While there are many definitions of communication, the gist is that it is the process by which people impart news, information or even understanding through verbal messages, written word and nonverbal signals. Remodelers may define communication differently than other fields, but there is no denying the importance of interaction with the client.
Kevin Wierig, CR, CRPM, CLC, project manager at Don Van Cura Construction in Chicago, strives to be customer-oriented. “Our clients love being asked questions,” he explains. “Throughout the course of a job, we try to communicate daily with our clients. Those daily progress reports go a real long way as to how we are doing.”
By asking questions and keeping the homeowners in the loop throughout the job, the goal is to keep surprises or disappointments to a minimum. Wierig recounts a story of a past client going to friend’s home after both had completed a bathroom remodel and being disappointed no one offered her the option to add floor warming during her project. The lesson learned is to “try to ask questions that may seem silly.” Questions as the project progresses are also important because of the unanticipated possibilities, like having a wall open and offering to run cable for a client if they thought a television, telephone, etc. may go in that vicinity in the future.
Clients are usually asked these questions by the same person from within Don Van Cura Construction. “It’s very helpful that communication is from one person throughout the course of the project, and we have a system where every job has a project manager appointed,” Wierig says. “All questions are directed toward the project manager; nothing is getting lost through the office back out to the field.”
Ways of communication
In this age of technology, communication methods have changed. Erica England, marketing manager for GuildQuality, encourages remodelers to establish a preferred method of communication. “When it comes to follow up communication and keeping in touch with your clients, the best way to communicate with them is to find out what methods of communication they feel most comfortable with,” she says. “Some people prefer text messages; some people prefer phone calls or email. Find out in your initial conversations with the client what they would appreciate and feel most comfortable being updated with and pursue those routes.”
Wierig agrees communication has evolved, but personally feels “face-to-face communication with our clients is the best because you can get a better feel for them, whereas with email you’ll lose emotion, you can’t convey emotions, and you can’t feel their temperature.”
Email does have its perks for staying in touch, especially leading up to the start of a remodel. “So things aren’t lost in the weeks leading up to when we start a project, we like to send an email just reiterating information, then if there are any issues or questions down the road we can go back to the email,” Wierig explains. “I guess you’d call it a paper trail, but it helps so we’re not asking the same question 10 times over. It’s on paper so I think it’s more just crossing your T’s, dotting your I’s to avoid making mistakes.”
Communication with clients is a two-way street, so having an open door policy can prevent things like clients going on buying sprees without consulting the project manager and ending up with items that don’t fit the space or can’t be covered by a company warranty, which Wierig says has happened on rare occasions. England has received feedback from GuildQuality members that the only way to fix problems is to hear about them or they can’t be fixed.
“The thing about our members is that they are sort of fearless when it comes to a customer that has grievances, because they realize that customers who do communicate grievances are the ones who actually drive more benefit for their business,” she says. “Those customers are the ones who are helping you identify problems.”
With the influx of methods of communication, it can be challenging to separate work from personal time, and companies may have different policies on doing so. “I have my phone on all the time, and I’ve never really told anybody that I can remember 'don’t contact me after this time.' Although we’re not really an emergency contractor, there have been cases where clients will call the office or one of my clients will text me, 'Hey, I’ve got water in my basement,' and it’s just going back to customer service,” Wierig says.
England echoes the importance of as-prompt-as-possible customer communication. “What I’ve learned from a lot of our members is there’s really no complaint when you communicate often, so I think some folks maybe worry about over-communicating but there never really seems to be any sort of complaint for over-communicating,” she says. “[Remodels] are a huge investment to people, and they care about it. To know their remodeler has that same passion and care for their project, wants to update them, and keep them in the loop I think that makes a huge difference in your relationship with your client.”