It's as clear as the eye can see: the sea of disgruntled customers after a remodeling project. Like television meteorologists, we as remodelers should forecast the remodeling process in terms that customers can understand. This conversation will go a long way toward helping customers prepare for possible stormy weather — and even toward improving the chances of sunny skies ahead.
CLOUDY SIGNS A common remodeling complaint shared at customer focus groups and on satisfaction surveys is that the project took much longer than expected. Dig a little deeper, however, and both parties share the responsibility for this disappointment.
More times than not, the customer never asked the remodeler how long the project would take. He or she made assumptions. Worse, the remodeler either didn't know how to forecast the project's duration or didn't address it with the prospect.
A piece of advice: Don't wait until the contract is signed to educate prospects about how long they will be inconvenienced for a project they now feel obligated to pursue.
Faulty assumptions and poor groundwork are the ingredients for what I call the perfect remodeling storm. It happens when customers make plans based on their idea of a finish date. Over time and missed deadlines, the process that led to hiring the remodeler becomes a contractual obligation to living through the horror. Working in these conditions is, well, stormy.
Your challenge becomes turning a potentially good job into a rush job, just so you can make penance and salvage the relationship. It's like going to work on a cloudy day, every day. Your only ray of sunshine becomes the day you get to close the books on that address and move onto the next job.
ACCURATE FORECASTING Weather forecasters can't control the weather, but remodelers can control stormy situations with customers by forecasting correctly. My advice is to treat the job the way you treat your own vacation.
Think about it. You plan ahead for your vacation. You select your destination based on the right temperatures for the right seasons. You make reservations to guarantee your accommodations, and you pack the things you'll need while you're there.
Walk through just as many preparations with customers, based on the time line, steps, and possible kinks of their remodeling project, and you might get rave reviews simply by being the right tour guide in the perfect climate.
I suggest that you always discuss the realities of the project's duration with prospects before they become customers. Both parties should consider the impact of this time line — on your business and on the homeowner's expectations — as qualifiers before signing a contact.
Along with your anticipated schedule, outline the typical challenges that can pop up and compromise that schedule. Tell prospects about the kinds of challenges you might both face. Discuss how you've addressed these challenges for other homeowners in the past. Ask them what they would want you to do if such things happened on their project.
Listen for indications of what is really important to your prospects, and what they would consider “good weather” for this journey. Adjust the project cost accordingly before sharing it with them.
Like an accurate weather radar, this conversation will set the prospect's expectations realistically. It will also give you a sense of whether their behavior during the process will be something you can control — or something you become subject to.
If they choose you and your company for the right reasons, and they're willing to pay the price you ask, the project might just feel like a well-planned vacation. My forecast: sunny, with little chance of rain. — Shawn McCadden is a nationally known writer, speaker, trainer, and award-winning remodeler and home builder. He sold his Arlington, Mass.-based employee-managed design/build remodeling business in 2004. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.