The Rolling Stones may have made a fortune with their hit song, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” but you don’t want this to be your customer’s theme song at the end of one of your firm’s kitchen or bath projects. Survey after survey has driven home the point that there are very few areas of a remodeling project that have the impact on customer satisfaction that an orderly, on time conclusion has.
This month, we’ll take a look at the client’s perceptions and preconceptions; how you and your staff can influence the client’s experience, and steps you can take to make sure that the entire process moves along as efficiently as possible.
Let’s consider some of the challenges that face kitchen and bath professionals as they attempt to navigate the road to excellent customer service. There is the extended time frame that our product requires, the unique aspect of building a product in the customer’s home while they try to continue on with their lives and, finally, the stress of a cost that may seem open ended to them. The prescription for all of these involves the same old remedy: clear and timely communication.
Most clients come to us after spending a good deal of time thinking about their remodeling project, swapping war (horror!) stories with friends and neighbors and often talking to several of our competitors. They’ve probably watched some of the current television “reality” shows about remodeling during which a kitchen remodel seems to be completed over a long weekend.
All of these perceptions are the result of decades of information and, often, misinformation, about the remodeling process. For too long, remodelers had a reputation for being long on promises and short on performance, often over charging and delivering shoddy work in return. Over the last couple of decades, through the efforts of professional trade organizations, such as the NKBA and the National Association of Home Builders, things have begun to change.
When a customer first comes to you, it is important to begin to address some of the misconceptions they may bring.
Managing expectations should begin the day that a potential customer walks in your door. Let’s say your typical kitchen project takes two months to design and specify, a month from contract signing to start date and then 10 weeks to execute the project. If a client wants their new kitchen to be ready for a scheduled family function three months away, it’s better to face up to this impossibility than to deny that there is a problem. Worse yet is to take on such a project and try to “fast track” it when there is little chance that it will be completed on time.
Another misconception is that their life has to be miserable during a remodeling project. While there will always be inconveniences and disruptions, take time to explain what the client can actually expect and what steps and procedures your firm will take to make sure those are minimized. Don’t downplay the significance of these difficulties, but try to give the client the confidence that your firm has experience in dealing with them.
Still another common concern when a client embarks on a remodel is that the project will end up costing half again as much as they expected to spend when they started. The key here is to establish a realistic budget, create detailed, complete plans and specifications and keep the budget revised as changes to the scope of the work change during design. If this phase of the design/build process is carried out properly, the final contract price should be complete and accurate and not result in significant change orders as the project moves along. This process requires that you do adequate site evaluation and inspection to expose any challenges the work will involve.
Now that we’ve addressed some of the client preconceptions, we have also created some expectations of what their remodeling experience will be like with our firm.
Over the years, we’ve found that our clients judge us more by the remodeling “experience” than by the quality of our work. That’s not to say that quality isn’t important but, rather, that excellent quality is a given and the public differentiates among contractors by more subjective criteria.
Among the things our clients find of greatest concern are: the perception of how organized we seem, how well our staff relates to them and how concerned we seem with their needs during the remodeling process.
Did we prepare them for the discomfort and stress that would come with the project? Did we keep them informed of changes in the schedule and warn them when we saw delays coming? Did we respond appropriately when problems arose? Did we respect their home during the process?
Part of managing expectations is to have a comprehensive plan for the work to be done. Do you routinely prepare a timeline for each project and share this with your client? Is there a procedure for making sure that materials and subcontractors are ordered and scheduled on a timely basis? Making sure a project flows smoothly is a primary element in creating a satisfied customer.
How does this relate to the timely conclusion to our client’s project? The answer is that there is not a “cut and dried” definition of finishing on time. If we have established the correct relationship with our clients, properly described and defined what they can expect from their project, included them as part of the “team” that is established to accomplish the project and then given our best effort to meet their needs, we will almost always have a happy client.
The key to any successful project is to remember that you are working in your client’s home. This is usually their major asset and they are heavily, emotionally invested in it. It’s important to build a trust relationship with the clients and try to get them to take a role as partner in the successful completion of their project. If your clients feel their home is in good hands, you will have a successful project and happy customers.
The lesson, once again, comes down to communication. You have to do good work and run your business effectively, of course, but if you establish a rapport with your client and create a solid relationship, you will have a client and referral for years to come. Make sure you stay focused on the client and their needs and you will not hear the phrase that they “can’t get no satisfaction!”