Norton Internet Security is installed on my computer, and every couple of weeks a pop-up notice announces that anti-virus updates are ready to download. I click "Update Now," and Norton does the rest.
Have I got a product idea for you! Jordan AntiProblemClients. Once installed, the software would protect your company from remodeling customers who nitpick, haggle, nickel-and-dime or withhold payment. Every so often a pop-up notice would report that a new type of client problem had been identified and that updates to protect against it were ready to download, so you'd be covered.
New variations on old client problems are emerging. Homeowners have long dragged their feet on design and product decisions, but Chris Repp, CGR, owner of Repp Construction in Orchard Park, N.Y., says now they procrastinate even when a project is being done to prepare for a time-sensitive event such as a wedding "They sign the contract, give us the check, and then it dies," he says.
Repp blames fast-paced lifestyles and world events. His busy clients would prefer to spend their money on travel but aren't traveling for fear of terrorism. They remodel as a second-choice expenditure, without enthusiasm. To keep production on track, Repp brings an updated selection checklist to client meetings and takes product samples to clients when they won't make time to go to suppliers.
Remodelers also are encountering Internet-related problems. Eager clients surf the Web, finding mountains of information about remodeling products, prices and processes. Often they buy products they discovered online and do so without knowing the idiosyncrasies of installation or the availability - or lack thereof - of local product support. (Of course, sometimes their Internet research uncovers new products remodelers are happy to use.)
Web surfers can pick up enough knowledge about remodeling to question their contractor's systems without understanding the reasons behind those systems. Andrew Shore of Sea Pointe Construction in Irvine, Calif., has had tough customers "question things all the way through the job without having enough information to put it all in context." As Jim Magnotta, CGR, of Magnotta Builders and Remodelers in Lansing, Mich., says, "The Internet gives everybody a little knowledge, and a little knowledge can be dangerous."
It would be great if you could avoid customer problems by activating Jordan AntiProblemClients. But it probably wouldn't be as effective as the old-fashioned, low-tech solution - maintaining control of the remodeling process.
Magnotta meets researchers in their territory - on the Internet - at his Web site, www.magnottabuilders.com, with a simple list of his company's basic policies, such as charging for evening and weekend appointments. His contract specifies a per-hour charge if homeowner-supplied materials arrive late, lack parts, don't meet code or present other problems. He's about to add a new fee. "I'm going to start giving deadlines for decisions," he says. "If they go beyond, there will be a charge."
Shore sees client relations as an ongoing effort to set expectations. Before a job starts, he brings the clients to his showroom to see how different products, colors and materials look in vignettes. He explains as often as necessary that change orders affect the schedule. He responds to clients' questions patiently and fully.
"If you build their trust and show you are knowledgeable, they become more relaxed" and cut back on interrogation, Shore says. His clients don't complain about quality issues often, but when they do, he always makes the changes that will satisfy them.
Magnotta doesn't get many construction quality complaints, either. But when he's called back for a warranty repair, he fixes the problem quickly, leaving even the toughest customers smiling and telling their friends about his excellent customer service. Not even Jordan AntiProblemClients can do that.