The Psychology of Painting Part 1 – With the Customer: Being of Service

By Mario Guertin – President, PDCA Craftsmanship Forum
President, Painting in Partnership, Inc. 

Painting is just painting, right? Well, not exactly. There is more to painting than meets the eye; a lot more, as you well know! I have had a long-standing interest in human psychology and what makes people tick. As a Residential Painting Contractor since 1989, I have always been fascinated with the psychological aspects of the work of painters and painting contractors, as it relates to clients, employees and, yes, the Boss. Additionally, I have had the opportunity of leading groups, in various capacities, for over 25 years. This background has enabled me to gain insight into people and put that knowledge to work in my painting business. In this series of 3 articles, I will share key principles I hope will help you to increase your effectiveness with clients and employees, while reducing your personal stress and increasing your level of success, satisfaction and aliveness in the marketplace.

A Basic Principle

Psychology and Painting: what? The work of painters deals with environments and people’s lives, dreams and emotions; this is how psychology gets into the picture! Additionally, when you are on a painting project, you are in the client’s space for a while, sometimes for months. In the repaint segment of the market, this is especially true; you almost live with them, for a while!

By now, you may be tempted to say: ‘I am just a painter’ (or painting contractor); I am no psychologist! You are no psychologist; this is true. However, you do not need to be a psychologist to be effective in creating value for the customer and your company in this arena. You just need to be AWARE AND WILLING to enter the arena. You just need to care about people, their expectations, desires, dreams and the quality of their lives. Ultimately, the Psychology of Painting is about Being of Service and enhancing the lives of our clients. Many important benefits can be derived, as will be shown below. Here are some key elements of the Psychology of Painting.

Being Conscious of Clients Expectations

Being aware of Client Expectations is a key element of the Psychology of Painting. Why? By understanding your client’s expectations, you can gear the delivery of your service accordingly and contribute to keeping your clients RELAXED and COMFORTABLE. We all like relaxed and comfortable clients! Don’t we? However, understanding client expectations is not enough; you must communicate them so that everyone on your Team is on the same page on how to deliver on these expectations. Without proper systems and specific employee training, the results will be lackluster at best, most likely dismal!

a) Basic Expectations

Some basic client expectations are: ‘get done as soon as possible and make my life as easy as possible in the meantime!’ How many of you can relate to that? Well, how do you deliver on those expectations? Here are two examples:

    • Clients do not appreciate prep! They want it; they may even be willing to pay a premium for it. However, what they really want to see are painted surfaces! What does it mean for a painting project? That means, for example, on an exterior project, that you should not prep the whole house before you start the painting. It might even be a good idea to start with the front of the house, so that when the clients pull up at night, they can see the ‘finished look’. That will relax them and make them comfortable early.
  • Another example, for inside work, is this: on a multi-room project, the temptation is to leave some loose ends behind because of a hurry to get to the next area. The client is looking at these ‘finished’ rooms as the standard for what they can expect for the rest of their project. If your goal is to keep your clients relaxed and comfortable, have every room be a 100% complete before it is cleaned up. Otherwise, the client is entitled to start 3 looking for what other loose ends you are leaving behind. A project can rapidly go south when the client becomes insecure about your ability to meet their expectations.

b) Promises Create Expectations

What other concerns do your clients have? When you make Promises to your clients, you create expectations. From the get go, your clients are going to be looking for the fulfillment of these promises. If they are not outwardly checking you out, they have an antenna out for broken promises. Trust can quickly be lost!

The principle around expectations is simple: Be a Step Ahead! It is critical that every team member understands the Promises of the company and their consequences for how they need to handle themselves on a project. Your Painters must be trained on how to meet client expectations and deliver on the company Promises. It will not happen without a conscious management effort, Delivery Systems and deliberate training.

An example is in order here. One of my company’s Promises is Peace of Mind. One of the ways our people are trained to deliver Peace of Mind is this: COMMUNICATION! Communicating what: anything that might contribute to making the client relaxed and comfortable, such as:

    • Setting the table: You may have very clear notions of how to please your clients. However, to be sure, there is no better way than asking them, such as where to park, what sink or bathroom to use, how to secure the house etc. Discussing ‘the game plan’ with the client is also in order at this stage to uncover any conflict or concerns the client might have regarding our Plan of Action.
    • What is going to happen next: At the end of the day, if the client cannot be reached in person, a note (with company logo) is left behind to sum up the day’s accomplishments, the plan for the next day and any special requests we may have of the client. 4
  • Looking beyond the scope of the job: As they go about their work, our people are trained to have the ‘entire house’ in mind and be on the look out for any situations that could be a concern to the client, as a home-owner. For example, on a recent interior project, the work involved repairing a slightly water-damaged area on the wall at the bottom left corner of a window. In that case, ‘Having the Whole House in Mind’ meant investigating the source of moisture. A pin-hole was discovered in the caulk on the outside corner of that window and repaired during the course of the project. Needless to say, the client felt totally taken care of! Another recent example involved the discovery, during final clean up, of a slight seepage around the base of a toilet. By spotting a failing wax seal early and alerting the home-owner, potentially great damage was avoided to the finished basement.

