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Executive Editor

Sal Alfano is executive editor for Professional, 202.365.9070

Heal Thyself

As with a hospital stay, even a good remodeling outcome can’t overcome a bad experience

May 05, 2017

A stay in the hospital is never pleasant. That you’re there in the first place means something is not right and needs fixing. Then, in addition to physical and emotional pain, there is the discomfort and disorientation of being quarantined in an unfamiliar space while tethered to monitoring equipment that beeps and buzzes for reasons you don’t understand. Plus, there is the anxiety induced by unpredictably timed visits from nurses, technicians, and doctors; by all of the unanswered questions about your condition, your treatment, and your prognosis; and by waiting for whatever comes next without knowing what that may be.

I recently observed all of this firsthand during several visits to the hospital while my 88-year-old mother was being treated for dehydration. Toward the end of her stay, I noticed a framed checklist mounted on one wall of her room titled “Our Commitment to You.” It was “signed” by the staff and listed the steps they pledged to take to make every patient’s stay less unpleasant.

Remodeling isn’t a life and death matter—at least not the way a hospital stay can be—but there is still pain, discomfort, disorientation, and anxiety. With a few edits to that hospital staff’s list, here’s what a remodeler’s “Commitment to You” checklist might contain by way of making a remodeling project less unpleasant for clients.

We make a commitment to ... 

Introduce ourselves to you. Homeowners are often introduced to the project manager or lead carpenter, but only sometimes to the field crew, and they are left to wonder who everyone else wandering around their home may be. Gregarious clients will happily introduce themselves, but less outgoing personalities may turn inward, avoiding communication and growing increasingly anxious when each new subtrade arrives.

Treat you with courtesy and respect. This includes respect for the client’s space, which means asking permission to store materials and equipment in a particular place and taking steps to protect property from damage. 

Explain things in a way you can understand. Remodeling industry lingo is as incomprehensible to most laypeople as medical terminology. Your clients don’t know what a soffit is or how a change order works or why vapor-permeable housewrap is important. The less mysterious you make the project, including your process and communication, the less anxiety you will create.

Do everything we can to help with your pain. As every good salesperson knows, homeowners remodel to relieve “pain” that can include everything from physical discomfort caused by a drafty, underinsulated home to the psychological and emotional discomfort of an inefficient floor plan, small spaces, poor lighting—the list is nearly endless. Design solutions should solve those problems, but remodelers also need to do what they can to make the client’s experience throughout the project as tolerable as possible.

Act in a manner that will earn confidence and trust. You are going to discover mistakes and have disagreements with your crew, but public displays of anger or disappointment will quickly undermine a client’s confidence. That goes for trade partners and their employees as well.

Ask about your anxieties and fears. If you want to avoid trouble, you need to know what trouble looks like. The act of signing a contract doesn’t dispel the homeowner anxieties that drove the sale, it just exchanges them for new anxieties. Asking clients about their fears gives you valuable insight into what you can do to mollify those fears.

As with a hospital stay, a remodeling project’s outcome is vitally important, but a good result isn’t enough to overcome the frustrations of a patient ... er, client who is unhappy with the experience.

The cure should not be worse than the disease.

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