Not long ago a remodeler was the person with a hammer in his tool belt and a pencil behind his ear. These days, he or she is just as likely to have a cellular phone or smartphone in his hand.
Fifty percent of remodelers say they regularly use a mobile phone, although face-to-face communication is still favored by many, according to a survey of Qualified Remodeler readers. Like the hammer and tool belt, traditional methods aren’t being abandoned indiscriminately even as times and techniques change.
The survey shows 90 percent of those polled say the time they spend communicating with clients has increased during the past five years. Nearly one-third assert communicating with clients comprises more than 10 percent of the time spent on a job.
Don’t expect to find remodelers frequently tweeting or texting their clients, however. More likely, they use their smartphones to actually speak to their customers the old-fashioned way, resorting to email for shorter communications. Texting, because of limitations imposed by its brevity, raises a caution flag with most remodelers. Social media barely shows on the radar when it comes to managing remodeling jobs.
Still, it would be misleading to imply remodelers are resistant to technology. Many use smartphone or other digital devices to make buying decisions (see ”Contractors Go Mobile to Make Purchase Decisions,” page 37). Nevertheless, they advise caution when it comes to communicating with clients, suggesting fellow remodelers reach out to homeowners by the means with which customers are most comfortable.
Expectations Have Changed
Regardless of the means, it’s evident communication is more important than ever. Technology, if it has done anything, has raised expectations independently of the medium. “I think as technology has become such an integral part of our daily lives, communication on all levels has changed drastically,” says Michael Menn, principal, Northbrook, Ill.-based Michael Menn Ltd. “I used to say my children’s generation is all about instant gratification, but it has moved on up the age ladder to where most clients want [answers] immediately.
“I have a few clients who still are semi-traditional and who like to see things in writing—not by mail but by email, however. They’ll wait a reasonable amount of time because more likely than not they are professionals—accountants or lawyers—who understand you just can’t get some things immediately,” he says.
Menn says he has changed his business model when it comes to communication. “I’m trying to get [information from clients] sooner, and I’m also trying to get it out sooner. Instead of making sets of plans and having the trades pick them up to bid on them, I send it to them electronically,” he says.
Most remodelers, Menn included, are not about to give up talking to clients, either in person or on the phone. “I would prefer to talk live because with text or email there is no tonality, and people can take it the wrong way. I can ask them if they understand or if they have questions. If I did that in a text or an email, they might take offense because I’m not using tone to get the point across,” he says.
Homeowners tend to want to be more involved with a job these days, says John Hourihan, director of pre-construction and operations manager of Allston, Mass.-based Boston Green Building. “Our guys talk to the client daily; three years ago it was once a week or less,” he relates. “We value communication just as we do quality, efficiency and schedule.”
Hourihan remembers remodelers and clients used to communicate by chance when the homeowner was returning home and the remodeler was leaving for the day. He maintains daily communication is important “because things come up, changes happen. If you don’t communicate, the client is upset because they don’t feel they’re totally involved. They feel once we sign the contract their back is up against the wall and it’s now our house, which isn’t the case,” he says.