Getting Satisfaction

Only within the past 25 or 30 years has remodeling grown into a distinct profession. Yet, to this day, many homeowners still seek out a “contractor” or a “builder” when they want to improve a bathroom, a kitchen or add on to their home.

But even as awareness of qualified and professional remodelers becomes mainstream, low barriers to entry work against the industry every day, leaving the door open for the unqualified and the poorly trained to sell jobs, disappoint customers, and quickly exit the business trailing messes that people never forget. Indeed, the remodeling industry — as a whole — suffers from a perception issue that is hard to shake.

Yet not all of the industry’s customer satisfaction issues are perception based. Customer satisfaction may be a discipline that is well-known among the executive ranks of the Fortune 500, but the ranks of the Qualified Remodeler Top 500 is a different story. Less than 15 percent reports internal programs to monitor customer satisfaction. Steadily, the word is getting out. In an industry where leads for new jobs can cost hundreds of dollars in marketing expense, the value of a customer for life who will, over a period of time, refer five to 10 new customers is manifold. Each satisfied customer not only becomes a base for new business but also becomes a steady stream of referrals.

It is for these reasons that Qualified Remodeler began establishing a benchmark for customer satisfaction in the remodeling industry four years ago with our very first survey of homeowners who had recently remodeled their homes. Conducted by, the goal of our survey this year is the same as it was when we started: Assign a value to customer satisfaction across a widespread group of homeowners and through analysis begin to understand the areas of the remodeling process where the relationship between remodelers and their clients commonly goes off the rails. Conversely, the analysis has also helped uncover remodeling company behaviors or traits — often deceptively simple ones — that tend to leave customers happy with their remodeling experience.

The Top Line Results

Many industries — automotive, healthcare and production home building among them — have been forced to sit up and pay attention to customer satisfaction as independent, third-party companies began surveying their customers and asking them hard questions about their level of satisfaction. Later, when rankings of competitors appeared online and in the media, the winners took the opportunity to leverage their victories through advertising.

The transformative power of satisfaction ranking is dramatic. In 2000, when J.D. Power & Associates began ranking home builders in six metro areas, the impact was felt immediately. The big builders immediately polished up their systems and processes with the goal of ensuring that home buyers felt good about their “experience” buying a home.

Will J.D. Power & Associates and other companies enter the remodeling fray at the local level? And, if so, will remodeling companies begin to track their customer experiences on a wider scale? In the long run, the answer is surely, yes. And the remodelers who’ve taken proper steps to improve their customer experience, to track their level of satisfaction, will be in the best position to post wins.

This year, 982 consumers who’d recently remodeled their homes were asked 25 questions. Primarily, they were asked to rank their remodeler’s performance (on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best) in five key categories: overall satisfaction, professionalism, timeliness, price and workmanship.

On an aggregated basis, the numbers track very closely to those we’ve published in the past. Our panel of consumers gave their remodelers a combined grade of 6.29 for overall satisfaction. Professionalism scored 6.43. Timeliness dipped to 5.91. Price held steady at 6.67. And workmanship hit 6.32.

Our analysis of these numbers suggests that remodelers, as a whole, suffer lower grades, than do other industries. With that in mind we also asked our consumer panel key questions that are highly predictive of customer satisfaction: Would you hire your remodeler again? And, would you be willing to refer your remodeler to a friend?

For each of the four years that we’ve asked this question, roughly half of our consumer panel is willing to answer in the affirmative. This year is no different: 52 percent indicated they’d hire their remodeler again (42 percent would not and 6 percent did not answer); and, 54 percent would be willing to refer to a friend (39 percent would not and 7 percent did not answer). When we break out the scoring on a scale of 1 to 10 for each of the five key categories, we find that those consumers who were willing to hire again and refer to a friend consistently score in ranges that would equate with truly satisfied customers.

