of them will be effective if that excavator isn't there at 6 a.m., or even worse, if a phone call isn't made to communicate that a problem arose.

The rental business is far from easy. But is communication really that hard?

TAGS: Ar Features
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