Whether performing a simple countertop replacement or putting an addition on a home, effectively managing your clients’ expectations can be the difference between an unhappy customer and future referrals. Early in my career a client told me that waiting overnight to have her kitchen sink reconnected following a countertop replacement was the worst experience of her life. This client may have been unreasonable, but I did not manage her expectations upfront by telling her an afternoon countertop installation would mean plumbing work would have to be done the following morning.
The key to managing your clients’ expectations is to take control of the sales and design process from the initial interview, and set expectations based on your company’s policies and procedures. Your sales and design staff must be thoroughly familiar with company policies and trained in the interview process.
My company uses a thorough interview process. Initially, we insist clients seeking remodeling services make an in-store appointment before we visit their homes. Serious clients will not object. Those who do are most likely tire kickers looking for a free estimate.
With this first step, we take control of the process and begin creating expectations. Detailed questions are asked about the proposed project and desired goals and results. We also ask about the age of the home and other conditions that may affect the job. Most important, budget is discussed, and a timeline is created for the project. Both of these are critical in setting expectations. In addition, addressing these issues early on helps determine whether a client is serious, saving hours of design and estimating that may not result in a sale.
In the mid 1990s while I was working for a startup remodeling firm in Wilmington, Del., a couple entered our showroom seeking a kitchen remodel. A year-and-a-half later, after multiple site visits, numerous design changes and many selection appointments (all at no charge), they made a decision and purchased the project. To reach that point, they went through several wood species and color changes, two manufacturer's price increases and monopolized my time on Wednesday nights and Saturdays for months. Looking back, the fact I closed the sale at all was amazing, but we were a small company that needed the business, so we rolled with the punches until we closed the sale.
Today, this would never happen. At the initial interview I clearly state our field measure and design policy. The client leaves my showroom knowing when I am going to field measure, how long it will take to get the initial design completed and when the presentation appointment will be. They know my designs are not released to them without a deposit. They know my design revision policy and know what services they are receiving at no cost. They know when there is a charge for my time and service and what the fee is.
I also make it clear I require an appointment for all future meetings because I am a professional who requires the same respect for my time as their doctor, attorney or mechanic. To reinforce verbal expectations, clients are given a document detailing those expectations. I have set expectations upfront and given the client an opportunity to raise objections before leaving our showroom and before I do any design work.
When to Say ‘No’
Sometimes it is best to just say “no.” I am amazed how often I have been asked to have installation teams work without shoes. It’s always a client whose house is a showpiece or someone with specific cultural beliefs. The answer is always “no.” It is a safety hazard for our employees, and usually once the liabilities are explained, the issue is dropped. This is an example of an expectation that must be dealt with before you start work in a client's home. If you have determined your client is a neatnik, you should have post-construction cleaning costs included in your contract. I have on occasion had to tell a potential client I could not meet his expectations and declined to accept a project. Identifying problem customers in advance comes with experience and will save you tenfold in post-project problems, collection fees and court costs.
Additional construction-related expectations that should be addressed with clients are your company’s scheduling policies, hours of operation, procedures for debris removal and Dumpster access, parking, ,security of pets,, daily jobsite cleanup, dust control and responsibility for obtaining permits. Always make sure you clearly outline periods of down time during construction. There is nothing more frustrating than a client who complains you are not physically in their home working for a week because they do not understand their countertop or custom shower door is being fabricated.
Another practice which can result in referrals is to visit the customers’ next-door neighbors the day the project starts and set expectations for them. Explain you are beginning a construction project nearby. Ask them to contact you if your activity is causing any inconvenience. You cannot imagine the level of professionalism this shows. I promise the neighbors will remember you took the time to show concern for them.
Taking control of the process and managing expectations from the initial interview will ensure a happy client to add to your reference list. By taking control from the start, setting expectations and following through on commitments you are gaining trust and showing your commitment to excellence and attention to detail. This level of professionalism will set you apart from your competition. Your projects will run more smoothly, there will be fewer complaints and call backs and this will result in increased profits for your company.