Great Practices: Building on Customer Satisfaction

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In a time of tightened company belts and increasing client demands, how do you get the greatest amount of high-quality work from your employees and still keep them happy?

August 01, 2001

Customer satisfaction and quality go hand in hand in making your company’s reputation — and reputation directly affects the bottom line. Callbacks lower your remodeling reputation, as do mistakes made by your subcontractors. To instill your customers with confidence that the final product will meet their requirements and not require follow-up, make sure the job is done right the first time.

Making customer satisfaction a priority requires commitment and must be driven from the top. No company can make every customer happy every time without implementing a quality management system. And no company can make a system work effectively without buy-in from the entire team. Here’s what you need to do to get started:

Determine and document requirements

You can satisfy your customers only after you have determined their specific project expectations and needs. These come in two forms: explicit and implicit. Explicit requirements are the customer’s stated needs, verbal or written. Implicit requirements are code or statutory provisions that must be met whether or not the customer is aware of them.

Document the customer requirements and obtain written approval before beginning the project. This documentation serves as a record of the project requirements for you and the customer to refer to in case of a disagreement about whether they were met. Winans Construction of Oakland, Calif., a 2001 NRQ Gold Award winner, uses a lead contact sheet to capture the characteristics most important to its customers.

Develop your work plan

The next step in your effort to ensure customer satisfaction is to develop a work plan based on your customer requirements, which is then communicated to all employees and subcontractors involved in the project. Employees and individual contractors need to know that their ability to fulfill the customer requirements will be assessed against measurable criteria.

Paul Winans, president of Winans Construction, says he aims to provide clients with a quality experience as well as a quality product. The company seeks client feedback and approval at various stages of work: for instance, showing framing to the client before covering it up with drywall.

Next, you should develop a quality inspection process to determine if the work was done correctly and in accordance with the customer requirements. Create a checklist and perform inspections at each stage of remodeling. The inspection process should apply to subcontractors as well as employees. Documenting the process and maintaining records will provide written verification that a specific portion of the project has met or exceeded the customer requirements.

At the end of a project, rather than producing a punch- list, Winans prefers to present the customer with a completion list. The usual terminology, he explains, implies that defects and problems will arise after the job is considered finished. Regardless, he conducts a follow-up inspection several months after each job is completed and makes the client aware of problems he or she didn’t even notice. Winans attracts substantial referral and repeat business — 67% of his business comes from referrals — and charges a premium for it.

Use customer feedback

Customer feedback is very useful for maintaining a quality management system and improving future performance. Feedback should be solicited at each stage of the remodeling project and can be gathered through surveys or interviews. Customer surveys often use simple yes or no questions mixed with open-ended, descriptive questions. Some examples:

  • Does the final product meet all your expectations? If not, how could it have been improved?

  • In your experience working with this company on your remodeling project, what did you think worked well? What could have been improved?

  • How could we have better served your needs?

    Even unsolicited feedback such as word-of-mouth referrals or letters of complaint should be documented and used to make improvements. Remember, even things you are doing well can be improved.

    Kendale Inc., a design/build firm in Jacksonville, Fla., that won the 1998 NRQ Gold Award, mails customers four preprinted survey forms during the course of a project. Clients are asked to evaluate employees’ professionalism, appearance, expertise, timeliness and more on a scale of one to 10. Close review of their responses has helped the company tweak and constantly improve employee and contractor performance. During the past 10 years, 63% of Kendale’s business has resulted from customer referrals, and 30% has been repeat business.

    If you have questions about how to get started with quality
    management and improving customer satisfaction,
    call the NAHB Research Center’s ToolBase Hotline at
    800/898-2842 or e-mail toolbase@nahbrc.org

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