The topic of this blog is the belief that drives the marketing efforts of many contractors and why “customer service” is a rare commodity in construction. After some contractors sign a contract, they tend to believe marketing is over. They get on with building out the project as quickly and efficiently as they can. Further communication with the owner or designer they see as an impediment to their goals that may cause delay or confrontation, therefore, avoiding too much interaction during build-out is the best “customer service”. Their belief seems to be: Once the contract is signed marketing is complete and that further unnecessary communication with the owner can only lead to complications, delays, and increased costs. The contract is signed. Now, let’s just build this thing and get out of here as quickly as possible.
A Bad Belief
The problem with this thinking, however, is that it is bad for business. The customer is the customer throughout the entire construction period from marketing, to the signing of the contract, to the final invoice approval. Research on the best-in-class contractors that have sustained the longest records of success reveals that maintaining good relationships with their clients throughout the construction process has brought them real benefits.
- Referrals – Their clients consistently recommend them to others when they’re happy with their experience and relationship.
- Return customers – Happy clients will come back because they’d rather work with trusted, easy-to-deal-with contractors than new ones.
- Competitive edge – Good customer service separates contractors from the rest, elevating them above the competition.
The construction procurement process is no longer exclusively an arm’s length submission of the lowest bid. More and more, owners compile a “preferred bidders list” if only for internal use. Each completed project confers a reputation on the contractor that reflects primarily how the owner “feels” about his or her experience with that contractor. A contractor can do a great job technically, but if the experience the customer had in dealing with them is not a positive one, the customer is going to say they did not do a good job. On the other hand, the profit potential from a satisfied and motivated customer can be measured by the number of positive referrals the customer is likely to initiate and the repeat business he is likely to confer on the contractor.
Invite The Customer to Participate in the Construction Experience
While few of us want to encourage visitors onto inherently dangerous construction sites, it is the customers’ property, and they are usually anxious to see their project being built. Construction activity is novel to non-construction people and offers an opportunity to present an “exciting” adventure to project owners. For a contractor, it is an excellent marketing opportunity.
Contractors might begin with a letter to the owner or owner group such as a school board welcoming them to visit and describing the site as interesting but inherently dangerous, therefore unannounced or random visits are discouraged. Sending a hard hat to each, with their name on it where possible, is a nice marketing tool along with the strong recommendation to arrange visits in advance with the field superintendent and perhaps in small groups to be escorted around the site. These guided tours are worth their weight in gold in building positive relationships with owners that strengthens the relationship, which also has obvious advantages in dealing with project issues. These visits (“adventures”) show the contractor in a positive light in advance of any incident that may place the contractor in a less than positive light.
A Positive Experience…
…is composed of many elements. Taking a year or more to build a project and being involved with a customer for that length of time provides an opportunity to do 99 things right and one thing wrong–and be noticed and remembered for the one thing wrong. However, the contractor who does not resist the client but rather invites the client to participate in the dynamic and energetic environment of the construction site expands the positive relationship and mitigates the negative snap judgement an arm’s length client often makes.
Converting Clients into Partners
Rather than keeping the client at arm’s length, I submit that contractors should draw clients into the construction process to make them feel like participants rather than merely observers. Through close customer association in the process, contractors can receive and share credit for the many things they do right rather than allow one annoying negative to dominate the memory of the “arms-length” customer. Make your customers feel like partners, and they will reward you with more business and an enhanced reputation.
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Please circulate this widely. It will benefit your associates. This research is continuous and includes new information weekly as it becomes available.