Many years ago, before Annmarie and I started our residential architecture firm, I was a project manager with Kaeyer, Garment & Davidson Architects in Mt. Kisco, New York. I worked very closely with the senior partner at the time, Dick Kaeyer.
My first assignment as Project Manager was a major addition and renovation project for a church and facilities in Yorktown Heights. Dick designed the project and I developed it through construction drawings. Then, in order to learn the tips and tricks of construction administration, Dick and I worked as a team through construction.
Everything was going very smoothly and I was feeling very confident, until the windows were delivered. I will never forget the day. A sunny summer afternoon, I was attending the project meeting alone and the first window was being installed. The owner looked at the new Andersen Sandtone window and said, “The windows are wrong. We wanted white windows. Why are they not white?”
Panic pushed massive amounts of adrenaline through my brain. I specified Sandtone windows months ago during Design Development. Dick and I selected a neutral earthtone color scheme and I thought the deep tan color of the Sandtone finish would look great. There was never a request for white windows from the owner. They just expected that they would be white, and they weren’t. I never informed Dick of my decision, so this was all on me.
I was scared. I was 26 years old and this project was my first big responsibility. I went back to the office and told Dick about the problem. The contractor wanted the issue resolved immediately. Reordering the windows would push the project weeks off schedule and the rest of the building was enclosed and ready for siding.
I explained to Dick how I specified the color and that it was all my fault. I took full responsibility and offered to pay for the new window order. I don’t think I completely understood what I was doing. It was a $15,000 order and I was making about $35,000 per year.
The next day, I met with the owner, apologized, again took full responsilibity and explained what I had suggested to Dick.
What happened next was very interesting. Not only did the owner accept my apology, I gained his full respect. From that point forward he knew, without a doubt, that I was working for him. My honesty and integrity gave him a whole new level of comfort and confidence.
Dick’s years in the industry paid off that week. He pulled some strings and had a new order of white windows delivered the following week. The supplier accepted the Sandtone windows in exchange and my salary was unscathed.
The lessons I learned on that project have been with me ever since;
1. Manage your client’s expectations. Make sure they know what they’re getting…before they get it.
2. When you make a mistake, take full responsibility as soon as possible. Not only will you gain respect, you will minimize the impact of the error.
3. Use the words, “I am sorry”. It will instantly defuse the anger of the offened party.
4. Find a solution, no matter how much it might hurt.
I have discovered throughout the years that if you are honest and have integrity in all you do, it will ALWAYS work out. The relationship you have built with your client will be streghthened in ways that would be impossible otherwise.
Then, once the problem has been completely resolved, make sure it NEVER happens again.
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