Abe Degnan (left) and Kim DuBree
Most remodelers collect client opinions in some way, whether formally or informally. But how do you collect and then apply it so as to make a meaningful impact on your business? Professional Remodeler’s Jud Motsenbocker talked to remodelers Abe Degnan and Kim DuBree about how their use of client feedback improves their companies.
This month featuring:
Abe Degnan, CGR, CGB, CAPS, President
Degnan Design Builders, DeForest, Wis.
Degnan Design Builders is a 30-year-old, second-generation design/build remodeling and new construction company in the Madison, Wis., area.
Kim DuBree, Co-owner
Creative Contracting, North Wales, Pa.
Kim and her husband Bob are the owners of Creative Contracting, a 24-year-old design/build remodeler outside of Philadelphia. The company uses trade contractors in the field, with a team of lead carpenters running projects.
Jud Motsenbocker: When do you start getting feedback from the client?
Abe Degnan: In terms of a formalized process, we use GuildQuality as a third-party surveying process. With that program, we do our first survey after the contract is signed on large projects to evaluate how the preconstruction process has gone.
Kim DuBree: We also use GuildQuality and there are a variety of surveys we send out depending on the job, after the job is completed. Back when things were a little busier and we weren’t communicating maybe as closely with our clients because we had more jobs going we even did some during the design stages.
Besides the GuildQuality program, we also do phone calls 6 and 12 months after the project is completed to get feedback.
Motsenbocker: Do you ever get any feedback during the project?
DuBree: We did before 2008, but since then we’ve cut back on the GuildQuality surveys that we used to send out during the project. We do get personal feedback.
Degnan: On most of our projects, on any projects that run more than two months, we’re going to do a mid-way through survey.
Motsenbocker: Both of you are using online surveys that you send to them. Do they have to fill those out online?
Degnan: No, they don’t need to. They have the option of filling them out online or, if they choose not to do it online, they can do it via telephone or even through postal mail.
Motsenbocker: Do you ever get any feedback through your employees and/or trade contractors?
DuBree: We do an end of project meeting where we wrap everything up and go through the whole process with the main players on the job just to see how things went, where things could go better, where there are issues. We also have Monday morning production meetings where we all meet to go over the projects for the week. It’s a constant open line of communication between the customers, the lead carpenters and the business owners.
Degnan: My lead carpenter tends to have a very strong relationship [with the homeowner]. They’re in charge of the communication with the homeowner and at our weekly staff meeting, we review any feedback the lead carpenter has gotten from the homeowner.
Motsenbocker: I wanted to bring that out because I think sometimes we think of getting client feedback only at the end of the job, but I think it’s important we continue to use that feedback during the entire process. It builds that personal relationship, and they’ll go out and tell their friends.
Degnan: I think that’s really a key point about using the feedback during the project. If there’s something that maybe the people are a little unhappy with, if you get that feedback during the project and able to either correct or compensate for what they perceive is a deficiency, you have the opportunity to set the tone and turn them into a big fan.
Motsenbocker: Why do you track customer satisfaction?
DuBree: We do it for a variety of reasons. Of course, we want to make sure we’re doing the best job we can do. We also use it for marketing that people have been happy with the work that we’ve done.
Degnan: There are a couple of different reasons. We can keep a record and spot trends to make sure that everybody who is singled out is recognized for good performance, and is monitored in case there are any opportunities for improvement. The second reason has to do with the marketing and the promotional efforts. Open-ended questions, especially during the telephone surveys, bring out some really good, positive comments as well as sometimes opportunities for improvement
Motsenbocker: So in your case, those surveys are a big part of your marketing and your sales presentation when you get out there.
Degnan: Absolutely. It’s a big endorsement and it’s proof that we care about the process of measuring quality and measuring satisfaction.
DuBree: We do use it. We also find that consumers are being much more proactive in finding out information about a company beforehand, in looking at Angie’s List, looking at the NARI website. [The survey results] are all over our website.
It definitely is a big part of our marketing strategy to let people know we have this third-party surveying company that can give them actual feedback from customers.
Motsenbocker: Do you feel like you get better response by a third party rather than trying to do it yourself?
DuBree: I think that’s the hope, to find information that maybe people aren’t comfortable telling you information they might tell someone else. Whether or not that’s true, I can only guess.
Degnan: That’s definitely the point of it. I had a client that we did some work for this year. Everything they told us was extremely positive, extremely happy with the work, but when it came time to grade us, they graded us about a point less than our averages were. At the same time, they are having us back now to do another project. It’s hard to read people sometimes.
At one of my upcoming face-to-face meetings with those clients, I might want to try to dig into that a little farther and ask them if there were areas that we left them unsatisfied. Asking clarifying questions is a great opportunity to follow-up and to hopefully make sure that the next project, if there’s anything we’re not living up to, we can raise the bar.
We have to make sure we have a full understanding of what the clients’ expectations are. It could be just that they’re going to tell me that they’re tough graders. In a lot of ways that’s what we suspect, but until I have the opportunity to ask them that question face-to-face, I don’t think I’m going to know that answer for sure.
Motsenbocker: Did you ever do surveys before you had a third party?
DuBree: Yes, years ago we had a survey that we created that we sent out.
Motsenbocker: Are you a lot more satisfied now that you’re having a third party do it?
DuBree: Yes. It’s just done so much more professionally, so much more regularly. The results are all there for us to see. It’s just a much better tool for us, as far as providing a better vision of where we need to make improvements.
Motsenbocker: Abe, did you have a survey before going to a third party?
Degnan: Back when we were creating our first website, I sent out a so-called survey to a bunch of past clients, but all it really was was looking for positive feedback to use as quotes on the website. That was definitely the way it came across. I can look back at that now and kind of laugh. It was very transparent and didn’t make a good impression.
Having a true system for feedback — whether it’s hiring a third party to do the surveying or even if it’s something you make up within your own company using something like SurveyMonkey — and not just looking for a pat on the back for yourself is important.
Motsenbocker: Do you share these surveys with the trade contractors?
DuBree: Our trade contractors, in our minds, are really part of our company. We expect we’re going to get positive feedback and if it’s not we would definitely discuss it with them. Fortunately, that hasn’t really been an issue for us.
Degnan: Most of the time, the feedback about the trade contractors just ends up coming through the lead carpenter. Usually, the lead carpenter is doing his job in such a way that there is no opportunity for negative feedback about the trade contractor from the homeowner because the homeowner never have the opportunity to become aware of problems. Therefore, if we do get a comment about the trade contractor, we know that maybe two different levels of a breakdown happened.
Motsenbocker: Since you’ve been using these, do you feel like the value is there that it has improved your company?
DuBree: I do. We’ve had to make a lot of cutbacks in a lot of things the last three years, and that’s one thing that we continue to invest in, because we feel that it’s valuable on many levels.