When you think about it, in the modern industrial world it is absurd to be talking about customer service as if it’s a novel concept.
- Winning over new customers and converting them into repeat customers is the main focus of modern management theory.
- Service providers like retailers, hotels, and airlines have been improving for years by asking their customers what they don’t like. What they like never seems to be the key.
- All the new social media and internet communication skills designed to attract customers dominate the curriculum at the major business schools.
- Customer service is more than just a given; it is an axiom of modern business management theory.
Something Went Wrong
How, then, could customer service be almost completely neglected in the construction industry, the world’s oldest and largest industrial activity? My research into construction business management uncovered a number of “anti-customer service” negative attitudes:
- Concern for customer service in the construction industry is practically non-existent.
- Both the owner and the designer are the construction customer, however many field and office construction personnel right up to the CEO consider them a necessary evil, a pain, an obstruction, or even the enemy.
- The commodity mindset of most construction clients is that contractors are merely performing a function that could be performed by any contractor.
- Owners across the board say the experience of their construction process is bad at best.
- Too many architects agree among themselves that contractors are a necessary evil, often to be feared.
The Origin of the Construction Joust
Somewhere back in construction’s anthropological past the relationship between contractors and their customers became adversarial. Here are some of the reasons I have encountered:
- With low bid the preferred procurement method, contractors had to compete for work solely based on their willingness to work for nothing.
- Competition became fierce and contracts were awarded to reckless low bidders who were forced to invent creative ways to save money by skimping on quality.
- Owners refused to pay or slowed payment waiting for conflict resolutions.
- Construction gradually became a joust between contractors and their customers, often deteriorating into a legal joust.
- Cost and schedule overruns resolved by lawsuits started to become the norm rather than the exception.
- Concerns for customer satisfaction seemed to have gone completely out the window. It became “every man for himself”
With this mutually combative self-image, construction was becoming a no-win for the combatants. Everyone pays the price for seeing themselves as adversaries.
- By cutting back on quality to match costs to a competitive low-bid, contractors end up in conflict with designers and owners who resolve contentious issues through slow pay and no pay resulting in critically low cash flow that can tip a project into negative cash flow.
- Hiring lawyers to discipline unscrupulous or incompetent contractors costs owners more money than they would have expended if they had accepted a higher bid from a more qualified contractor. The “commodity mentality” that ignores qualitative differences is a costly error.
- Too many construction projects run over schedule. This “fact-of-life” appears to cost owners money and lost time, but the cost should be calculated against unrealistic estimates that contractors submitted in order to get the job in the first place. Nonetheless, cost and schedule overruns, regardless of cause, always become contentious and, therefore, costly to all parties involved in the transaction.
The adversarial approach does not work. Period.
- Imagine that your company only prepared bids based on the technical expertise of your staff and the extensive experience of your field operators who considered a reasonable profit margin as the deciding factor and not getting the job at any cost.
- Imagine that your company had the reputation as a high-quality producer that estimated accurately the time it takes to do a job based on many similar projects successfully completed in the past.
- Imagine that you saw your company as a partner with the owner in the project you were about to undertake. That the owner’s needs and wants were your needs and wants.
- Imagine that based on the quality of your work, you demanded prompt and complete payment as the project progressed, and that your owner/partner wouldn’t even consider not paying you promptly and fairly.
- Imagine never resorting to litigation to resolve the many risk factors that accompany construction activity.
When “customer service” becomes your business model, all these dreams come true.
For more information on customer service, read more at: https://simplarfoundation.org/?s=customer+service
For a broader view on business models, read more here: https://simplarfoundation.org/?s=business+model
To receive the free weekly Construction Messages, ask questions, or make comments contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please circulate this widely. It will benefit your constituents. This research is continuous and includes new information weekly as it becomes available. Thank you.