Everyone loves customer praise. But can you decipher between when customers really love your work, and when they’re just being polite?

Most customers are conflict-averse and, when approached, will tell you what you want to hear rather than the truth. A recent study from SalesForce found that fewer than 25% of customers speak up when they have an issue. That’s a dangerous number, as fewer complaints can mean a silent groundswell of unhappy clients.

Adding surveying to your follow-up process can help to pull feedback from clients on their terms. Here are two remodelers who do so, and what they’ve learned.

Lost Trust
Abe Degnan, President of Degnan Design Builders, De Forest, Wis., independently surveys his customers to capture their honest opinions. Their responses not only help him to understand how his business is performing, they also help him  spot raving fans vs. the clients who were politely tolerating issues throughout the project. 

The survey Degnan uses features a series of statements that ask the customer to rate on a scale of 0 (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree). Degnan’s survey also includes a series of open-ended questions and opportunities to leave comments explaining scores provided. 

Degnan keeps a close watch on less-than-sparkling scores with no comments attached. “Polite clients will often leave numerical feedback but not include comments,” he says. “Sometimes, these clients will give you all 3's across the board. Sometimes, they'll give you almost all 4's. Other times, they'll give you a 2 in a single category, or they'll answer with a "n/a" instead of a rating.” 

Case in point: Degnan Design Builders recently finished a window replacement job two days behind its drop-dead deadline. This is a difficult situation for any remodeler, but Degnan and his team did the right thing by being up front and communicating with the client about the issue. The client seemingly accepted their apology without complaint. GuildQuality then surveyed the client, and uncovered that in reality there was some damage done to the relationship. 

“They gave us 4's in every category except a 2 on schedule, and an n/a on trust,” Degnan says. “I'm most concerned about the n/a rating on trust, to be honest.”

The client was too polite to share with Degnan directly that trust was lost after the deadline wasn’t met. But after seeing the client’s feedback (or lack thereof), Degnan reached out to the client and worked to repair their relationship. Over time, he has developed a process to address survey feedback and ensure his clients know he appreciates their responses and will try to correct anything they may see as deficient.

Look for Examples
Another sleuth of the polite, David Roberts, owner of Roberts Construction, Evanston, Ill., sees survey responses as the catalyst to follow up personally and sniff out additional details from clients. 

“A few follow-up questions can help to reveal the real depth of their polite responses,” Roberts says. “I approach clients after they’ve been surveyed, thank them for their kind remarks, and ask them if there are any specific examples they can share with me or if there was anyone who worked on their project that they’d like to recognize in particular. Examples are the best indicator. If someone was only tolerating an issue, then I’m able to uncover that. I believe you can learn more from failure than the wins. Digging deeper to understand what made a client’s experience less than what you were striving to achieve is an opportunity to improve.”

Raving fans take time to elaborate on survey scores, give praise, and are happy to offer up a positive review about their experience working with your company.  

'Ravers Are Referrers'
Emily Smith, Marketing Manager for AK Complete Home Renovations, Marietta, Ga., notes whether a client recommends their business to a friend, or “likes” them on Facebook as a telltale sign of their satisfaction. 

“Real raving fans will refer people, write reviews and connect with you on social media,” she says. “The ones that don’t are likely satisfied and polite–but maybe their socks weren’t knocked off. If we get any hesitation from people writing reviews, etc. we will always follow up to see what we could do better, or how we can go the extra mile.”

There’s a stark contrast between happy and polite tolerance. It’s critical for you to identify the differences in your customer feedback before you tarnish your relationships with existing clients and ultimately lose out on future business.
Erica England is marketing manager for GuildQuality, a member-based company focused on customer-satisfaction surveying, reporting, and benchmarking for the remodeling and building industries.