Customer Service for Contractors

Let’s face it, contractors get taken advantage of by owners and others. They post bonds and still don’t get paid for work until it’s done. But try getting owners to routinely post bonds! Despite all that, customer service is the name of the game for successful repeat jobs, negotiated work, and CM work.

Of course, it’s not called customer service in the construction industry. It’s part of marketing, guarantees, owner relations, or whatever.

Really it all boils down to getting along with other people and living by the real Golden Rule (not the Golden Rule that he who has the gold makes the rules!). And that’s one of the troubles. A lot of nice guys get shafted in this business. How tough you are with owners, architects, and others depends on your style and experience with each party. Thinking about your relations with these buyers in customer service terms can still be beneficial, even if you can’t completely trust them.

There are some obvious rules of courtesy with customers. Respond to their needs, return messages promptly, don’t duck them, and so on. Perhaps the area most people are worst at is handling customer complaints. You need to look at complaints from clients as giving you a chance to show that you’re on the ball. It may just be a communication problem. You may have to give a little more than is fair. But if you can handle a complaint positively, you can make a friend and build your credibility greatly.

Think about yourself taking something back to a store or complaining about service. It’s a strain on you. Maybe you let little things pass just to save wear and tear on yourself. Or maybe you go after it with a sense of righteousness. It’s a strain to have to confront someone. Think how pleased you felt when a store took back that appliance that didnt work properly without a lot of red tape and bull. Youll remember that store fondly.

Getting owners to complain to you can be hard. Lots of times they’ll just drop you from future consideration without telling you what they were disappointed with. If they complain, they’re showing that they care about a long-term relationship. And they’re giving you a chance to prove yourself. Take it in that spirit and theyll be surprised and pleased. Give more than they expect and they’ll give it back later.

Research in other fields shows that customers who have a complaint are several times more likely to tell others than customers who are pleased with you. Negative word of mouth passes faster than positive. Research also shows that customers whose complaints are resolved are many times more likely to buy from you again than those with unresolved complaints. But even those with unresolved complaints are twice as likely to buy again than those who never complain at all about a problem. Just having you listen to a complaint makes people happier.

The bottom line is to think about your client relations from different angles. Customer service is one such approach. Another is to encourage customer complaints, or at least welcome them as a chance to let the customer know that you are interested in their business. At the very least, don’t cite “It’s our policy” as a reason for turning them down. And don’t hide from an unhappy customer. They wont go away, unless its from you on the next job. Be glad to the chance to keep the lines of communication open.