As a master carpenter and second-generation custom builder and remodeler, Ben Bogie (pictured here) knows that what matters as much as the quality of your handiwork is the customer service you provide.
It was about 30 years ago. Siegal had owned his roofing company a short time, and the new entrepreneur's mother was helping run the office. Complaints came in every day, stressing her out as she took the calls, wrote up the complaints, and added them to an ever-growing stack on her desk.
Finally, she’d had it. “What are you going to do about all these?” she yelled. Siegal picked up the stack of complaints and dropped them in the trashcan. “That’s what I’m going to do,” he said.
Fast forward to today. Maggio Roofing, which serves areas near the District of Columbia, has plenty of policies and procedures to not only manage customer complaints, but to minimize them. In the era of online reviews, Siegal noted, what residential construction company wouldn't?
Actually, there are many. On the national Better Business Bureau’s 2016 list of complaints by industry type, solar energy contractors rank fifth, and general contractors are number nine. Also making the list are burglar alarm companies, credit repair services, and retail health & diet products.
The BBB has local and regional branches, so rankings will vary from place to place. But wherever you look, count on some kind of contractor to be on it. On the 2017 list for the BBB divisionserving metro New York, for instance, home improvement and construction ranked eighth.
Design/build contractors often develop lifetime clients, returning to the same property for additional projects. Exterior contractors? Not so much. Replace that roof, and chances are good you’ll never see that homeowner again. Ditto for windows and siding.
As a consequence, exterior contractors tend to view a customer as one-and-done. But if you start with the proposition that that customer doesn’t matter much because he or she won’t be a customer again, then you or your employees may end up treating them as if they didn’t matter at all.
“When discord strikes during a construction project,” writes podcaster Martin Holsinger, “it’s usually not the final product that a homeowner is unhappy with, it’s the process.” In other words, you can do the best roofing work in the market, and still get tepid reviews and find your company constantly scrambling to get new customers.
“Contractors who complete quality work at fair prices, but that lack basic customer service skills find themselves on the edge of always almost losing customers,” writes blogger Chris Lonergan at Footbridge Media, which provides marketing and business solutions in the construction and service industries. “Clients love what you do, but they don’t love you."
Service Is Professionalism
Think about a restaurant: You know what good service looks like but you also know that great food can be accompanied by lousy service. It happens all the time, and leaves the diner vowing never to return, let alone recommend the place to friends.
Something similar happens at some exterior remodeling companies. A company will produce great work, but employees are totally clueless when it comes to customer service. But what constitutes good customer service in the home improvement industry?
Contracting blogger Jaclyn Crawford suggests what amounts to the basics: Schedule your in-home visit at the customer’s convenience, show up on time, wear branded clothing, and prepare a detailed estimate as opposed to a number on a business card.
Crawford’s list also includes actions that may already be standard procedure at your company: Don’t track mud in the house, control dust and dirt in the work area if you’re working inside, clean up when finished, don’t pet the dog or cat unless cleared with the client, and answer any questions promptly.
Don’t Keep It To Yourself
Etiquette’s just the beginning. Consistent communication is the second component. “Poor customer service can leave property owners unsatisfied and lead to a poor reputation,” writes blogger Annastasia Tuttle, of Aspen Contracting. “It is the contractor’s responsibility to communicate and coordinate project details, updates, and post-project follow-ups with the customer.”
She says Aspen does that by taking care to establish “clear communication channels” with customers. Here are some other tips to raise your customer service level:
- Ask Customers How They Want to Communicate. “Email, phone calls, texting—there are many options these days,” writes Erie Insurance blogger Amanda Prischak. “Asking your customers what they prefer shows you’re in tune with their needs.”
- Lay Off the Industry Jargon. When you’re discussing the project and progress with customers, don’t confuse them by using words they don’t understand. “Remember that your client is not in the same industry as you,” writes digital marketing expert Katina Beveridge. “They don’t understand engineering or construction terms, so keep your words simple and easy to understand."
- Create a Service Checklist. Don’t leave it up to employees as to whether or not they should provide great customer service. Make it part of the job, complete with a service checklist. “That way, you can hand off a detailed checklist to every team member and show them exactly how you expect to wow your customers every single time,” writes Mike Agugliaro, founder of CEO Warrior, a business consulting, training, and mentoring firm.
Great Service Becomes the Experience
Customer service is what you put out there. The customer experience is what comes as a result. They’re not the same thing.
“The difference between customer service and customer experience is that while customer service is one piece of the puzzle—focused on human interaction and directly supporting customers—customer experience is the sum of the entire customer journey with your business,” notes tech and customer support blogger Sarah Blackstock.
In other words, you design an interactive system of communications from the moment a customer calls to the final walkthrough. The homeowner is left with the feeling that not only were their needs met, but they were smart enough (or lucky enough) to pick the right contractor.
This results in two positive outcomes. One is a stronger, more competitive company; the other is referrals. “When your customers are delighted,” notes marketing strategist Sonia Thompson, “they will voluntarily share it with others.”