Crackerjack technology, brilliant marketing strategies and skilled, reliable staff work together to build an organization – but that's only part of the process. An operation is only as solid as its customer base.
Most experts emphasize that good communications, in-depth knowledge of client needs and quick response to their concerns are paramount in maintaining healthy consumer relations. As in the case of most businesses today, in the construction industry, the best customer service strategy employs a mix of cyber tools and personal attention.
There's a Program for That!
Customer service starts the moment a potential client knocks on the door and ends long after product delivery. Components include information management, response to service requests, problem solving and quick resolution of problems and complaints. A successful customer relations strategy involves a genius for multitasking. As such, a number of industry professionals rely on software to get them started. Customer relationship management (CRM) programs, typically designed as integrated solutions, help monitor any transaction that directly involves a client, through and beyond project completion. Here is a rundown of various software products available in today's market, ranging from very simple to highly complex.
- Online support. Customers can access Web help centers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, thus reducing operating costs of a company call center.
- Communication centers. These applications bundle a full menu of capabilities, including email, voicemail and the Web, allowing customers complete access to the service provider.
- Customer data base. When issues arise, service agents can refer to comprehensive client information files, including transaction history, payments, marketing efforts, special communications and more. Often, these programs synchronize customer data with other information sources, providing a continuous update on client particulars.
- Service contracts. This software can generate contracts customized to a particular project, reducing costs by applying precise informational parameters to specific customers, sites and warranties.
- Administrative operations. By automating routine office tasks such as invoices, reports, scheduling and notifications, these programs enable construction company owners, especially in smaller firms, to wrap up projects in a timely manner – a major factor in customer satisfaction. Other functions include the printing of mailing labels, envelopes and forms for specific client or prospect lists, and maintenance of appointment and contact logs.
Customer care on a personal level
These days, technology clearly is making the mechanics of customer relationship management a lot easier. But communication centers and databases can't deliver the same punch as high-quality products and personalized attention to the fine points. Research shows that a few tried-and-true tactics (really a matter of common sense) make current customers happy – and brings new ones coming in.
- Deliver a finished product. Nothing pleases customers more than coming out of a final walkthrough with no problems to complain about; so be meticulous about the finishing touches. One award winning construction firm does this by conducting a 600-point inspection a week before closing. All items, without exception, must be fixed prior to final inspection. As a result, their customer satisfaction ratings are consistently in the top percentile.
- Finish projects on schedule. Putting off a closing can wreak havoc for customers. To avoid this unpleasantness, it's a good idea to give clients a range of expected closing dates, with the final date set six weeks before project completion.
- Stand behind the product. Housing market research suggests customers make the most referrals during the warranty period. To optimize this opportunity, maintain and improve consumer confidence by promptly addressing concerns and complaints. They'll likely share their satisfaction – or displeasure – with potential referrals.
- Pay attention to details. Review customer records and transactions before a face-to-face or telephone conference. This is an ideal time to refer to data (e.g. figures, dates, financials) compiled through CRM software. Having in-depth personal knowledge at your fingertips speaks volumes about professionalism in other areas.
- Ask "buyer-focused" questions. Customer satisfaction surveys are standard tools in the industry. Even so, experts point out that many address only what the builder wants to know. Besides questions regarding operations (e.g. deadlines, warranties, quality control), some firms now address more subjective perceptions – for instance, whether buyers feel the company has treated them fairly, or if the firm has met the consumer's goals.
- Reward employees who strive to satisfy. A sizable number of construction firms consider client satisfaction when it comes time to hand out employee bonuses. One company, for instance, bases monetary rewards on a performance rating sheet, with customer satisfaction survey results comprising a considerable percentage of the total point count. Another company offers profit sharing, adjusted according to customer satisfaction ratings.