I think we’ve all faced a situation where a project milestone and a client’s expectation weren’t in sync. Whether it’s an unrealistic expectation on part of the client or miscommunicated delays on part of the builder, in most situations the conflict could have been avoided had the communication been clearly understood between contractor and customer.
In construction, communication with suppliers and subcontractors is of great importance, but no communication is more key and challenging than communicating with the customer. There’s often a notable separation of terminology and understanding of process between the contractor and the customer unlike regular communication with those in your own industry. Common knowledge for our industry may be Greek to the client, but we don’t want to offend if we over-simplify (not to mention the challenge of translating a technical challenge). In this post we want to take a closer look at improving contractor-customer communication to save time, money, and probably most commonly, headaches.
Set Communication Rhythm and Expectations
When you first start to work with a client, be proactive in what and when they should hear from you, AND what your expectations are from them. Timelines for feedback/decisions, method of communication (scheduled calls, in person meetings, email status, etc). Setting the expectation early and abiding by it builds trust and rapport.
Stop the “Shop-Talk”
Remember the client likely is trained and works in an unrelated industry, so the common stressors and highlight reel you operate with on the daily is foreign to them. Keep the project conversation relatable; wandering into the weeds with technical details will lose the client and may miss the point you’re trying to make.
Don’t Just Tell Them, Show Them
Sometimes the issues are hard to describe. A photograph, video clip showing and explaining the issue, or even bringing an example, such as incorrect material or unforeseen preexisting damage such broken hardware or supports on a remodel, can bring more clarity for the customer.
Listen To The Client
When you’re the boss, you’re used to answering others’ questions, making decisions, and providing direction on a daily basis, but when you’re with a client, one of the most important communication tactics is to intentionally listen to what they’re asking. This may involve applying active listening processes, including synthesizing and restating their question in your own words to be sure you’re fully grasping what they’re asking.
Document Change Orders
When you’re in the flow of the job, rolling changes agreed upon between you and the customer may be easy to integrate, but by the end of the project it may look very different from the original agreement, and more often than not, so will the final bill. Keeping a log of change orders, providing a copy to the client each time one occurs helps ensure both contractor and client understand the evolution of the project, and how it may impact the total project cost.
We hope these tips are useful for maintaining excellent customer rapport and repeat business.