Scoring Points With Customers

The good news coming out of the NRS homeowner satisfaction study? Most customers are very satisfied with their remodelers.

August 31, 2003

 

Methodology

All participating remodelers closed at least 25 projects in 2002 or 40 projects in 2001-02, and every customer from those years was mailed a survey. About 30% of the total survey population contributed data to the study. NRS Corp. developed and deployed the survey, collected the data and analyzed the findings. NRS and Professional Remodeler jointly verified the information provided by participants.

The study measures the following components of customer satisfaction: project design, quality of materials, quality of workmanship, work-site conditions, production schedules, budget, the value-to-price relationship, the sales process, the production process, punchlist items and process, and pre-contract expectations. Customers rated remodelers on a scale of 1 to 10.

Overall satisfaction for each remodeler is calculated as a weighted average of the company's satisfaction scores across all categories. Survey respondents also were asked to rate their willingness to recommend their remodeler. Each remodeler's score for this question is added to its overall satisfaction score to yield the NRS Index score.

The good news coming out of the NRS homeowner satisfaction study? Most customers are very satisfied with their remodelers. "This study showcases the whole concept of immediate service: right there, on site," says Paul Cardis, president of NRS Corp. "If there was an issue, they rushed out there and got it done. Their follow-up time was very low. Their level of professionalism and courtesy was very high."

The bad news? Most customers are very satisfied with their remodelers. That means you have to work harder to make your firm stand out from the competition.

True, this sample group does not include the fly-by-night contractors who cause home improvements to rank at the top of consumer complaint lists. But do you want to consider those contractors your peers?

The 2003 study surveyed the 2002 clients of 22 remodelers across the country. Unlike in the 2002 survey, NRS broke the results and the winners into two categories based on the number of jobs completed annually: under 50 and 50-plus. Ten of the firms do 50 or more jobs per year. NRS, which specializes in customer satisfaction research, conducted the surveys. (See "Communication, Communication, Communication" and "A Study of Exceptional Standards," September 2002 PR, for the first-year results.)

In addition to providing overall benchmarks, the study points out where remodelers who truly excel in customer satisfaction have distinguished themselves from the competition.

None of these companies is inexpensive, so the answer isn't in cutting margins. Rather, the difference lies in great service, resulting from quality processes for working with customers and pre-planned standards for dealing with the inevitable questions, concerns and problems.

Instead of trying to control customers rigidly, these companies encourage homeowner input and make customers feel empowered. They let the customers set the standards for how communication should work during the project and make a point of being accessible to clients at all times. Finally, they accept accountability for every aspect of each remodeling project, whether or not the fault lies elsewhere, and well beyond walk-through and warranty.

Cardis notes that remodeling companies that did fewer jobs scored higher than firms with greater job volume. Likewise, custom builders scored higher than production builders. "Overall, 90 and above is the upper echelon for builders," he adds. (For more on builders' scores, see the September 2003 issue of Professional Builder at www.HousingZone.com/pb.) But when it comes to the remodelers and builders best at satisfying customers, as opposed to the overall average, service practices affect scores more than job number does.

 

Customer Satisfaction Benchmarks:

How the Best Companies Differentiate Themselves
Category
Winners
The Rest
Difference
NRS Index
195.2
178.1
17.1
Overall satisfaction
96.6
88.9
7.7
Willingness to recommend
98.5
89.2
9.3
Price/value of project
95.5
84.5
11.0
Adherence to production schedule
94.3
85.0
9.3
Adherence to budget
97.1
88.0
9.1
Sales staff: accuracy of answers
98.4
89.4
9.0
Time to correct walk-through items
94.3
85.4
8.9
NRS Corp. pulled out the five areas in which the winning companies' average rating differed most dramatically, and positively, from the rest of the pool. Whether spending $5,000 or $500,000 on a remodel, getting good value for the price matters to customers. The 2003 winners made sure their customers, most of whom are upper-middle-class, received - and perceived - high value. Comparing this table to the "Where to improve" tables, you'll notice the five winners scored significantly better than others on these tough items.

