The Construction Customer

Our research indicates that the majority of owners and designers engaged in construction projects come at the experience with a “commodity mind-set”. To them, the contractor merely performs a function that any contractor could perform so the job goes to the lowest bidder because there is no distinction in quality from one contractor to another. 

My research into customer relations in contracting over the years reveals that:

  • Owners and designers think most contractors will deliver the same product and are universally a pain to deal with. 
  • Owners have said repeatedly that the design stage is interesting, enjoyable, and even exciting and that the construction stage is literally a nightmare. 
  • Owners across the board say the construction process is bad at best. Most love the product but hate the process. 
  • Architects and design engineers agree among themselves that contractors are a necessary evil, often to be feared. 
  • In a recent attitude survey of designers, they all agreed in one way or another that if contractors have the opportunity to overcharge, they will. 

The Contractor

This is the environment that we work in. Since owners come at their relationship with contractors from this “commodity mind-set”, it can be expected that contractors will respond by playing the role they are assigned. Experience indicates that the majority of construction field and office management right up to the CEO consider both the owner and the designer at best a necessary evil and at worst a pain and an obstruction, or even the “enemy”. As a result, policy level customer service efforts in the construction industry are practically non-existent. 

The Relationship

The client lives with the contractor for the life of the project; suffers the changes in design caused by their own selection of architect or engineer; endures the product as it develops compared with their expectations from the design development stage; and pays invoices they really do not understand or necessarily trust. No wonder this so often leads to a defensive posture on both sides and those relationships devolve into disputes, financial losses for both client and contractor and, in the worst case, litigation. 

The Root Cause

A Harvard Business Review article suggests we are in an “experience economy” in which customers expect good products and services from everyone but actually buy from purveyors that make the “purchase experience” positive–even exciting. 

On the flip side, if every time an owner and a contractor embark on a construction project, they expect the experience to be negative, it almost certainly will be. This is the discouraging spiral that the construction industry is caught in. I contend that this spiral is the root cause of commodity pricing, diminishing profits, and the high rate of contractor failure. The environment we work in needs to be clarified, modified, and improved; and it is up to us to accomplish that.

A Byproduct

Customer satisfaction in construction used to be a byproduct of a job well done and minimal attention was given to doing anything special to “satisfy the customer”. The industry has evolved and keeping customers happy and informed during construction is critical to construction professionals because it affects our ability to avoid disputes; sets the stage for argument-free modifications in the work and generates positive or exceptional recommendations for future work.

Customer Satisfaction Intended (Required? Mandated?)

So, what might we do differently if we were to add “customer satisfaction” to our list of intentions? Here are a few preliminary issues we should consider initiating a policy level customer service process:

  1. We would construct the projects in the same manner as we do now but would draw the client further into the process to feel like a participant rather than an observer.
  2. We would involve the owner in the process at every stage in a positive and informative way that they will welcome and appreciate.
  3. We would invite customers to preconstruction presentations and offer presentations to our owners such as boards of directors, school boards, municipal meetings, and the like. 
  4. We might offer photo up-dates with dialog for any client that would like to put their project on a web site and encourage them to do so by showing the way. 
  5. We would schedule regular tours of the project. 
  6. We could purchase special color hardhats to identify visitors and train our field management staff to greet them and engage them in conversation offering to show them exactly what the tradespeople are doing and trying to accomplish. 
  7. Owners should be engaged in, or at least be knowledgeable of, the project objectives at each stage to understand the efforts that go into achieving project goals and measuring the results.

Tune In Next Week

Over the next several weeks we will take a deeper dive into “customer service” in the construction industry.

For more information on the owner relations, read more at: 

For a broader view on role and duties of a CFO, read more here:

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Please circulate this widely. It will benefit your constituents. This research is continuous and includes new information weekly as it becomes available. Thank you.