Renovations, Relationships & Women - Tips for Contractors to Keep Everyone Happy

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The secret to maintaining positive customer relationships during home renovations is out! Read on to learn what your business looks like through your customers' eyes, along with some easy tips for keeping everyone happy.

Boca Raton, FL May 3, 2004 - “Stop playing games!” I shouted into the phone, and then I slammed it into its cradle for emphasis. It was over. I was tired of the broken promises. The lack of attention. The poor communications. I’d been tolerating him for months, and what I’d just found out was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

No, I’m not referring to a boyfriend, lover or husband. In fact, he was my contractor. And I’d just found out that his lack of follow through regarding our malfunctioning central air might cost me hundreds of dollars – maybe more - than we’d already shelled out for extensive home renovations.

The homeowner/contractor relationship can easily sour over the course of major renovations. Let’s face it, contractors create chaos even as they make things better, and a homeowner’s construction naiveté can drive a builder bonkers.

Contractors might be interested to learn that if they want to create an awesome customer experience - thereby increasing the likelihood of being paid in a timely fashion and being referred to their customers’ friends – they’ll aim to please the woman of the house.

Tom Peters, one of the most influential ‘thought leaders’ in business today, says in his presentation entitled “The B-I-G Opportunity: Women & Boomers,” that “women’s increasing power – leadership skills and purchasing power – is the strongest and most dynamic force at work in the American economy today.”

He backs up his claim with statistic after statistic: “Women make 94% of home furnishings decisions…91% of housing decisions…80% of major ‘home projects’ decisions…67% of all household investment decisions…and 83% of all consumer purchases.” Peters’ conclusion: “Women roar.” And when they roar happily they tend to be much more loyal than male customers. When they’re unhappy, they talk to their friends – not to do a business wrong, but to process what’s happened, and to gather different viewpoints of the situation.

I’ve talked to my friends about my experience with my contractor, and gathered many viewpoints. Lucky for me, my friend JoAnna Brandi also happens to be my business partner and an expert at assisting businesses in creating the kinds of exquisite customer experiences that keep customers happy, coming back and referring their friends.

Together, the nationally renown ‘Customer Care Coach’ and I came up with some easy, effective guidelines that might help builders who have those goals to earn the status of “Mr. Right for the Job.” After compiling them we realized that they can be modified to help to any business and are useful as a guideline for customers when expressing their expectations to their suppliers:

Ten Tips for Teaming Up with Female Customers

1)    Keep your promises. Your promises create an expectation. When you fail to deliver on that expectation you create negative feelings. The Golden Rule: Underpromise and overdeliver. That way you’re more likely to surprise and delight your customers. And remember, women thrive on happy connections with the people they do business with.

2)    Keep in touch. No, you don’t have to call daily. But it’s most appreciated when you give customers a heads up regarding what to expect next, and an explanation when nothing at all will be happening for a few days (or a few weeks, or a few months, as in the case of my contractor). Program your customer’s phone number in your cell phone for the short-term and use it.

3)    As Walt Disney said, “The magic is in the details.” When you’re renovating someone’s home, details revolve around simple thoughtful acts like: “He takes his shoes off every time he walks in so he doesn’t track debris all over the house…The crews completely clean up at the end of every day…They put boards down over the mud in the front yard so we can avoid getting mucked up on our way to our front door…He referred us to a great hardware store/cabinet supplier/appliance outlet…He’s really nice to the kids/the dog/the canary…”

4)    Remember the all-important words: “I’m sorry.” This is especially important for contractors who make renovations to remember, as they are working in someone’s home. While a contractor knows accidents are part of the job, a homeowner may feel much differently about them (angry, frustrated, upset), and can be soothed with lines as simple as: “I’m sorry we broke your window when we installed it; I’ll be sure to replace it…I’m sorry I couldn’t get back to you sooner; I’ve had another job that’s just a bear…I’m sorry I disappeared for eight months; I’ll be sure to finish up right away…I’m sorry I didn’t explain this to you more clearly; do we understand each other now?…I’m sorry your brand new upstairs bathroom is leaking into the brand new downstairs bathroom; we’ll get right on it…I’m sorry our framer dropped his power saw, which cut through your second floor, landed on your first floor and damaged your laundry room. We’re fully responsible and we’ll do everything possible to make everything as good as new.”

5)    Once again, remember that you’re working in someone’s HOME. Even when your customers are gung ho about their renovations, chances are they’re going to feel vulnerable and even violated as your crew traipses through every inch of their personal space. Just acknowledging that you’re aware of your customers’ feelings can help. Try: “I know it can be difficult to have so many strangers in your home. Hang in there, we’ll be done before you know it.” Or: “One of my customers once said that renovations are like childbirth; the labor is hell, but the results are so wonderful that you eventually forget all about the pain.” Or: “You’ve been a real trooper. It’s a pleasure to work for you.”

6)    Adding to the customers’ feelings of vulnerability is the fact that if they discover they’re not pleased with your service at any point, they’ll very likely stick with you anyway to avoid the multi-dimensional hassles of replacing you – and tolerating your presence is frustrating! That’s another good reason to create an excellent customer experience; it makes things pleasant for both the customer AND for you.

7)    Do some simple tasks for ‘free.’ Your customers put a lot of money and emotion into your business – it may be one of the largest purchases a homeowner ever makes outside of buying the house itself. Especially toward the end of the project, when they’ve just about had it under even the best circumstances, offer some ‘freebies’ like installation of towel racks, the labor for replacing the screen door, installation of a mailbox and house numbers, one free shrub to replace the one of the shrubs that were damaged…you get the idea.

8)    Answer your customers’ questions from a mindset of ‘positive possibilities.’ In other words, be imaginative and share their enthusiasm. “Wow, it would be great if we could install louver doors here. The thing is, the doors only come in two sizes, neither of which will fit this space properly. The good news is, there are other things we CAN do…”

9)    Collaborate. Think of yourself and your customers as a collaborative team – even if they’re not the teammates you’d choose. In collaborations, everyone is respected as having something valuable to contribute to the process and, in the end, everyone wins.

10)    Call a few weeks after the project is complete to find out if everything is OK, then send a post card every four months featuring a home decorating tip, lawn care tip, etc. The woman of the house will think you’re “such a nice guy” – and you better believe she’ll spread the word.

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