I strongly believe that almost all clients are reasonable and understanding about issues with their project, as long they are communicated with regularly. Solid communication begins with the first client contact and does not end. Even after the project is done and the warranty period has passed, good communication becomes good marketing to past clients.
Good communication takes many forms. A clear contract with detailed specs get a project off on the right foot. Our agreements detail every facet of material and labor that goes into the project; where there is a product included (such as a sink, faucet or window), there is a color image of that product next to the written description. We want everyone to know what was purchased so there can be no confusion during installation. To be even clearer, we have a paragraph at the beginning of the specifications (initialed by the clients) that says “everything you are getting and paying for is written below. If it is not written here, you have not paid for it and it is not included.” While this may seem redundant, good communication often means stating and then re-stating the obvious.
Once the project is underway, there is no such thing as over-communication — you cannot take things for granted. We recently re-learned this lesson with a new project manager. He presented an everything-is-under-control impression. In meetings and in discussions things generally seemed to be smooth and trouble-free. In reality, this person was overwhelmed, but was reticent to tell anyone. He was falling behind in his daily duties, yet because he was very likable, everyone assumed the best. It was not until we began seeing poor scores from clients on our final satisfaction surveys — we have historically received high scores — that we knew there was a problem.
We were able to track back each poorly scored survey to this one project manager and realized, through subsequent investigation, that a majority of the problems stemmed from insufficient communication. He was not responding to lead carpenters, subcontractors or clients in a timely manner (or at all), which resulted in poorly run projects and, ultimately, disgruntled clients.
We have a number of checks and balances within our company to ensure things are happening as designed and expected. However, if the information we are collecting to monitor progress is not accurate or timely, then our system fails (in other words, GIGO, or Garbage In, Garbage Out). For instance, each week our project mangers make current predictions of their clients' satisfaction, but if the ratings are not accurate then our response will not be accurate either. Additionally, our project managers meet weekly with their manager for a “coaching session,” but if clients' problems are being glossed over or not honestly relayed, then issues obviously can fester. A few missteps in communication will not kill a job as long as you make an earnest effort to recover. However, it is almost impossible to recover from a slow, continuous erosion of confidence and trust.
Keep in mind, our prior systems had always led to very high client satisfaction rates. But our system was not well-designed for an aberrant employee. In the past, we have worked on a basis of trust with our employees, and going forward this will not change. However, especially with new employees, we will trust AND verify. Systemically, we are planning to add an interim client check-in survey.
Where are the chinks in your armor? Every company in business has ways in which the communication process can break down. Take a break from the day-to-day and look over your systems and processes. Where can the ball be dropped? Fixing systemic problems and setting clear expectations with your people will make employees happy and clients elated.
|Dave Bryan is the president and CEO of Blackdog design/build/remodel in Salem, N.H. He is also a facilitator for Remodelers Advantage. Contact Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org.|