I saw a lot of… wild things… the last 10 years dealing with customers in-person and on the phone.
I’m 35 now.
Seems like yesterday where I just started picking up junk from people’s homes with my tiny busted red SUV and old wooden trailer when I started at 25 years old. I was the owner and the laborer all in one. So I would take the calls, book the jobs, and I would be the one showing up with a worker. During the day, I would be covered on mud, mold and poop. At night, showered and wore the suit and tie to go to networking events. I did it all as the owner of my junk removal business.
Little did I know that this fun gig I started would turn into an actual business lasting over 10 years so far with 200+ customers per month access the state of Illinois. Over that time, I’ve taken on thousands upon thousands of calls. Thousands of jobs I’ve personally been on. (Im off the truck now 90% of the time. I get on the truck if I want to mix it up and get some exercise.) I think I physically did 7,000+ houses over the years. (I feel it in my bones now.)
I haven’t really seen any service business owners post the stories of what they’ve experienced (the non financial related part of what they do.) I’m going to share with you some of the humorous, horrifying & odd situations I’ve come across as a junk removal service provider.
In the very beginning of my accidental junk removal business, I tried figuring out other ways on how to get customers besides my moms customers she sent me. (My mom had a house cleaning business, she had asked me if I knew anyone who could get junk out of her customers homes.)
You can tell within the first 3 seconds of a call if a prospective customer is from Craigslist.
Anyways, I decided to try the website Craigslist to post in the services portion of the site. At the time, it was free to post on there. I would post a few times a week to see how it would be. I could quickly tell from the get go where the customer came from within the first 3 seconds of a call. (Yelp, Google, a referral, Craigslist etc.)
If I heard a blood curdling scream in the background of an incoming phone call, loud arguing, or the TV on so loud that it’s deafening on the call; I knew instantly the call was from Craigslist. I’ve heard gunshots in the background, inappropriate sounds from their TV or laptop while I was talking to the customer on the phone, customers talking s*** about me thinking that I wouldn’t answer the call that quickly etc. Customers that didn’t hang up their phone in time after I gave them a quote, then laughing at me and before they would hang up, wishing I would die. Oh yeah. I’ve heard it all pretty much.
NOW – Im not saying don’t use Craigslist as a service business to get leads (But, I kind of am, it’s the cesspool of the internet). I really do not recommending using Craigslist as a lead generator once your business matures and grows. Having great SEO/SEM for your website, a great social media presence, solid reviews online and hopefully some great referrals along the way. This is what will carry you on to growing as a service business.
A few months in, I decided to stop using Craigslist. What was the final straw? After I answered a call, the person on the other line letting out a weird loud sound “EHHH“, followed by several loud coughs, several curse words and him thinking a full trash-out of his home would be free. After I told him we charge for his services, he laughed at me and coughed again by ending the call with him spitting or sneezing, followed by a mumbled curse word.
Female customers wearing suggestive clothing and touching me when I arrived to do an estimate.
On occasion, customers would ask for me to stop by to do an estimate if it sounded like a bigger size junk removal project. There were several times where I found myself in a unique situation. I had female customers hit on me during the estimate, I’ve even had customers show me around while in a bathing robe with their cleavage hanging out purposely.
Many times too, these women were married.
(One interesting note, I noticed this behavior happen way more often after the COVID lockdowns. Why do you think that is?)
When there were times the customers would come on to me during the estimate, I would politely smile and give them the quote. (If I found them attractive -and single, I would tell them to contact me after we completed the job to go on a date.) To me, the business came first always. I always try to avoid getting myself into messy situations, it’s not worth it.
DO NOT MIX BUSINESS WITH PLEASURE (Unless it’s after the project has been completed. Then it’s up to you.)
I don’t think people realize how common this is. I’ve talked to other service business owners as well who had similar situations over the years.
“You look really good, you have nice skin” .”Do you workout? You have big arms” “Promise not to say anything?”
This was a common thing I encountered and many other service business owners seeing the same things over their years of doing in-home estimates.
