Today’s society is becoming more dependent on technology, and the remodeling business is no different. Last year our office had what appeared at the time to be a nightmare situation. On a Monday morning, we walked into the office and discovered our computer server had crashed. We are a small business and do not have the resources to employ a full-time IT person, so we called our outsourced computer tech and were put on his wait list. One day later, he arrived and broke the news that we needed a new server. As if that was not bad enough, he said it would take one week for the system to be “up and limping” and another week to become fully functional. At the time, our data was backed up off site, but it was not accessible until we had a server in place. We also lost use of our hosted email capabilities, Outlook calendars, customer manager database and Internet.
A crashed server is bad any time, but we were in the midst of our busy season. We have four full-time designers and all had full client loads, so everyone started to panic. I called a staff meeting and discussed how we were going to move forward—or I should say backward. We talked about how we used to have face-to-face meetings instead of online meetings. We used to make phone calls instead of emailing. We used to design with pencil and paper as opposed to virtual design software. We also remembered how fun it was to see the reaction on a client’s face when we presented ideas and how important it was to see the subtle gestures between spouses when they are looking at colors. We had almost forgotten how body language and vocal tones comprise the majority of human communication. Not only was it a nostalgic and entertaining conversation, but we also decided to implement our old-fashioned tactics to continue working.
When the servers went down, the first thing we did was pick up the phone and call current and past clients and prospects we had not heard from in a long time. We should have counted how many times we heard, “This is perfect timing: My husband and I were just talking about starting a project.” Our phone calls (instead of emails) reinforced that the more personal we are with our clients, the more they are willing to let their guard down and help us get to the root of the problem they are asking us to resolve.
While the sales team was meeting with prospects, the design team began improvising. Most clients have a difficult time understanding 2-D drawings, so the technological capabilities of virtual design software helped us communicate ideas, build a space and even put the client into that space. Without the use of this technology, we started client meetings with a discussion about personal taste and sketches. As we worked through a few appointments, we realized how little time we previously had spent really listening because our technology was a distraction. We literally became better at building relationships with our clients through asking questions with pure focus and intent. We now have a nice balance between technology and relationships. Before we even show clients a concept, they have faith we fully understand them because we took our time and listened more intently. As result, our design process is faster, more cohesive, and we can handle larger workloads.
Growing pains are never fun, but they are inherent to business development. Early in my career, my father, who ran a large residential development company, told me cell phones would ruin intentional communication. He talked about making a list of questions and concerns so when he met with the client, they would discuss all the open issues.
By integrating old-school efficiencies with modern technologies, we will not only improve our lives as remodeling contractors, but also reduce overhead, providing a more competitive price to our clients while maintaining or even increasing profit. While analyzing your digital needs, proceed with caution, and remember to always put relationships before technology.