Each year, the Council of Better Business Bureaus Inc. publishes its list of consumer services with the highest number of requests for background information about individual companies that do everything from clean pools to sell used cars. To be sure, some industry groups appear on this list because those services are in high demand. But it also can reflect the existence of many unscrupulous players, a reality that translates to greater scrutiny when consumers consider buying those services. Most players in that industry, therefore, are often checked out in advance. Remodeling and home improvement falls into that category.
In 2005, four of the top 10 services with the most requested information were related to home improvement and remodeling markets. Combined, they tallied 2.96 million requests for background information from consumers across the U.S. That is why for the second consecutive year Qualified Remodeler magazine partnered with ReNex Inc., parent company of RenovationExperts.com, to survey consumers who have recently worked with remodelers. Our goal was to not only establish a benchmark for overall customer satisfaction in the remodeling market, but also to look behind the raw numbers and uncover the types of business practices that separate the good players from the bad. From this, we were also able to begin to track how the remodeling industry performed year-over-year as it moves toward broader-based levels of customer satisfaction.
This year, the pool of survey respondents were doubled from just over 700 remodeling customers in 2005 to more than 1,500 in 2006. Generally better scores were recorded this year, and in categories ranging from overall satisfaction to price to workmanship, the numbers tracked proportionately with previous results. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best possible level of satisfaction, the aggregate score for “Overall Satisfaction” in 2006 is 6.55 vs. 6.29 a year ago.
The scores also show a fairly strong improvement on the question of “Timeliness.” This year, remodelers were given an average score of 6.23 vs. 5.75 in 2005. The increase in this category is significant in that, for the second straight year, our analysis shows that timeliness is the No. 1 determinant of customer satisfaction. When remodelers met their deadlines and finished projects on time their corresponding scores in all other categories of satisfaction also rose. Conversely, “Price” is somewhat surprisingly inelastic. The statistics show that price is not a major source of dissatisfaction, tallying the highest average scores of 6.81 this year and 6.76 a year ago. (See the “Year-over-Year” chart.)
Two opposite directions
With an estimated $275 billion in annual spending on professional home improvement services, a lot of work is clearly getting done on budget, on time and with high quality workmanship to the ultimate satisfaction of millions of Americans who are undoubtedly pleased with their remodeling contractors. But perhaps the single clearest result of the analysis of the RenovationExperts.com and Qualified Remodeler survey is the picture it paints of a polarized remodeling world. At one axis you have fully professional remodeling firms. And at the other axis there are thousands of fly-by-night contractors whose low-ball pricing opens doors, but whose resulting poor work, endless delays, and financial shortcuts give credence to a poor industry reputation.
The survey shows that scores in four key drivers of remodeling satisfaction — professionalism, timeliness, price and quality of workmanship — vary widely when grouped together with respondents who answered positively or negatively to questions about their remodeler’s honesty, politeness, helpfulness and their willingness to refer or hire again.
Remodelers whose customers agreed that they “kept their jobsite clean at the end of each workday” scored an aggregate of 8.01 in the category of “overall satisfaction.” Conversely, remodelers whose customers did notcredit them with a clean jobsite paid dearly with an aggregate score for overall satisfaction of 3.87. Our survey shows that in 2006, about 35 percent of all remodelers fell into this latter group. These disparities in scores were particularly pronounced on several questions. Among the 15 percent of remodelers who were deemed not “polite” by their clients, an aggregate score of 2.38 sank their chances for achieving satisfaction. Likewise, among the 44 percent of remodelers whose clients say they would not refer them to their friends, an aggregate satisfaction score of 3.75 confirmed the reason for their unwillingness to refer. They held their remodelers in generally low esteem.
Another theme involved price. No matter which way the data was sliced, price never emerged as a primary source of dissatisfaction. Aggregate scores in the category of “Fair Price” for those remodelers who found themselves on the wrong side of the question — whether it was willingness to refer or honesty or politeness — were each marked slightly higher (indicating greater levels of satisfaction) than the other three categories. Buckets of remodeling projects at different prices did, however, reveal a slight trend. (See “Memories don’t fade” above). Consumers with jobs over $100,000 clearly put their remodelers under much greater scrutiny than those reporting jobs under $2,500.
Another trend revealed itself in our analysis of satisfaction scores by the type of remodeling jobs. Less intrusive jobs like sunrooms, decks and porches led to higher overall satisfaction than bigger, more complicated jobs that ate up larger parts of the client living space, like kitchens, baths, room additions and whole-house renovations.
Doing the little things
Above all, the resulting data from our survey of homeowners who recently remodeled supports a raft of behaviors and processes that can help ensure that remodelers increase their chances of repeat and referral business from satisfied clients.
- Keep the jobsite clean at the end of each day. It shows respect for the client and it is generally supportive of the notion that you are keen on the details of their job.
- Be sure to set proper expectations about the length of the job and other possible complications. Remodelers who oversell jobs at the beginning of the remodeling process risk greater levels of dissatisfaction when the true difficulties and realities of most remodeling jobs is revealed to the client.
- Be polite and use good language at all times. The statistics show that impoliteness or rudeness by a remodeler or any member of his or her team can be a real source of dissatisfaction.
- Stay on time and on budget as much as possible. Homeowners underestimate the stress of losing their kitchens, baths or any portion of their homes for the period of time it takes to complete a well-constructed remodeling project. The data shows that dissatisfaction grows quickly when progress slows and it becomes clear that the completion date will be missed.
- Communicate early and often. The results show much higher levels of satisfaction for remodelers who keep their clients adequately informed throughout the remodeling process.