Contractors…some helpful advice in dealing with expats

Dear Singapore Contractors

Can we talk?

The way you do business makes Expats (at least this Expat) want to fling themselves out a window, or at the very least beat our heads against the walls.  Based upon my experiences with contractors over the past 5 months, I humbly wish to offer you some advice in how to make your dealings with Expats more pleasant, and to make them want to hire you again.

1-Be Professional When You Answer a Phone.  Perhaps I assume too much, but this should be a basic rule of business.  Even if it’s your personal handphone, if you also use it as a business line, answer it with your business name and your name.  When you answer with “Hello?” it forces me to confirm if you are your business, and often makes me feel as if I’m bothering you.  I also wonder if it’s a wrong number.  It’s just not professional.

2-Make an appointment for a specific date and time. Do not say “Why don’t we do it Monday, I’ll call you that morning to set up a time.”  It is disrespectful.  It assumes that (a) I want my phone to ring early in the morning–I don’t, (b) That I don’t have other errands to run that day–I do, and (c) That I have no problem sitting around all day waiting for you to call and blocking out a day for a one hour repair, or even a 15 minute “look see”–I REALLY do.  It sends a message that you think my time is valueless, and by extension that I have no value.

3-Unless it’s an emergency, don’t assume you can just show up in 30 minutes. Again, it implies that you think I sit around my apartment all day and do nothing but wait for big strong contractors to show up and fix a dripping faucet or to replace that minor thing.  There is a slightly out of date rule regarding dating that I think bears repeating here…Never accept a date for Friday after Tuesday, and never accept a date for Saturday after Wednesday.  Feel free to offer that you can come by before hand, but it is respectful to offer a date that is, at the very least, 24-48 hours out.  I might need to reschedule a doctor’s appointment, move a playdate, or otherwise amend my schedule to accomodate you.

4-Show up on time. When I make an appointment specifically for 10am and say that it’s because my daughter sleeps in, your showing up at 9 and waking her with the doorbell is only going to piss me off and ruin my day.  Show up on time…10 minutes before-10 after is fine, but not an hour early and not an hour late (at least without texting me).

5-When you send workers on your behalf, it helps if they don’t look homeless. I once had a contractor send two workers who were filthy.  Head to toe dirty.  They looked like homeless beggars, not professional plumbers.  I refused to let them in, and I refused to work with that contractor any further.  It’s really not too much to ask that your workers be bathed and in clothes without giant holes in them…it’s really not.

6-When a selling point is that you’re fluent in English, don’t send workers who don’t. I get that you make tons of money off immigrant day labor.  That’s great for you.  But make sure that someone (especially when dealing with American/British/Australian Expats) speaks English.  I do not speak Hindi or any of the state languages from India and I can’t always assume that my in-law’s Gujarati will help as most of the immigrant Indian workers speak Tamil…Gujarati is not any more helpful than English.  I also don’t speak Mandarin or Cantonese.  When I can’t communicate with the workers, it’s frustrating and irritating.

7-Don’t text me at 1am and assume I’ll respond…or that I want my phone text alert to go off at 7am either. Calling or texting before 9am (at the absolute minimum…) or after 9pm is rude.  Or some reasonable hour….1am is ridiculous.  It doesn’t make you look like a hard worker…it looks like you don’t give a shit about waking us up with a stupid text about a stupid topic.  (exception…again…an emergency, like flooding).

8-If you can’t do the repair, just TELL ME that and don’t waste my time. When our hot water heater died, my landlady found some schmuck to come look at it.  He came (and I had a bad feeling about him all along, and told my realtor this early on), he waffled, it took a week to make an appointment and almost another for him to show up.  And then he said he was missing a part.  My realtor (who had dropped by to see how things were going) found him smoking downstairs and he whined to her that the job was “too hard.”  I thought, meanwhile, that he was on his way to Home-Fix to get a part.  She fired him, and it took another couple of weeks for the second contractor to come, evaluate, and set up the repair.  The first contractor knew he wasn’t capable of doing it when he did the look-see and we went extra weeks without hot water in our bathroom for no reason.

9-Don’t assume I have a 10 foot ladder or other random repair things. If I did, I would probably be the kind of person who could have fixed whatever’s wrong on my own instead of being the idiot white girl who called YOU to fix it.  Show up with all the tools that might be necessary.

10-Don’t play bullshit games to get paid in cash. If your ad says you can do credit cards, NETS, or check, then take my damn credit/NETS/Check.  No, I don’t walk around with hundreds of dollars on me.  I’ve had almost every person try to pull a variation of “my machine is broken/I don’t know how to take a check/etc” on me after agreeing on the phone to an alternative form of payment.  If it’s a day laborer, how do I know that you’re actually going to get paid?  And if you have to pay the day laborer cash, how is that my problem?  Take the payment you’ve agreed to.

Ten small things you can do to improve your business.  How about it contractors of Singapore?  Be respectful of me and my time, show up when you say you’re going to with the tools to do your job, and accept the form of payment you said you would.  Shower before work and speak the language I was told you would speak.  I’m more likely to send you my business again, and refer you if you can just do these small things for us.





Sigh….that’s what I thought.

Thanks Anyways,

Expat Bostonians.

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3 Responses to Contractors…some helpful advice in dealing with expats

  1. Stephanie says:

    *Cheers and Applause!*

  2. bookjunkie says:

    you have put into words what has been bothering me for a long time …thank you!! I think even non-expats are bothered but we have just given up and not expected any improvement in service. Our standards are so low that we just hope we don’t get cheated. I have heard many horror stories of houses being half way done, it’s terrible.

  3. paul says:

    Having only just started to get into the whole ‘yes, you are only renting the house, but hey, its your responsibility to ensure everything is mended, oh and pay for it too’, scenario, I can only sympathise. I am worried that it gets no better. I think customer service is a whole issue over here (not just with housing). However, coming from the UK I think my expectations were slightly lower than yours to start with! Gives me an idea for a niche business though…..

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