Systems and Forms Improve Communication

While my previous column looked at design retainers and how to use them, this month we will discuss ways to use systems and forms to show your professionalism and build client trust.

In fact, the first thing you should do after you’ve received a signed design agreement is to acknowledge the customer with a letter showing them you appreciate their business and are reciprocating the trust they have given to you by hiring you to design their project.

Whether this letter comes from the designer or the company, I think it’s important the customer has someone to talk to if things don’t go the way they were hoping.

The letter sent from our company has my name and home phone number and has served us well over the years. It reads:

Mr. and Mrs. Any Customer
11111 Jumbo Lane
Any City and State 11111

Dear Mr. & Mrs. Customer:

I personally would like to take this opportunity to say “Thank You” for selecting our firm for your design and product needs.

I want you to know everyone at Thompson Price Kitchens, Baths & Home understands the importance of keeping our clients happy.

To that end, our company policy is simple: We will provide the utmost in customer service, whether we earn your business through the sale of the entire project, or only through the supplying of materials.

We want you to know that, if at any time you are not satisfied, you may call me personally. The only way I can address a concern is when I am aware of it.

We pride ourselves in customer service and will do all we can to correct any situation or concern you may have. You can reach me after hours at my home at 555-555-5555 or on my cell at 555-555-5554.

Thompson Price

While I realize many of you would never think of giving out your home phone number, you should consider the impact this would have with many customers. Many of our clients say the reason they chose to do business with our firm was because they had the home phone number of the owner or the salesperson.

What might surprise you is if I receive two or three calls a year, that’s a lot. I can honestly say if they did call, it was for what they thought was a good reason – and I was glad I could talk to them that evening rather than wait until the next day when they’d had time to get really fired up, usually about nothing.

Keeping the door open for two-way communication not only prevents costly errors, but it also shows you care and appreciate your customers’ business.

Once you’re on your way to producing a design for your customers, certainly you meet with them to present the options and choose the best overall design.

However, once they have made their product selections, you need to think about how you put these selections in writing and what sort of an agreement you have with them. I learned many years ago that it’s every bit as important to have your agreement state what you’re not going to do as it is to list what you are going to do.

Many a project has lost money or has gone south because of a lack of communication. You then end up with a customer who thinks you tried to cheat them out of something they assumed was part of the agreement. At that point it will be nearly impossible to turn them into a loyal customer who will spread good words about their experience with you.

To prevent this type of scenario, I developed an eight-page agreement covering nearly every aspect of what we will be doing on any kitchen or bath project we do. It was created to be a fill-in-the-blanks type of form, with headings for each segment of the job.

The chart above is an example of what the cabinet section of the agreement looks like. It includes references to door styles, finishes, hardware and other details that are a part of the cabinet order and installation.

This reference is just an example of the type of detail that should go into the agreements with the customer. This type of form is not just reserved for the high end, either, but for all projects that are sold.

The important thing to remember here is that you do not want to leave anything to chance. Cover all your bases and you will be able to protect your profits while fulfilling your client’s needs.

While I know many of you have agreements that work well for your particular business, I’ve also seen many agreements that do not take care of the many items that go into the type of projects we are providing. If there is a choice to be made, let the customer make it.

To assume they would like a certain edge profile on a cabinet door is setting yourself up for a costly replacement of the doors if your assumption is incorrect and the customer opts for a different style.

Payment Issues

The payment schedule is the next thing that should be rather detailed. By having as part of the agreement a specific payment schedule of both the dollar amount and the percentage expected to be paid and when will avoid many problems along the way.

You also need to discuss what is to take place with extra work that is not in the original agreement. This will save you time and trouble down the road.

Our agreement states: “Any extras on the project after the agreement is accepted will be paid in full with a signed addendum.”

This helps us to collect for the extra work, which in the past was forgotten about or never collected at all. It also keeps the final payment down to the original amount that was contracted for.

The remodeling business is not an easy business. We sometimes make it harder than it needs to be.

If you will look over your forms and systems and see how professional they look, you may find out what worked 10 years ago is maybe not good for today’s clients. Being professional and having the proper forms that help eliminate costly mistakes and errors can be the difference between profitable projects and ones that are filled with problems and fires that seem to never go away.

I believe there can never be enough communication between you, your client and the company. I would rather have three people from our company call a customer to let him or her know what’s going on than have no one call them.

A week or so before a project starts, we send out a letter telling the customer about the start of job date, along with what is expected of them the day we start the job. If the next deposit is due, we will let them know what the amount should be and who will be picking it up when. This helps to avoid the “I left the checkbook at the office” or “my spouse has it and is out of town” excuses that cause payment delays.

We bring out a survey at the end of the job during the final walkthrough. We ask them to share their thoughts about how the project went, from the first contact at the showroom, the start of the job and the follow through of the entire team.

We ask for feedback on all of the trades – carpenters, electricians, plumbers and tile people – and ask them to rate each one from exceptional to poor.

We ask if they would recommend our firm to someone. We also ask, “Would you call us for another project?” This is the best way to see how you are really doing.

When there is a bad report, I make it a point to call the clients and discuss the project with them. I will then write a response to the complaint.

While there are many ways to show you’re professional, hopefully some of this information will help you sell more jobs and become more profitable.