Catering to Higher-Level Needs of Clients

We described above some basic client expectations and other expectations that grow out of the Promises you make as a company to your clients. However, there is another level to the Psychology of Painting: meeting clients higher level needs. Remember, early on I said that the work of painters deals with environments, emotions and dreams. What does it mean for painting companies?

a) Color and Concept

The marketplace is better educated and more sophisticated about design, style and color than at any other point in history. Color has great impact on the environment of the client. Color is very personal, yet very potent. On their own, clients have a tendency to stay closer to home base. In other words, they will tend to be more conservative and make safer choices. What if the spouse has different color preferences, how do your deal with that? More and more commonly, clients long for their home to be inspiring, nurturing and expressive of who they are. How do you address these needs as a painting company? Unless you have a flair for those things, developing a relationship with a professional Interior Designer might be in order. The key here, in order to meet those clients’ needs, is to really ‘listen’ to them! If you fail at meeting that test, the best plan will fail to produce the desired result!

In my company, for the clients who desire this input, we offer a separate consultation service for a fee. My wife Rita performs that function for the company; she is trained as an Interior Designer, is an artist and is completing an Art Therapy program. Normally, the consultations take from 1 to 3 hours and very often result in substantial add-ons for accent colors, decorative finishing or other effects. The impact of these add-ons can be huge! In the past 18 months, our 2 largest projects (800 and 1800 man-hours each) required extensive consultation, about 50 hours in all! The consultations generated a considerable amount of add-ons, about one third of all man-hours. One of these projects won the PIPP 2006 Residential Interior Award, Type II. These are some of our client Diane’s comments about her project:

‘We tend to get engaged in details that overtake us, not finding the time needed to stop and reflect. Where do I feel is the best place to do this? At home! Our painting in partnership has created a gracious home that allows us to do just that, and reflects the style and personality of our whole family. Thank you!’ ‘I was educated, enlightened and engaged. Your Team really listened to me as we worked through the process of our project. I feel that all your employees are true artists and professionals, and their commitment, creativity and craftsmanship are evident in the finished product. The process was fun!’

Mission accomplished!

b) The Feng Shui Connection

Feng Shui has been quite popular on both coasts for many years. It is finally becoming accepted in the Mid-West as well, yeah! Feng Shui is ultimately about energy and balance of one’s living or business environment. A segment of our market is ‘environmentally sensitive’; those clients seek input and direction to have their environment be more supportive of their personal goals and the quality of their lives. Is your painting company ready to service this need in the market? Painting in Partnership, Inc. has developed an alliance with a Feng Shui consultant to meet that need!

Being of Service: The Core of the Matter

We are all in business to make money and no business can prosper unless it is financially sound. Having said that, I need to challenge a common view of business that has money take a disproportionate place in the design and the operation of businesses, at the expense of why we all exist as businesses: To Be of Service and Add Value to the Lives of our Clients. In recent years, we all have been witnesses to the devastation of this approach to business when it is pushed to its extreme, like in the cases of Enron and World Com!

What is it that gets in the way of businesses fulfilling their potential for Service? I believe that it has a lot to do with a self-centeredness that has us only looking at what matters to US, first and foremost: in most cases, it has to do with the pursuit of money and power. Money and Power become the FOCUS, as opposed to being the RESULT of the Pursuit of Service. Here are a few basic principles of the Pursuit of Service, as I understand them:

  • Being of Service, at times, means parting with money, time or some other resource for the sake of doing the ‘right thing’ for the client.
  • Being of Service means to be totally committed as an organization, from the top-down, to the idea of making a difference in people’s lives for being in contact with one’s service or product.
  • In a Service lies the possibility of a Transformational Experience for ALL involved!
  • Being of Service involves Faith and Trust that, if we do the ‘right thing’, we are going to be well taken care of!
  • When one operates from a place of Service, one understands that the ‘Reward’ sometimes comes (and often does) in other forms, such as: Fulfillment, Satisfaction, Sense of Purpose, Inspiration, Extraordinary Team Performance and guess what: Money and Power too!
  • Being of Service fulfills the ultimate Promise of Business!

Knowing I was working on this article, a friend sent me a copy of an article just published in the March 2006 issue of the ‘Harvard Business Review’. The article was entitled: ‘Taking the Measure of Mood’. It is the story of the Inn at Little Washington, a restaurant ranked among the 10 Best Restaurants in the World! The co-owner and chef for the restaurant, Patrick O’Connell, believes in this Philosophy of Service. He views his business as going far beyond selling food. In fact, he sees his business as creating a dining experience that creates the possibility 7 of Transformation and Healing for its patrons. WOW! That could seem like a pie in the sky until you see what they do, on a constant basis, to deliver that experience to their clients. They developed a system where servers come up with a rating, from 1 to 10, of the Mood at each table. Their goal, as a Team, is to raise the Mood Score at each table by the time they leave the restaurant, to a minimum score of 9! The whole Team is aware of the score at each table and work together at elevating it. What do they do? Whatever is needed: complementary entries, deserts, personal attention etc. How about a Mood Scoring System like this for painting projects? I have started developing such a system for Painting in Partnership!


Painting is a Service. It deals with people’s environments and lives in an intimate kind of way. Attentively listening , as a Team, to people’s expectations, needs, emotions, dreams and desires is what Service is all about! Designing systems that enable the Team to truly Be of Service is the Mission of Business! The rewards for committing your company to this path are limitless: Passion, Inspiration, Extraordinary Team and Company Performance, Fame etc., etc. Are you up to this challenge and opportunity of committing to this path!