Setting Expectations with a Chart

Alert readers will recall that one of the best practices of 2004 NAHB Remodeler of the Year, Randall Hall, was his company’s ability to manage client expectations about the somewhat arduous process of remodeling a home. Indeed, many of the industry’s most admired remodeling companies do the same.


One seemingly immutable fact about remodeling projects is that at some point in the middle of a project, clients get cranky and can even go into a funk. Typically, this is the point at which client-remodeler relationships get off track. And far too many times those relationships stay off track permanently. Even if the remodeler ultimately delivers a great finished product, relations can remain strained. Surprising as it may be, this truth was also borne out by customer satisfaction research conducted by this magazine each of the last two years.

Last year, 1,500 consumers who had recently remodeled their homes gave their remodelers an overall satisfaction grade of 6.55 on a scale of 1 to 10 — not a resounding endorsement. One of the key differentiators between satisfied and unsatisfied consumers was the perception on the part of the client that “the remodeler had done a good job setting proper expectations about the remodeling process.” Remodelers whose clients agreed that they set proper expectations scored 7.77 for overall satisfaction vs. an average score of 3.95 for those remodelers who were viewed as not setting proper expectations.

One of the things that Dallas-based Randall Hall does with each of his clients at the beginning of the remodeling process (but after contract signing) is to show them a “funk chart” which maps the emotions of clients and remodelers at various stages of a project.

The funk chart starts with the elation felt by the client during the first few days after work has begun. Then it maps the emotional ups-and-downs through the aforementioned middle part of the project when clients and remodelers can both be in a funk.

Hall is quick to point out that he did not draw the chart he uses. “A lot of remodelers I know use it,” he says, asking to not take full credit for its inception. But by showing the chart at the beginning of the process, Hall and others have found that they are able to successfully point out that remodeling projects are often a long haul and that everyone should be feeling very good at the end of the project.

The low points for the client usually occur when an invoice for “extras” arrives. Then emotions begin to improve after drywall, cabinets and trim are installed. Then those positive vibes give way to a final set of doldrums for the client during a period in which plumbing fixtures are installed and painting is completed before the final emotional ascent into a completed project where the last doorknob is attached.

Everyone typically feels great when a topping off or wrap party is held. The beauty of the particular chart that Hall uses is its light-hearted approach. In addition to mapping the emotions of the architect, the client, the contractor, the children, there is even a dotted line representing the feelings of the family dog. The dog does not like the process from the very beginning and only begins to bounce back at the very end.