How to Communicate with Customers

Just because it’s all spelled out in your contract doesn’t mean homeowners know what to do

December 11, 2018

This year Contract Exteriors, a home improvement company with four branch operations in the Carolinas, was named to the Inc. 5000 list. The list consists of the most prestigious and fastest-growing businesses in the U.S. The Myrtle Beach-based company is number 1,776 on the list due to growth of 255% in the last three years. To get a sense of what that means, consider this: The company went from zero revenue in 2009, the year of its launch, to $130 million this year.

Co-owner Randy Hann explains that a lot of this has to do with the customer experience representative the company assigns to every remodeling project. That person’s job is all about regularly communicating with homeowners to ensure that things stay on track. Clients will know when materials are ordered, when the job’s scheduled, what the start date is once it’s been established, and be quickly made aware of progress as well as any problems or delays.

Establish Systematic Communication

If your business is replacing a roof, or siding, or windows, it’s easy for communication to be an afterthought. Hey, there’s minimal design involved, and a two-day job to wrap up—what’s to discuss?

Yes, a clearly written contract that outlines scope of work, time period, materials, use of premises, a payment schedule, change order process, etc., establishes what’s expected. But minus any system for communicating with clients it’s easy to fall into the cliché of the contractor who doesn’t answer his phone or return messages, one much mocked by customers on forums and other social media.

That communication needs to be consistent and professional in tone, with the aim of securing client feedback. A few ways to make sure that happens:

  • Establish a point person: For the purpose of clarity, and to avoid the confusion created by multiple contradictory messages, have only one person on your team communicate with customers. 

Let’s say a problem comes up on the homeowner's end. The client suddenly can’t be there the day the job’s supposed to start. Does he or she call the salesperson who sold him the roof, the admin person who set the appointment, the production manager who called with the start date, or the project manager whose card he or she was handed as the onsite manager?

Avoid anxiety and confusion by having a point person: “If your client has one point of contact, they’re more likely to feel like everything’s going smoothly, even if there’s secret internal chaos," writes Caitlin Sisley, of WorkflowMax. “It helps you to keep your messaging consistent, and there’s less scope for misunderstanding.”

  • Agree on how communication will take place. So, you’ve sold a job and designated a point person. His or her first task is to find out how the client wants to communicate. Generally, older people prefer the phone, younger people talk by text or email. But don’t assume—ask.

Text and email are faster, with the additional benefit of creating a written record of your communication in the event some aspect of the job comes into contention. But if your client insists on talking over the phone, it’s smart to keep notes on those conversations for future reference. Write down the time, date, topics of discussion, and any decisions reached.

Not only should you know their preferred method of communication, but also when that communication will happen. “If you only answer emails at a specific time or you prefer text messages,” writes a blogger at Aim Roofing and Construction, in Canfield, Ohio, “let your contractor know. By having an active communication, you can speed up your project’s progress.”

  • Be consistently professional. Messages full of incomplete sentences, mangled grammar, inappropriate emotions, etc., can come across as not just lacking in professionalism, but rude. The folks at Footbridge Media offer an excellent list of dos and don’ts for contractor-to-client email communication: advising, for instance, that contractors avoid writing in all caps, check the inbox multiple times a day, and respond the same day, whenever possible.

"Failing to respond in a timely manner," according to Footbridge, "only gives the potential customer time to find a competitor who will respond in a timely manner.” You snooze, you lose, when it comes to email.

  • Speak a common language. Here’s the dictionary's definition of jargon: “the technical terminology ... of a special activity or group.” Loggia, joist, underlayment, and step flashing may mean something specific to you, but little or nothing to your customer. Casual use in conversation may leave you feeling in control but ultimately defeat the purpose of creating and maintaining great communications.

Avoid using words the homeowner won’t know, unless there’s no other way to describe a situation, in which case be prepared to explain them.

  • Schedule regular updates. Is it your responsibility to inform, or the client’s to ask? Many contractors assume the latter. Since homeowners are often intimidated by what they don’t know about construction and contracting, they may be timid about asking.

Make it your business to keep them abreast of what’s going on with their project. Regular updates—a quick call or text from the project manager at the end of the day—keep clients plugged in and signal your company’s professionalism.

And if you don’t have time to make a zillion client phone calls? Use technology. “We keep you looped into the progress every step of the way,” writes Contract Exteriors on the company website, “starting with a pre-construction meeting and continuing via our Client Project Portal, a simple-to-use software that keeps you up to date on the status of your project via images and detailed progress reports.”

Aim For Client Buy-In

Communication, by definition is an exchange in which information is dispatched and processed—message sent/message received. It’s not an information blast. You need to know that clients know what’s going on and why. Many exterior companies find it helpful to establish at the outset not only what customers can expect from them, but what they expect from customers if the job is to be completed in a timely manner.

The better window companies, such as Pelican Replacement Windows in California, will post an online checklist (or distribute a paper one among the salesperson’s leave-behinds) specifying what the homeowner will need to do before installers arrive to get the job up and running.

Meanwhile roofing companies have their own list of, well, if not tasks, at least very strong suggestions. At Long Roofing in Beltsville, Md., that includes relocating the vehicles, moving wall decorations, and making sure dogs and kids are out of the way.

“Finally,” the company’s blogger notes, “it is always best to communicate with your roofing company throughout the roof installation process ... Most importantly, remember that this construction and any inconvenience it brings are temporary. Soon you will have the new roof that you’ve been waiting for.”

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