Were they sexually suggestive because they were into these men?
Or were they doing this to get a discount off the bill? Or, a combination of both?
Who really knows. (But, be careful).
Some customers are a little “too comfortable” when we are at their homes.
I was trying to keep a straight face with my employee as we were removing a couch from a customers home. Out of a bedroom, was the husband of the customer in underwear. Letting out a big yawn, he said “can you guys also get rid of that kitchen patio out back?”.
“Sure”, I replied with an embarrassed tone.
We then figured he would get dressed and come back out to pay us. He did come back out of his room, but still in his whitey tighties. The only difference this time, was that he had his credit card with him. I politely told him that I would just email him the invoice and that he can pay it because my phone was having issues swiping his card. (In reality, I just wanted to get the heck out of there so dang fast.)
Things like this would be common.
Or other awkward times when I saw customers arguing with each other throwing items at each other. (Very common during divorce situation clean-outs or evictions.) Oh yeah, and the customers that would pass gas in front of us while they were watching tv as we were hauling junk from out of their living room.
Also, one customer forget to tell me that he had a giant 8 foot mannequin in his attic with cobwebs before I went upstairs. There was no lights in the home, so I had to use my flashlight crawling up the attic.
You can see all the crazy stuff at these jobs here.
$1,000 in tips for 20 minutes of work from people you wouldn’t expect.
We’ve been to massive mansion homes, celebrity homes, hoarder homes, abandoned homes, tiny trailer park homes, and everything in between. We’ve had customers in suits and ties, (customers in underwear as you saw above), and customers wearing basic shirts and jeans.
My employees one day found themselves at small easy junk pickup in a small rural town about 15 minutes away. The house was in a little rough condition, dirty, but livable still. The customer was so happy and impressed with my workers, she demanded to leave a $1,000 tip for them after a quick 20 minute job and a $195 bill. I was shocked to hear it and had to ask her to repeat that again. You never know with each customer. You never know wha to expect. We’ve also had customers in $4 million homes where we were there for days straight doing very hard labor – and got $0 tip.
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“We should create a Yelp type of website, but for rude customers”
My friend, who owns a moving business, was telling me how he had some customers lie about the inventory that needed to be moved. I felt his pain. I’ve had this happen a lot too. (I now let customers know before we arrive that extra items = extra costs).
My friend had so many weird stories like this too. Customers that would blatantly lie, and then if you didn’t go with their lie, would threaten you with a bad review.
Just recently, a customer had snuck in some more junk (electronics waste which is a separate additional cost). They snuck it underneath some large furniture without our employees knowing. The next night, that customer reached out saying “Hey, you guys must have thrown away our flatscreen because we can’t find it”.
My friend, who owns the moving company, did their move and said that the customer told the movers to bring the junky tv to the garage so she can give it away or toss it.
That customer, let’s call her Sherry, said to me that it was her sons and she really wanted it back or a refund. (I personally went to go check the truck, and the workers told me the same thing I was thinking. “She purposely snuck it in the couch to save money but to also get more money from us claiming we accidentally threw away her tv, that she originally wanted to junk or give away.”
As a business owner, you have to be careful. You want to be as polite as possible with customers, but also firm too so they don’t push you around. You need a combination of both. Professionalism, politeness but also not being an easy push over.
Seeing the best & worst in society through a service business.
I’ve seen life happen in front of my eyes at these customers homes over the years. I’ve also seen the opposite. A weird side effect of going to the homes of customers to do estimates and projects, is that you get to experience different parts of ones life from all types of backgrounds.
Marriage, divorce, death, abandonment, depression, pure happiness, we’ve come across every type of customer at their best and worst times.
The coolest thing I came across by accident from a customer, is when some papers fell out of a box from an attic we were about to throw away. This really old looking piece of paper was on the ground.
It was a love letter from the 1920’s.
For that moment, I was blown away. As I was reading it, I felt like for that moment, I was back in time.
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