Remodelers are pretty good at properly sequencing a project. We know which products need long lead times and which trade contractors can't work until others have finished. Most of us have learned from experience where all the rough spots are, and we're always ready to go to Plan B.

But we're not as good at anticipating where problems will arise with our customers. That's partly because we leave the customer experience to chance. We engineer the construction with drawings and specifications and change orders, and we measure our performance by comparing actual job costs to our estimate, but we don't measure the customers' experience.

True, some of us measure customer satisfaction, but that's not quite the same thing. I first started thinking about the difference while listening to a presentation by Tom Connellan at last year's REPLACEMENT CONTRACTOR Executive Conference. Connellan is a successful former businessman who now consults to major companies on issues of performance, productivity, and customer service. His talk was titled “Creating Exceptional Customer Experiences,” and one of the points he made was that most customer satisfaction surveys miss the mark because they measure overall satisfaction. That's too vague, and most homeowners will give us the benefit of the doubt. To truly get to the heart of how the customer feels about the job, Connellan recommends asking questions about what he calls the “moments of truth.”

Every project has them — the first time a customer meets the crew; the first day of demolition; the way the contract is explained; the change order process; how the punch list is handled; and so on. Every customer survey, Connellan maintains, should focus on whichever among these “moments of truth” you deem most important.

Vice President of Parking Lots To prove his point, Connellan talked about Disney World's Vice President of Parking Lots. While researching his book Inside the Magic Kingdom, Connellan learned that most people drive to the gates of Disney World, often in a rented car, so the first thing they have to deal with is parking. Because Disney wants people to leave with a good feeling about their day at the park — almost 70% of Disney World attendees are repeat customers — Disney makes sure it's easy to park and easy to find your car.

But Disney really shines when people can't find their car. First, they remind their guests that all of the parking lots are linked to a cartoon character, like Mickey or Goofy. If that doesn't jog the adults' memory, it's usually enough for the children who are usually in tow.

But occasionally that fails, so Plan B is to ask customers about what time they arrived at the park, because Disney fills its parking lots in a particular sequence and keeps records of which sections are filled when.

But Disney is ready even for the worst case scenario — keys locked in the car with the lights on and the engine running. When that happens, parking lot employees leave a note on the windshield explaining how to call a Disney employee who will charge the battery, gas up the car, and get them on their way. The notes aren't hand-written; they're preprinted because people lock themselves out of their cars about 7,000 times each year at Disney World.

The point is, parking is a moment of truth for Disney's customers. They are able to anticipate just about anything that could happen in one of their parking lots because they ask their customers about it, not in a vague question about overall satisfaction, but in questions designed to elicit answers about parking specifically.

Connellan suggests that all customer satisfaction surveys should be designed the same way. Identify the “moments of truth” that are most critical for your company, and ask your customers about them directly. If some are especially troublesome, add a couple of follow-up questions to elicit more specific information. If you identify too many “moments of truth” to include on a single survey (Connellan recommends five) create different versions of the survey and rotate them throughout the year.

We engineer the “stuff” of remodeling pretty well. If we're going to get better at engineering customer experience, we need to start measuring that experience.