An opportunity squandered

A few years ago, I did a technical seminar at a continuing education event on a Saturday morning. Our customer, a water systems distributor, had organized it in order for the 200-plus water systems contractors in that room to obtain some much-needed continuing education credits.

The guest speaker who followed me was an official from the state agency responsible for water well contractor licensing requirements. He furnished a thorough, albeit dry, review of the current regs and upcoming changes. At the end of his presentation, he asked if there were any questions.

A water well contractor in the back of the room raised his hand. “Yeah, I’ve got a couple. I’m here on my Saturday morning so that I receive the continuing education you say I need to maintain my water well contractor’s license. I also understand from what you’ve just said, that when I walk into my distributor to pick up a submersible pump, he should verify that I have a valid contractor’s license, correct?”

The speaker agreed, saying, “Yes, exactly. We want to make sure everyone who is installing submersible pumps is qualified to do so. Your distributor should be checking that your license is current before he sells to you.”

This was quickly followed up with this question: “Well then, how come anyone can walk into that big box store over there and buy a submersible pump?”

The state official was ready with a pat answer: “From a regulatory standpoint, it’s acceptable for a home- or landowner to purchase a submersible pump from a retail outlet. However, he can only install it on his own property.”

The contractor then pounced with a series of follow-up questions: “Please explain to me how the State of ______ is verifying and enforcing this. Is there a single person in that big box store over there who knows the rules that we’ve spent our Saturday morning hearing about? Do their cashiers know they need to verify that that submersible pump is going solely for use on that individual’s property? Are you headed over there after this to speak to the store manager?”

Clearly rattled now, the only feeble response the state official could muster was, “No, my agency has limited resources. I’m out of time here.”

This contractor had a completely legitimate question and this was a classic case where knowing your audience and anticipating their questions would have gone a long way. A non-response, as occurred here, destroys your credibility. “I don’t know, but I will find out” is acceptable, by the way.

For whatever it’s worth, this would have been a far better response: “Your point is valid, but it’s critical to every single person in this room that the groundwater of this state is protected. If it’s contaminated, there is no groundwater industry. My agency has been mandated by our lawmakers to do that. Thankfully, the vast, vast majority of pump installations are performed by professionals like you. We have to focus our limited resources on that 99 percent. Can we check the credentials of every single person who pulls a well cap off? Of course not. But, as part of our mandate, we can provide continuing education training that is valuable to you. My allotted time is up here, but I would like to sit down with any number of you and discuss how we can make the most out of your future continuing education sessions.”

Honesty and openness build credibility and ultimately earn customers, whether they’re contractors who need credits or homeowners who need water. The more straightforward you can be, the more willing you are to answer questions, the more likely you are to win someone’s trust. In the end, your business depends on that.

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