The prevalence and ease of new communication technologies is encouraging customers to have higher expectations and demand more, agrees consultant, speaker and author Mel DePaoli, president of Kirkland, Wash.-based Omicle: Contractors Doing it Right. “They have a right to it; work is being done on their house, and they need to know what’s going on,” she says.
Benefits Run Both Ways
The benefits run both ways, DePaoli adds. “Communication has been proven to make jobs go more smoothly, faster and cost less.”
Technology aside, barriers to communication exist. Industry jargon is one of them. Insiders know the jargon, but all the consumer knows is whether [the job] looks good and works when it’s completed, DePaoli explains. Remodelers shouldn’t forget clients don’t know what remodelers know, she cautions.
Also, it pays to keep in mind all forms of communication are not equal, DePaoli says. “How you explain something in person is different than how you explain it over the phone because you can’t see hand gestures and body language. All you can do is interpret the tone of voice and the words that are said,” she explains
“Now, when you move into email, it gets even worse because you can’t hear my voice or see my body language, so something I say is more likely to be miscommunicated,” she continues. “Text messaging is worse because of acronyms and shortened versions of words.
“It is the contractor’s responsibility to go to the client and say, ‘This is what I heard; I would like to confirm what you heard or your expectation.’ By taking the initiative, the contractor is building a better relationship and creating a better customer experience,” she says.
DePaoli agrees remodelers need to have a communication plan and structure instead of approaching it haphazardly. “The bigger the job, the more important it is,” she says.
She suggests remodelers assess their last three jobs. When did they talk to the customer? When should they have talked to the customer, and what kind of results did they get? Then, they should go back to those same three customers and ask them for their perception. How did the customer interpret the communications, and how would they have liked the contractor to communicate with them better? If necessary, DePaoli suggests remodelers seek outside help in formalizing a communications program
Little things mean a lot. “If you told the client you’d be there at 9 o’clock and you’re not going to make it until 10, pick up the phone and call,” she admonishes. “When the job is complete, they’re going to remember how open the contractor was and how often he communicated with them.”
Communications Are Internal, Too
Equally important, if not more so, is internal communication, DePaoli asserts. “Internal communication is a mirror for a company’s brand. If your employees like working for you, then your customers will like doing business with you,” she says.
“Clients remember not just the final product but how they felt during the process,” DePaoli says. “Every time they look at that job, they’re going to remember whether the contactor was supportive and open in his communications and whether he was easy to work with. Every holiday and every birthday party when someone comments on the work that was done, that’s what they’re going to talk about.”
Most remodelers agree communication is essential and acknowledge technology is a driving force behind customer expectations. But most also are sensitive to the fact that remodeling is a service- and relationship-driven business that still relies to a significant extent on old-fashioned in-person communications. They’re wary of abandoning what may be one of their greatest strengths.