Managing Customer Expectations

I’m happily writing this article from my new office. Yes, my home is finally (well, almost) complete.

Like many contractors who are looking to build their business, you hope to be rewarded with referrals from your customers as a testament to a job well done. While my architect generated six new clients as a result of direct referrals from me, my contractor will not be experiencing this benefit.

The fact is, my contractor did an incredible job. However, there are factors other than the final outcome that determine whether or not someone is “referral worthy.” More specifically, the experience throughout the entire remodeling process. Based on this factor alone, I would never want to put someone through the stressful situations I experienced with my contractor; most of which could have been avoided if he simply took the time to better communicate and manage my expectations upfront.

Over the last year, I’ve spoken with dozens of people who have undertaken large remodeling projects. The resounding theme was, “I’ll never do this again” and “I won’t even talk to my contractor unless I have to, let alone use him again.” Almost 90 percent of the people ended the relationship with their contactor on poor terms. How unfortunate that something as exciting as a remodeling project can become a painful process.

Here are two strategies that will enable you to learn from each project, exceed your customer’s expectations, reduce your headaches and generate more referrals.

1. Establish Expectations: The good, the bad and the ugly ones. While outside forces may slow down a project or cause problems, it doesn’t mean you should keep them to yourself. After all, your customers are going to find out the hard way! Instead, establish the expectations upfront. I’d suggest putting this in writing; “The Top 10 Things to Expect During Your Project.” It can include: the level of debris or mess on the jobsite and how you handle it, possible delays, how you handle change orders and what that means in relation to the completion date, when you begin and end your work day, the number of people working on the job, etc. Laying this out on paper will let your customer know what they can expect so problems won’t come as a shock. Plus, you look like a hero who prepared them for the worst.

2. Interview Your Customers: I’d suggest conducting two interviews/questionnaires that your customers can either fax or e-mail back; one before the project begins and one upon completion. The first questionnaire would contain your basic contact information, your customer’s information as well as what to do and who to contact if there’s a problem. Determine your customer’s expectation regarding the frequency of project updates and their preferred method of communication. Additionally, use this form to ask if they have a pet and how that would be managed, if your customer will be home during work hours or if they will be leaving a key (home security?), even the customer’s preference on bathroom use (ex: using the customer’s bathroom or would they prefer that you get a portable toilet). The final evaluation would then gauge how well you’ve managed the project, what they liked/disliked and how you could improve. Most important, it would ask if they would be comfortable referring people to you, along with a space write down the names of the people you can contact.

Since each customer has a vastly different perception and expectation of their project, it’s critical to uncover this upfront. This way, you can control whether you’ll meet their expectations or be blind to problems that could have been avoided.