“What a great job you have. You get to play with boats all the time!” We hear this regularly.
We feel blessed and have chosen this trade because of our love of boats and boating, but all boats are not fully crewed mega yachts or maintained by fastidious owners. Some are filthy and stinky. Our claims business often finds us crawling through boats that were recently raised from the bottom, thick with soot from a fire or grossly fouled from some horrendous accident. We regularly wear knee pads and it is not uncommon to don long-sleeved coveralls, gloves, boots, eye protection and a respirator (full PPE) and there is another type of unpleasantness, the human type.
Marine surveying is a service business and we cherish out customers. Good service leads to goodwill and referrals from satisfied customers. Good service will minimize negative results from dissatisfied customers. I do not necessarily believe the client is always right but the client is always the client.
There are times that we experience a side of humanity and difficult personalities that challenge our professionalism and social graces.
The following short story and the text thread that follows is the first story written about one of these experiences, and we have written a lot of stories. (Comments in parenthesis are added for humor.)
The engagement began normally. A telephone call discussing the purchase of a J/105 sailboat. The client declined the sea trial, stating “I don’t need to sail it”. The day before the survey, on a conversation confirming the survey, the client decided to have the surveyor attend the vessel at the marina, witness a cold start and check the engine on the way to the boatyard.
The survey also started normally in the marina, the engine was inspected prior to starting, a cold start was witnessed and the vessel was operated from the marina to the boatyard. On the way, a short detour was made to test the engine under wide open throttle and the vessel arrived on schedule to the boatyard. The boatyard had not received an agreement from the client. I called the client and he stated, “Really? They’ve only known me for 30 years.”
Ironically, I discussed with the boatyard how important agreements are to us and that we make sure the agreements are signed the day before the survey, which I thought was done in this case.
The vessel was hauled as usual and the boatyard personnel discuss blocking the vessel as it was going to be out for a few days. The potential buyer arrives and wants to have the boat out of the water so that he can change the name. This comes as a surprise as the owner’s representative had discussed a normal “short haul” and return of the boat to the marina. I called the client to inform him that the captain says the boat is going back into the water, to which he responds, “Well tell him no it is f**king not!”. This is the first indication that this job would not be normal, and the last (of many) cuss words in this article that will be used.
While the initial response was off putting, I eventually realized, and you will see if you read the text thread, that this is a normal way for the client to communicate.
I let buyers and sellers resolve issues like this. The vessel was in fact launched and returned to the marina where the survey was completed.
The client came aboard the vessel at the marina, we gave a verbal debrief and concluded the job as normal.
I inquired about payment and quoted the price. The client responded with, “You’re spendy, send me an invoice and I will pay you with Zelle”. I responded by describing the invoice details, $22 per foot times the length overall (35 feet) and $150 for a sea trial, our normal price. There were no further discussions and I returned to our office.
All of the further communications were via text, though after several of the texts I tried unsuccessfully to switch to phone calls,
Text thread follows.
Wed, Apr 5 at 8:09 AM
Client – “yo, they are waiting for you at xxx yacht club”
Kells – “Five minutes away, what marina?” (the “yacht club” is in name only, it is a sailing organization located at a marina)
Client – “Marina xxx I believe. Google it!”
Kells – “Arriving”
Client – “done. Howz the motor?”
Kells – “Has some moderate issues.”
Wed, Apr 5 at 3:04 PM
Client – “thanks for today, but your price is too high. First, no industry discount? Second, charging me for a sea trial is just a rip off. You motored for 15 mins! Please adjust accordingly”
Kells – “I feel the price is fair and the sea trial was worth doing. You did not request a discount on the front side and are being charged what all out customers are charged”
Client – “everybody else in the industry knows who I am. I don’t pay retail and I sure as fxxk am not paying for a sea trial that never happened”
Kells – “Does everybody else in the industry like your business tactics? We will extend a discount for the sea trial as a courtesy and pay the parking fee”
Client – “ I usually don’t have to engage in this sort of horsesxxt with others.”
Kells – “Me either. Would have preferred to address it in person when I gave you the price. We also need you to complete our agreement.”
Client – “Well now you know. I am sick and feel like sh– and didn’t feel like arguing. Knock $300 off and ill pay you today”
Kells – “I reduce the cost by $150 and I’m not charging you for the parking. I am not going to reduce it any more.”
Client – “Charge me for parking? Are you high? $250 and we have a deal, otherwise, keep your survey.”
Kells – “I went to the marina at your request. I asked the machine to not charge me because I was working for xxx. It still charged me. I don’t appreciate you wasting my day” (okay a bit snarky on my part but I am human)
Client – “Your decision”
Kells – “No it is your demand for a discount after the fact”
Wed, Apr 5 at 6:14 PM
Client – “Do you want money or not? $700 today for the survey or fxxk off.”
Kells – “I want you to pay what is fair and feel your negotiation is unethical. I will not support that behavior. If you want the report which you requested, please sign the agreement and pay the invoice. The price is fair. Thanks”
Client – “What agreement? What price?”
Kells – “We sent you an Adobe sign agreement to your email and a revised invoice.”
Client – “In the spirit of cooperation, ill pay $750 and not a penny more. Revise the invoice, send me the survey and I will pay. Period. And if not, I don’t want to hear anything else about this.”
Kells – “If you want the survey, sign the agreement and pay the invoice.”
Client – “No thanks. Please do not contact me again.”
Kells – “I hope you feel better and wish you well.”
Client – “What kind of idiot loses $750 over 20 bucks? Apparently you. This is going to make a good story on xxx.” (the client is referring to a popular blog he writes)
Wed, Apr 5 at 6:14 PM
Client – “hey fxxkwit, I just found out you tried to rip me off! You charged $750 for another 105, which is exactly what I said I would pay. And don’t give me any bullsh– about a sea trial – you didn’t do one!”
Kells – “We charge the same to all our clients”
Client – “wrong. I have the fxxking invoice.”
Kells – “Our rates change over time, we currently charge $22/ft x loa and that is what we quote and charge for fiberglass boats under 60’.
Kells – “You are mistaken if you think I did anything but charge you what I charge everybody. We discussed the sea trial in advance, and you declined, the day before you changed your mind. If you asked for a quote, you would have received exact numbers on your original invoice”
Client – “Fxxk if I did. I NEVER wanted a sea trial and a fxxking motor to the yard is not a sea trial. Im writing an article about this right now. You fxxked up, assh—. Now go the fxxk away.” (I never looked for the article, but have not heard it was written second hand)
Thu, Apr 6 at 12:45 PM
Kells – “The rough draft is done, upon receipt of the agreement and payment I will complete it and send it to you. Please feel free to call with any questions.”
After the client signed the agreement and paid the invoice, he communicated with our office via email on Apr 10 at 1:50 PM
Client – “money sent via paypal. I am expecting the survey today.”
Christian & Company Office Email – “The report is attached. Thank you for your business.”
Client – “very good. Thanks very much and apologies for the miscommunication best, xxx”