 

What's Working Overall:

Sales Courtesy, Professional-Looking Crews
Remodelers scored highest in the following areas:
 
2003 ranking
2003 average
2002
2002
Courtesy during sales process
1
94.9
1
98.5
Knowledge of remodeling during sales process
2
93.9
1
98.5
Professional appearance: production crew
3
93.4
 
 
Availability/courtesy: production crew
4
93.3
 
 
Quality of materials
5
92.6
4
97.5
Design of project
 
 
3
98.0
Availability during sales process
 
 
5
97.3

 

What's Working, Under-50
 
Ranking
Average
Courtesy during sales process
1
97.0
Knowledge of remodeling during sales process
2
96.2
Availability/courtesy: production crew
3
96.1
Professional appearance: production crew
4
95.1
Timeliness of responses: production crew
5
95.0
What's Working, 50-Plus
 
Ranking
Average
Courtesy during sales process
1
92.4
Professional appearance: production crew
2
91.4
Knowledge of remodeling during sales process
3
91.2
Availability/courtesy: production crew
4
90.1
Availability during sales process
5
90.0
Comparing 2003 results with those in 2002, you'll notice a significant drop in average scores across the study sample. It's not because remodelers are doing a poorer job of keeping clients happy this year. Rather, it's a statistical probability with a larger sample size. "Because more remodelers participated, we expected the high numbers would probably drop a bit," explains Sean Boyce, senior vice president at NRS.

 

Where to Improve Overall:

Walk-Throughs, Value for Price
Remodelers scored lowest in the following areas:
 
2003 ranking
2003 average
2002
2002
Number of walk-through items
1
75.8
1
81.3
Price/value of project
2
87.0
2
91.8
Adherence to production schedule
3
87.1
3
91.9
Time taken to correct walk-through items
4
87.4
 
 
Adherence to budget
5
90.0
 
 
Cleanliness of work site
 
 
4
93.0
Communication of price changes caused by change orders
 
 
5
93.2

 

Where to Improve, Under-50
 
Ranking
Average
Number of walk-through items
1
77.6
Price/value of project
2
89.1
Time taken to correct walk-through items
3
89.9
Adherence to production schedule
4
90.7
Adherence to budget
5
91.4
Where to Improve, 50-Plus
 
Ranking
Average
Number of walk-through items
1
73.6
Price/value of project
2
82.8
Time taken to correct walk-through items
3
84.4
Price/value of project
3
84.4
Quality of workmanship
5
87.5
They might sound impossible to achieve, but having zero-punch projects at the time of walk-through does wonders for increasing customer satisfaction. If homeowners do find problems, correct them within a specific, stated and short amount of time. NRS winner HoBart Builders in Columbus, Ga., creates a pre-close, in-house punchlist and makes sure problems are resolved within one week. NRS winner Bowa Builders in McLean, Va., requires its on-site superintendents to file weekly reports.

 

Expectations Versus Reality: Make Sure Reality Wins
 
Expected Satisfaction
Current Satisfaction
Difference
Tri-Lite Builders
91.1
98.9
7.8
Teakwood Builders
90.0
95.0
5.0
HoBart Builders
87.3
89.0
1.7
Plekkenpol Builders
86.1
90.0
3.9
Bowa Builders
78.8
88.8
10.0
Overall
85.9
88.6
2.7
Exceeding expectations is the most basic rule of customer satisfaction. All of the NRS winners did so, as did the entire pool on average. This might well stem from low consumer expectations of remodelers in general. Rather than under-promise and over-deliver, these companies acknowledge their customers' fears, promise the moon anyway and then strive to deliver the sun as well as the moon. Examples of going above and beyond for customers include baby-sitting their children, shoveling snow from their walkways and driveways, preparing or monitoring dinner for them, bringing them breakfast and walking their pets.

NRS Corp. is a leading research and consulting firm that has served the construction industry since 1993. For more information on the NRS Awards or NRS study, please call 800/851-5823 or e-mail info@nrscorp.com.

About the Author


Overlay Init