Your goal as a remodeler should be to create a seamless, easy, and enjoyable process for your customers. But that can’t happen without a well-thought-out process on your end, said customer service consultant Beverly Koehn at her seminar titled “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire: Misleading Proposals and How to Avoid Them” at the 2012 Remodeling Show in Baltimore.

In a remodeling project where you are on the jobsite daily, when a client is angry at you, “they are angry at you all day long,” Koehn said. And many misunderstandings occur when instead of a clear “No,” a remodeler who wants to avoid confrontation says, “I’ll try.” The customer interprets the “I’ll try” as a definitive Yes.

The clearer your process and the more frequent and open your communication, the less likely the customer is to misinterpret that process. Koehn suggests starting with a pre-construction meeting with the client to review the plans, specifications, timeline, and budget. “This makes sure that everyone is on the same page,” she says. The meeting also provides clients with an opportunity to make a request or a change before the project starts — when it could cost them more money.

Other tips for the pre-construction meeting:

  • Define abbreviations;

  • Remind clients that the process will be disruptive; and

  • Outline costs so that they are easily understandable.

Meeting Regularly

Koehn advises remodelers to be specific about allowances and what is included in the budget. On her own new-home project, she was surprised when the contractor did not include light bulbs in the lighting allowance, and she had to pay an additional fee for the bulbs. “Little things like that take away from the overall level of trust,” Koehn explains.

Regular meetings with clients can also help avoid misunderstandings and provide clients with an opportunity to air any grievances. Most customers will not bring up issues unless they are asked, but that doesn’t mean that issues don’t exist. When a remodeler reassures a customer by saying “Trust me. Don’t worry,” Koehn says, and something goes wrong — as it will in remodeling, where you’re working with an existing home — they set themselves up for mistrust. Schedule three to five meetings in advance, and send your customer an agenda for each meeting.

Koehn offers these three keys to an effective meeting:

  • Summarize the decisions made during the last meeting.

  • Discuss current issues.

  • Summarize the responsibilities addressed during the meeting and prepare for the next meeting.

Remodelers should take notes during the meeting and send clients a summary after the meeting that outlines each person’s responsibilities. —Nina Patel, senior editor, REMODELING.

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More REMODELING articles about customer service:

Living the Nightmare: Customer service reminders for remodelers 

Client Point of View: Set at Ease 

Service Makes the Difference: What is service in remodeling?