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I've been dealing with a company I hired to perform a personal job (install a product on my property) for over a year ago. It's been an incredibly frustrating experience; fraught with delays, lack of oversight and communication, and general all-around (to me, anyways) incompetence.

The quote they provided gave a delivery date of June, last year. That didn't happen; the salesperson had ballparked September, so I wasn't expecting the delivery date to be that strict. But September rolls around, and still no communication from the company. Following up with them, all I get is, "Yes, we're super busy, sorry, it'll take a while, apologies for the delay."

I've been getting progressively more frustrated as time rolled on, as the only communication received were invoices, and more apologies for delays.

Things came to a head last month, when it started looking up, and installation was beginning. A couple days later, I received a stop work notice, which I followed up with, both with the local government and the company. Turns out, they had completely missed the permits. The company resolved the issue and waited for the permits to be issued, promising to keep me in the loop. At this point, we were over a year past the quoted delivery date. I've been making it very clear to their customer service rep that I've been getting frustrated at the delays and I wanted the project done.

Imagine my surprise when I come home last week, and the majority of the project is complete. No communication from the company. I followed up with them yesterday, asking what happened, and where we were at. As usual, I got, "Yep, sorry, thought I had told you, my apologies, but it'll take another couple weeks to have our guy inspect it and get it done."

Tired of all the runaround, today I finally made it absolutely clear to the company that the project must be completed now, and that I would brook no further delays. It was a very strongly worded email, threatened to cancel the project entirely, lots of complaining about communication and inability to complete, etc., etc.

I got a call just a little after that email, informing me that their inspector was on-site and inspecting the installation. Problem solved, it seems.


So, I got what I wanted, but I feel a little bad that I had to be a very squeaky wheel and threaten to cancel before they would move on completion.

I feel like I could have handled this interaction better, but I'm not exactly sure how, as trying to be reasonable and patient just resulted in more and more delays. Only when I resorted to cancellation did anything happen.

Is there a better way I could have interacted with them, still getting what I want, without needing to resort to the nuclear option?

  • How was the payment handled? Was it a portion up front, and the remainder on completion? – DaveG Jul 9 at 19:52
  • Payment was by their standard agreements, @DaveG. Installation does not start until ~90% payment has been made, with the rest due at completion. So there's a lot riding on getting it done. – fbueckert Jul 9 at 19:55
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    Asking "Is there a better way to do x?" is a rather broad and subjective question. Can you edit this to ask a more specific question. – sphennings Jul 9 at 19:58
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    I thought I had clarified that at the end, @sphennings; "still getting what I want, without needing to resort to the nuclear option". Is that too subjective? – fbueckert Jul 9 at 20:03
  • @sphennings: Adding to that the site is clear about hypotehtical questions being a bad fit. This QUestion demonstrates why, as you ahve already mentioned. its quite broad and inviting for opinion based answers. – dhein Jul 10 at 4:53
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I've had the same trouble with work being delayed and contractors not communicating, although nothing as bad as what you describe. I'm in the United States so my comments may not apply to Canada.

In my experience with contractors over a lot of years, payment is half down on signing the contract, half upon completion of work. Paying the contractor 90% up front doesn't give them much incentive to complete the work. It's not even necessarily that they are unscrupulous, but rather that contractors tend to be juggling a lot of different jobs, and clearly they are going to work on the job that will yield them the most money.

In this case, I would suggest pushing back if a contractor demands 90% up front. It may be worth asking around to find out if that's the standard agreement in your area.

But sometimes, you do just have to be the squeaky wheel. There's nothing wrong with insisting a contractor do what they say they are going to do.

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Tl;dr:

Be proactive, ask for information instead of waiting for it.

Warning them in advance is more polite than letting them screw up and complaining afterwards.


Threatening to cancel the project after more than a year of delay is, in my eyes, absolutely justified (and will more often than not lead to the desired outcome), but if this is the first "real" warning they got from you, they might not have taken the matter seriously enough before that, and might even react poorly to the "sudden" threat. Perhaps contrary to your intuition, it might have been better to issue the same warning half a year earlier.

Keep in mind that their failure to deliver is ultimately not a state that either party can be happy with. You aren't doing them a favour by allowing them to mismanage their time and resources until it's (almost) too late. It might feel more polite to practice understanding and patience, but in dealing with a poorly managed or overworked organization, it will only make you that much easier to forget about.

Regardless of whether the delays were caused by a lack of motivation or organisation, the most polite and mutually beneficial thing you can do in such a situation is to help provide what they are lacking (i.e. motivation or structure). Follow up early and make sure they are aware that they're past the delivery date. Let them give you a new estimate. Contact them again before that date and confirm if they will make it. If not, don't let them off the hook until you've set or agreed on a firm deadline, and make it clear in advance that failing to meet that deadline will have consequences.

Specifically, if they gave a delivery date in June, and the work hadn't even begun by then, I'd have called the company immediately and (politely) asked for clarification. If they'd said "we can't make it in June, September is more likely", I'd have offered "until the end of October, but give me that in writing." If they'd missed that date, I'd have informed them than the project would be canceled on date X if not completed by then.

The point is to make the "nuclear option", as you put it, less of a threat that you suddenly put in their way and more of a foreseeable consequence of repeatedly failing to meet mutually agreed upon delivery dates. You're not going off the rails or changing the rules on them, you've set a very reasonable expectation early on and the outcome is entirely in their hands.

(Source: I own a small business and also handle most business interactions and legal matters for my immediate family.)

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