There are two clear findings from these results. First, measuring customer satisfaction can be as easy as asking your customers just these two questions. Second, remodelers really want their customers to answer in the affirmative — the differences in levels of satisfaction across our five key categories are very clear. Among the 52 percent of consumers who said they’d be willing to hire their remodeler again, the overall satisfaction score averaged 8.69 percent vs. 3.39 percent among consumers who weren’t willing to hire again. In the category of professionalism the “hire again” group awarded an average score of 8.87 vs. 3.39. In the category of timeliness the average score was 7.94 vs. 3.38. For price the average score was 8.51 vs. 4.38. And for workmanship the average score was 8.54 vs. 3.53. Overall, these scores mirrored those for the group that said they’d be willing to “refer to a friend.”

Things You can Control

Years ago, a book by Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, topped the charts because it cut through the gibberish about relationships and boiled them down to simple rules we all learned long ago. “Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.”

Our fourth annual survey of customer satisfaction in remodeling confirmed that simple, common-sense rules of how to treat others are often the very behaviors sought by remodeling clients. Honesty, cleanliness, consistent communication about what to expect, politeness by you and your team during the project, and other basic attributes of decency often translate to higher satisfaction scores.

Among those consumers who agreed that their remodeler “kept them informed” throughout the process, the average scores were markedly higher: professionalism, 8.14; timeliness, 7.29; price, 7.91; workmanship, 7.13; and overall satisfaction, 7.92.

Respecting the client’s home and keeping the jobsite clean each day is another important difference maker. Among consumers who agreed that their remodeler kept the jobsite clean, the average scores were: 7.73 for overall satisfaction and 7.95, 7.42, 7.79, and 7.75 for other key categories. And this correlation makes sense. Clients are not experts in residential design and construction. So they make judgments based on how remodelers handle themselves around their homes. Personal qualities make a big difference, too.

“Was your remodeler honest?” A third of our consumer panel (32 percent) was unable to agree with this statement, while 61 percent said yes. If you or a member of your team flim-flams a client, remember that, according to our data, the repercussions are significant. As a group those 32 percent of remodelers deemed not honest garnered horrific numbers: overall satisfaction, 2.87; professionalism, 2.79; timeliness, 2.97; price, 4.02; and workmanship, 3.07. If deemed honest, the scores were 8.12, 8.38, 7.48, 8.07, 8.06, respectively.

The lowest ranked category across all respondents was timeliness. Not surprisingly, it is a key component of overall satisfaction. If a family is planning to host Thanksgiving at their house and the appliances don’t show up until the Friday after, they won’t remember that you were only a day or two late finishing the job. They will remember that you did not have it done by Thanksgiving. Our analysis shows that finishing a job within the time frame originally discussed is a clear path toward customer satisfaction in remodeling. All of the good communicating and expectation setting — even when the client knows that their midstream change order is the cause of a major delay — cannot undo the reality that an internal clock has been set. After their clock says “time’s up,” a client relationship often gets harder to manage.

Things You can’t Control

The best remodelers manage their customer experience through good processes and systems that exude professionalism.

That professionalism includes regular and scheduled communication. It also includes estimating and ordering to allow time for schedule slippage, so that most jobs are completed on time. These are things remodelers can control. Through our research, we have also uncovered gradations in satisfaction among a host of factors that a remodeler cannot control. Some types of projects generally earn higher satisfaction scores. Some ranges of income among households start off as tougher customers.

There are even differences in the types of properties that are being remodeled.

Our research shows that the degree of difficulty of a project influences the odds of ending up with a satisfied customer. The aggregate overall satisfaction score for a whole-house remodeling project this year was 5.79, while for a basement renovation project the overall satisfaction score was 7.32

There may be a preponderance of kitchen and bathroom activity in your market, but with an aggregate satisfaction score of 5.85, that is a pretty tough starting point.

At the same time, we have found that customers get tougher at higher income levels. From $50,000 to $100,000 overall satisfaction comes in at 6.41 vs. 5.77 for those making $250,000 to $500,000. This is not to suggest that you move away from high earners; rather, it should be understood that remodelers catering to these clients need to come to market with a better operation knowing these customers are more discriminating and discerning.

There are some interesting correlations to be drawn in scores between those households with a lot of kids — an overall satisfaction level of 5.40 for families with three children vs. 6.38 and 6.50 for households with no children and one child under 18, respectively.

Small details? Yes. But in a world where affordable options for reaching customers with your message are dwindling, repeat and referral clients only become more valuable.