Bowers Construction, McLean, Va., has been conducting post-job customer surveys since it was incorporated 15 years ago. Co-owner Wilma Bowers says that due to the remodeling industry's poor reputation, homeowners are predisposed to thinking they will have a terrible experience. “We want to prove them wrong,” she says. “And the only way to ensure that you have a satisfied customer is to collect data and to continually refine the customer experience.”
Remodeler David Merrill of Arlington, Va.-based Merrill Contracting & Remodeling thinks it is shortsighted not to do a survey. “It's great to get positive feedback to share with staff,” he says. “It's one thing for me to tell the team, ‘You did a good job.' It's another thing to hear it directly from the client.”
As Bob Fleming's company, Classic Remodeling & Construction, in Charleston, S.C., has grown from $3 million in revenue to $6 million, he finds he has less contact with clients. Surveys counteract this distance. “When you're running a small company, you have your finger on the pulse, but as you grow you really need surveys,” he says. Geoff Graham, founder of GuildQuality, an Atlanta-based company that conducts customer surveys for the building industry, stresses that it's not just larger companies that should collect this data. “There is no greater indicator of your future success than your recommendation rate,” he says. “This applies whether you build three high-end custom homes or 7,000 multifamily condominiums or do $1 million in remodeling.”
Whether companies use an in-house survey or hire a third party, Graham thinks it's important to gather this information. In fact, remodelers are the fastest growing segment of GuildQuality membership. “Customer service is becoming a higher and higher priority,” he says. “It's part of the increasing maturity of the remodeling industry.”
Need to Know Bowers has a corporate marketing background, so she created Bowers Construction's survey herself. “It should start with your processes and the way you run your business,” she advises. “Service, price, craftsmanship — whatever you want to deliver to the client should be specified on the survey.”
Jim Strite, president of Strite Design + Remodel in Boise, Idaho, agrees. “Not every company has the same goals,” he says. “If you have a vision or a mission, design a survey that will assist you in reaching it.”
Marketing consultant Adrienne Zoble points out that it can be difficult for contractors to develop questions. She suggests beginning with an oral sales follow-up: “Write down three questions before you pick up the phone. By the time you get through the second question the conversation will have taken on a life of its own.” Information from the call can be used to expand from three questions to six questions and then to form the basis of a written survey.
Out of respect for the customer's time, Graham suggests limiting the survey to 25 questions. He says the best survey has fewer than a dozen questions that will focus on specific points, because “this makes the customer happy and more eager to provide answers. If the survey takes them more than 15 minutes to fill out, they get annoyed.”
Bowers' survey has about 20 questions on three pages. The questions are grouped into sections based on the stages of the remodeling process — initial contact, design, contract, construction, and punch-out. “The number of questions is not a concern, as long as they are relevant and easy to answer,” she says. Most questions have a four-point scale that ranges from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.” Bowers also provides a space for comments at the end of each section, and then again at the end of the survey, where she asks clients to describe three things that the company could have done better. She says that the combination of scaled questions, open-ended comments, and the broader blue-sky question at the end works well. “If you can't get data one way, you'll get it another,” she points out.