The (Cowboy) customer is king


WHEN we think of cowboy operators we think of those in the building and allied trades: In my experience they are far from being the worst offenders and there are many professions I distrust more. The myth of the cowboy builder has been reinforced by television series such as Channel Five’s Cowboy Builders.

The truth is that builders and others in the service industries are far more likely to be taken for an expensive ride by cowboy customers.


As a business assessment manager of twenty years experience it was rare to find a tradesman who had not been swindled by an unprincipled customer.

Consumers are adept at finding excuses for either not paying or reducing the amount agreed upon.

Retailers are often incensed by shoppers who buy dresses or jewellery then use them for an event before returning them as ‘faulty.’

Restaurateurs and hoteliers all know diners who cut and run. Customers have become increasingly sophisticated and brazen in devising ways by which they can cheat those who serve them.


The Disappearing Trick

Tradesmen recall a lady client, who, having purchased a rundown property called in building trade professionals.

Replacement windows were fitted, gardens landscaped, the property renovated throughout.

Following completion the tradesmen waited for their invoices to be settled. Only when they pressed for payment did they realise their client had quietly sold the house for substantially more than she had paid for it and then disappeared.

A driveway specialist tells of creating stunning patios and garden pathways with stepped causeways and attractive features.

In an attempt to avoid paying the client claimed the 1.5cm between paving slabs a tad on the wide side.

With admirable patience the landscaper re-set each of the slabs 1cm apart after which he was grudgingly paid.

A milkman roundsman tells of a customer living on millionaires’ row.

His client often argued over whether a large or medium cream had been delivered yet only pennies separated the two sizes.


The Cheats Charter

Such customers know their rights and are unscrupulous when it comes to abusing them.

Many of the worst offenders are middle class professionals.

Chris is a hardworking young landscaper trying to build his business.

A garden makeover having been completed he presented the agreed bill for €600. Without blinking the client wrote out a cheque for €450 and coolly informed him that if he pressed for the difference she would sue him for harassment.


A fence erector was claimed against by his customer’s neighbours.

They said his digger had put cracks in their steps.

They were caught out when he pointed out that the moss growing in these alleged cracks had been there for years.

One aggrieved awnings installer was forced to pursue his claim for payment through the law courts:

There he was told by the clerk that his debtor client was being pursued by many others.

This customer’s philosophy was to pay only when it reached the courts; most tradesmen preferred putting it down to experience and let the matter drop.

A friend in the soft furnishings business tells me the worst offenders are police officers and bank managers.

Perhaps it is time for the television industry to provide us with a series of programmes about customer cheats.

It would be both entertaining and enlightening.

Sadly it might provide training for the unscrupulous but clearly there are ten cowboy customers for every cowboy builder.

By Mike Walsh



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