One of the best parts about being in pool service is that every day is different. You never know what you’re going to do — or who you’ll meet on that day’s route.
In my years in pool service, I’ve come to realize there’s several types of service customers. If you're lucky, you'll get what I call "average customers," who are known for their ability to schedule work and pay their bill after you have completed the requested work.They're friendly (but not overly so), understand that time is valuable and generally leave you to your work.
But as any service tech knows, "average customers" are pretty rare. (Like one out of 1,000!) Let's take a look at some of the more common customer types in the pool industry.
1. The Gatekeeper
If you've gone to a house for a service call, only to find a locked gate and no way to the backyard, you've got a gatekeeper on your hands. Be sure to check both sides of the house as well as the mailbox in case they left a key for you. Knock on the door at least two times before calling the customer to remind them again about your scheduled visit today. Politely decline when they ask you to climb the fence. One cancelled visit is understandable — but multiple canceled service calls to the same address indicates he or she is a chronic gatekeeper; if you want to continue service, you'll need to ask for a key to the gate.
2. The "Perfectionist"
The perfectionist is not difficult to spot — you'll know it when you get to their house and they tell you to not park in the driveway, despite the fact that it's large enough for six service trucks. There will only be one access point to the pool area, and it will be located on the far side of the house. There will be a direct path to the pool side, but this area will be "out of bounds" due to a Japanese maple sapling that is currently recovering from a light wind storm. The perfectionist customer will explain in great detail about their previous life as an engineer, or unrelated skilled trade, and proceed to instruct you (incorrectly) in how to perform each mundane task of your job. Any project completed for a perfectionist customer will take at minimum twice as long as any other customer and will result in multiple complaints about 92 percent of the time.
3. The Duffman
The Duffman is always wearing flip flops and Hawaiian shirts that are never buttoned. His skin is leathery like a Christmas turkey, and he is always home when service is scheduled for his pool. He will be drinking before, during and after your arrival and will try very hard to get you to join him. Duffman is a great customer and never too picky about the work being completed, so long as it does not interrupt any parties he has planned — of which are many. Duffman pays his bills when he wakes up, which is sometimes days or even weeks later. Duffman only complains when the beer is running out.
4. The Cougar
You know you have a Cougar when every man in your company knows her name and address by memory. She is aggressive, sultry and somehow has near-constant, minor problems with her "leaky pipes" that need attention. If working on a swimming pool and you notice someone wearing a bikini or loose fitting housecoat who also happens to be doing a lot of unnecessary "bending" while gardening, you're likely in the presence. If you find yourself confronted by a cougar, complete your work in a timely and efficient fashion and exit the property while walking backwards, maintaining eye contact the entire time.
5. The Big Tipper
When this guy needs a service visit, crew members aren't afraid to fight each other for the job. The Big Tipper will receive at least double the care and attention of any other customer. While not inclined to complain, a big tipper who has lodged a complaint will usually result in the pool technician equivalent of the bat signal, followed by an army of eager service technicians crawling all over the property.
6. The Retiree
For many pool techs, the Retiree is the bane of their existence. He'll find you within one minute of your arrival to the property and will not leave your side for the entire service call. What makes this so difficult is that he is exceptionally nice in most cases and you want to treat him like family...but he moves like frozen molasses and is as fragile as a porcelain vase. Being retired, this customer spends most of his time hoping he finds a broken pool component so he can schedule a service call and spend the entire day regaling you with stories of his youth.
7. The Widow
The Widow can be identified immediately for her tendency to frequently explain how "overwhelmed" she is with her pool. She'll require constant hand holding for even the most simple tasks. At the same time, she is inclined to heavily scrutinize any work estimates you provide and monitor your work from the upstairs window with the blinds closed. Be patient and gentle when working with the Widow, as she's likely to improve over time and develop into either a Perfectionist or simply an average customer.
If you have a Widow who has developed into the Duffman, party with her because she sounds awesome.
8. The New Guy
The New Guy is completely lost and complains about it a lot. If the pump pressure is too high or low, or if the filter trips the electrical breaker, you're going to hear about it. He's also known for asking the same questions every time he talks to you, while never listening to the answers you provide. When working with the New Guy, write down notes to give him — if you run pool schools and have pool care guides on hand, leave one with him.
Finally, the New Guy is likely to call and complain about the service he received while not remembering which of the 30 companies he called actually came out and did the work. Have fun with that!
9. The Hardass
You know you're dealing with a hardass because they're yelling at you. Usually they've had a negative experience with another pool company, and they feel justified in yelling at you because of this. While furious, and near to purple in color, this customer will still want you to perform your work — he just wants to yell at you for a bit while you do it. Avoid confrontation with a hardass at all costs as beating a customer to death reflects poorly on your company. Any publicity is good publicity...except for being featured on the front page of the local paper for murdering your customers.
10. The Ghost
Nobody has ever seen the Ghost, but just about every pool company has one. These customers are never at home day or night, weekend or weekday. They schedule all service via email and prefer to pay their bills online or via check. Ghost customers are fantastic for pool companies and service technicians since there are never any distractions or voicemails to return.
11. The Handyman
When working on or around a pool belonging to the Handyman, be sure to wear safety glasses at all times. Keep long hair tied back. Long pants and sleeves are recommended. A handyman will repair his pool with whatever inconceivable materials he has on hand and great care should be taken to avoid getting injured when attempting to interact with "modified" pool equipment. The Handyman is very likely to complain about "ridiculous prices."
12. The Unicorn
Rare and majestic, the unicorn customer is one that cannot be missed. They are inclined to offer, or even bring unannounced, various foods and refreshments. The rarest of unicorns will even endeavor to prepare fresh baked goods that must be hungrily devoured upon sight. Should you be lucky enough to encounter a unicorn in the wild, be sure to offer prompt and friendly service and remember your "yes please, that would be great!" mantra. A unicorn is more likely to deliver a tray of baked goods to the store than complain about service. This could be due to the personality of the unicorn, or it could also be that no pool owner that baked fresh cookies has ever received poor service in the history of mankind.
Did I miss any? Comment with your thoughts.
Steve Goodale is a second generation swimming pool expert located in Ontario Canada. You can learn more about Steve, as well as swimming pool construction, maintenance and repair from his website: SwimmingPoolSteve.com.