Taking Steps To Ensure a Satisfied Client

According to a multitude of surveys, there are few areas of a remodeling project that have the impact on customer satisfaction that an orderly, on-time conclusion has. For that reason, this month's column will take a look at the client's perceptions and preconceptions when it comes to kitchen and bath remodeling; how you and your staff can influence the client's experience; and what steps you can take to make sure that the entire process goes as efficiently as possible.

Your client will come to you with a history of experiences and "war stories" about remodeling. These can, and usually do, come from a variety of sources. They may have done prior remodeling projects with other contractors, they may have friends who have shared their remodeling experiences, or they may have watched numerous television programs that show a project going from start to finish in the one-hour time of the show.

All of these perceptions are the result of decades of information and, often, misinformation, about the design and remodeling process. For too long, designers and remodelers had a reputation for being long on promises and short on performance, often over charging and delivering shoddy work in return.

Over the last couple of decades, things have begun to change. Trade organizations such as National Kitchen & Bath Association and National Association of Home Builders have instituted educational and credential processes that have encouraged their members to advance their level of expertise. At the same time these same organizations have mounted marketing campaigns to promote a more professional image of our business to the public.

One reality that cannot be ignored is the ability of the modern consumer to obtain information. The Internet has opened the doors of knowledge to the products and services that our businesses deal in. That means it's no longer possible to "shoot from the hip" in answering a client's questions and assuming that any answer will do.

Client Education
The first step along the road to creating a positive experience for you and your client is to begin the process of education. Under the best of circumstances, your client has done a project with you in the past, the project went well and your client has the utmost confidence in you and your company. If your client has not done a remodel project with your firm, you have the opportunity to provide a framework for evaluating the experience.

That educational effort begins with your marketing efforts. It's at this stage that the client gets his or her first impression of your company and its capabilities.

One of the most effective tools for getting out your vision of how the remodeling process should proceed is your Web site. A well-constructed Web site allows you to communicate your company's process, define a realistic set of expectations and provide the visitor to the site the opportunity to become familiar with as much detail about your business as you are willing to share.

Another way to get your message out is through the showroom experience. When a client first visits your showroom, he or she is usually curious about how the design and remodeling process works and what can be expected as the project moves forward. It's important that your sales staff be prepared to walk the potential client through your company's view of the kitchen or bath remodeling. This is also an excellent opportunity to define the criteria that should be used in choosing a remodeling firm.

The next step in the educational process is to completely define your client's project through clear and concise plans and specifications. Your ability to finish any project expeditiously is dependant on these; it's important that you and your client are in agreement on all aspects of the contract.

The Total Experience
Years ago, General Electric used the marketing phrase, "Progress is our most important product." This is a slogan that we should all take to heart in our own kitchen and bath firms. If you look around your local market area, you'll probably have to acknowledge that you have many competitors who are capable of producing project work that is pretty comparable to the work done by your company.

Over the years we've found that our clients judge us more by the remodeling "experience" than by the quality of our work. That is not to say that quality isn't important but, rather, excellent quality has become a given in terms of what clients expect, so the public now differentiates among design and remodeling firms using more subjective criteria.

Among the things our clients find of greatest concern are: the perception of how organized we seem, how well our staff relates to them and how concerned we seem with their needs during the remodeling process. Did we prepare them for the discomfort and stress that would come with the project? Did we keep them informed of changes in the schedule and warn them when we saw delays coming? Did we respond appropriately when problems arose? Did we respect their home during the process?

How does this relate to the timely conclusion to our client's project? The answer is that there is not a "cut and dried" definition of finishing on time. If we have established the correct relationship with our clients, properly described and defined what can be expected from the project, included them as part of the "team" that is established to accomplish the project and then given our best effort to meet their needs, we will have happy clients.

Did we finish the projects on time? Usually we are reasonably close to the estimated completion date we give our clients at the start of their projects. However, the more important point is that, when we finish the project, this is no longer the most important issue to our clients.

The lesson, once again, comes down to communication. You have to do good work and run your business effectively, of course, but if you establish a rapport with your client and create a relationship, you will have a client and referral for years to come.