Keeping Tabs on Your Performance

Customer satisfaction and resultant referrals and repeat business are among business requisites that successful remodelers swear by. Although most remodelers pride themselves on their customer service and referrals from satisfied clients, homeowners don’t always see it the same way, the results of Qualified Remodeler’s annual Remodeling Customer Satisfaction Survey suggest.

“Customer satisfaction is among the most important things a remodeling business can focus on,” says Geoff Graham, founder of Atlanta-based GuildQuality, a firm that conducts customer satisfaction surveys on behalf of many remodeling firms. “Great customer satisfaction correlates with business longevity.”

An important measure of satisfaction is whether a homeowner would refer his remodeler to a friend, and according to this year’s survey less than two-thirds (62 percent) of respondents would do so. Only a slightly higher number (66 percent) would hire the same remodeler again. Compared to previous years, the number of homeowners who would recommend their remodeler to a friend has remained fairly constant, but those who would hire that contractor again has improved considerably, up from barely half in 2009.

70 Percent Did Not Accept the Low Bid

It is particularly noteworthy under economic conditions in which most remodelers perceive clients as demanding the lowest possible price that more than 70 percent of homeowners surveyed did not accept the lowest bid. Further, those who paid a bit more were generally more satisfied and willing to recommend their remodeler to a friend (65 percent for those who did not accept the low bid vs. 56 percent who chose the low bidder).

“It’s about the relationship,” says Lorraine Kotyk, director of Jacksonville, Fla.-based RenovationExperts.com, QR’s partner for the survey. “I think if there’s a good relationship and trust between the remodeler and homeowner, the remodeler is going to be successful.”

Remodeling is an unavoidably disruptive activity and a potential source for dissatisfaction, but remodelers appear to be doing a good job of preparing their clients for the temporary disarray, according to 81 percent of respondents. Seventy-four percent agreed that their remodeler attempted to ease the disruption by leaving the jobsite swept and organized at the end of the day. An overwhelming number of respondents (95 percent) did not move out of their homes during remodeling, making this attention to cleanliness and neatness a priority.

Clients generally felt their remodeler did a good job of keeping them informed about the progress of the job (76 percent), an improvement over scores of less than 60 percent just two years ago. Likewise, 77 percent judged their remodeler to be honest and trustworthy.

Low Scores for Expertise

Homeowners, however, tended to give low scores to their contractors’ expertise on all things relating to remodeling, splitting almost evenly between agree and disagree on the question. Nevertheless, in a seeming contradiction, 80 percent said they agreed with their remodeler’s recommendation for products, such as doors, windows, flooring, fixtures, cabinets or appliances.

Despite that so much information is available directly to consumers, remodelers have the opportunity to become gatekeepers and industry leaders, says Kotyk. “Homeowners get overwhelmed by the information and are looking for an expert who knows what works and what doesn’t work to steer them in the right direction,” she says.

It is significant that remodelers tended to score higher in individual task performance ratings, such as cleanliness, communication and trustworthiness, than on the ultimate recommendation scale. Addressing that incongruity should be a strategic undertaking for any remodeler who wants to improve his all-important referral rate.

Surveying their individual customers is one way remodelers can explore the apparent contradiction between customer satisfaction with individual areas and their reluctance to recommend. Remodelers—even those who are convinced they are doing a great job and their customers are satisfied—have undertaken the task of asking detailed and consistent questions of each and every customer and have been surprised by the survey results. When asked, however, nearly one-third of those remodelers who responded to a recent survey in Qualified Remodeler (see the May issue, page 26) said they didn’t regularly survey their customers.

“Most remodelers feel they have a personal relationship with their customers and assume they already know what their clients think,” Graham explains. “The reality is what a client tells the remodeler in their casual conversations is not generally an accurate reflection of how happy they are with the work.”

Even Happy Customers Are Frustrated

“Generally, even if customers are really happy, they express a lot of frustrations with various aspects of the remodeling experience,” Graham says. “It’s a really difficult experience for anyone to go through no matter how great the remodeler is. As a guide and trusted service provider, it’s the remodeler’s job to help homeowners through that process as easily as possible, but there are many remodelers whose otherwise happy customers have nevertheless expressed a lot of frustration with the process.”

Graham says remodelers who begin surveying often are surprised to find they have more unhappy customers than they thought. For example, they may have assumed they had a 100 percent recommendation rate only to find actual results don’t match their perception. A good survey, however, will uncover subtleties in the homeowner/remodeler relationship. A remodeler who believes he is over-communicating may find his clients believe just the opposite and don’t fully comprehend what is transpiring with their jobs.

Schedule is another big source of friction between a remodeler and homeowner. “Often the remodeler’s perception is he is delivering according to the schedule, all things considered, such as weather, change orders or other things outside of his control,” Graham says. “Meanwhile the client has a completely different perception. They don’t think about the weather, and they didn’t consider what effect a change in project scope could have on the schedule. Maybe they didn’t understand the remodeler or hear his words when he said it was going to add another month. All they think about is they’re renting an extended-stay hotel, or contractors will be coming and going for another month.”

Graham adds, “A lot of things emerge in surveying—even with really good contractors—that inform the way they think about how they’re communicating and interacting with a client.”

From Good to Exemplary

Interestingly, Graham notes, clients for whom he does surveys are often those who especially care about customer service and who already have happy customers. However, they “want to go from doing a very good job to doing an exemplary job,” he says.

Just the fact that remodelers take the trouble to do an in-depth survey about their customers’ satisfaction generates a measure of satisfaction, Graham comments. A common comment he sees from remodeling clients is, “I’m grateful for the opportunity to give this feedback; it shows what kind of company [the remodeler] is.”

“By asking, remodelers show they are committed to customer satisfaction,” Graham says. “In the sales process, if customers know before they start that surveying the job is part of the remodeling process, it eliminates a lot of the distrust that customers have.”

Asked if remodeling clients were becoming more demanding and whether high customer satisfaction scores are more difficult to achieve, Graham replies: “I think people are more demanding, but I also believe the profession as a whole is rising to the occasion with more professionalism. To say it another way, I think it’s much harder for bad companies to stay in business today than it was five years ago.”

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