Protecting your lien rights doesn't have to put a strain on your customer relationships. The reality is that notices are sent primarily for the benefit of your customer and parties up the chain. If you can communicate your policy well, your customer relationships will grow stronger as a result. Follow these three tips for explaining your policy to customers to ensure mutual understanding and positive relationships.
Tip 1: Set expectations early
When instituting a new policy, it's important to set expectations with your current customers before they start receiving documents in the mail from you. It's also important to communciate your policy with any new customers from the start of the relationship. By maintaining transparency from the outset, you are able to build a relationship based on trust. Setting expectations early also allows you to frame your policy positively and make sure customers know why you have this policy, what it means, and how they can benefit from it.
Some tips for doing this:
- Send a "Change in Service" announcement to current customers
- Have your sales team communicate your policy during the sales process, at close of sale and/or in the contract
- Sales reps can give customers a timeline of when to expect certain documents. They can communicate that a preliminary notice is not a notification that payment is past due. They can share a sample preliminary notice along with a zlien cover letter, so they know exactly what they will receive and how to communicate any corrections that need to be made to the notices.
- Include language on your invoices about your payment terms and your notice policy (for example, when they should expect to receive a Notice of Intent to Lien if an invoice is past due)
Tip 2: Communicate the benefits for them
Your policy improves the payment process for everyone on the job, because sending documents will increase visibility about who is on the job site and needs to be paid. This significantly reduces risk for parties up the chain such as the GC and the owner. This also helps your customer (your hiring party) get paid quickly, too.
Parties at the top of the payment chain are interested in fair payment structures just like the parties at the bottom of the chain. GCs and property owners don't worry about paying the amounts that they are expecting to pay, and actually owe for the labor and/or materials furnished by subs and suppliers. They worry about having to pay twice because of “hidden” liens that can be filed by unknown parties who are far removed from the paying parties at the top. They fear a project will be derailed due to a lien being filed on the project when they had no control in preventing it.
This is why GCs and property owners should be happy and excited to receive informational notices from the lower-tiered parties: notice requirements provide protection to the top-of-chain parties in a couple of different ways:
- Receiving a notice means they will know who is on the project, what that party is doing, and who that party is hired by. This removes the issue of "hidden" liens.
- They can take steps to ensure that the noticing party and their hiring party is paid fairly, and the negative consequences of a lien filing can be avoided.
Tip 3: Provide a way for customers to ask questions or make corrections to documents
Whether you have a support team, a dedicated account manager, or a sales rep assigned as the customer's point of contact, make sure your customer knows who to call if they have questions.
Provide training for those points of contact on how to respond to questions about documents. All zlien notices include cover letters that explain the purpose of the notice in simple terms and provide a link where they can report corrections. Your company can even customize the cover letters you send with zlien documents (contact your account manager for more information).
If the notice they received is related to nonpayment or slow payment, have clear instructions for how to resolve the payment issue with your credit or accounting department.
And if things go wrong or your customers complain, follow these tips for managing the situation. The good news is that having a company-wide lien and notice policy helps you explain the situation in a way that doesn't feel like a personal attack for the customer.
By following these three tips, you can maintain customer relationships built on trust and mutually beneficial business practices. By setting expectations early, communicating the benefits for your customers, and providing an avenue for them to contact you should the need arise, your customers will view your policy and your company as a whole in a positive light.