This is the first article in a three-part series about customer service.

Read part 2 and part 3

Many remodelers only measure the “excellence” of their customer service by jobs that go “right.” As a result, they’re not prepared to efficiently and effectively deal with those jobs that fail to live up to either the customer’s or the company’s expectations.

Failure to anticipate customer issues and build effective dispute resolution processes into the company’s standard operations can result in costly litigation and ruin your company’s customer service reputation. One bad kitchen can take out a neighborhood of potential customers; one customer lawsuit can ruin your company’s reputation in the community. Effective dispute resolution begins long before a dispute actually occurs, and effective dispute resolution is a keystone of excellent customer service.

Less Than Perfect

Construction is a less-than-perfect art because there are so many moving parts that can cause any project to go bad. And as a remodeler, you are not only trying to manage all of these moving parts, you are dealing with the customer’s completely subjective view of the work.

Whenever you’re working in a customer’s home, the emotions are close to the surface and anything that might go wrong is magnified. Thus, it only makes sense that you have a plan for those jobs that don’t go entirely right. Building this plan into your operations will both assure prompt resolution of issues that may arise and will likely reduce the chances of disputes or, at a minimum, the severity of disputes.

Competing Dynamics

A national home improvement company’s post-project customer surveys showed that customers who had issues during their projects — which were resolved — actually gave the company better satisfaction scores than customers who experienced no issues whatsoever.

The company then focused its efforts on building effective dispute resolution training and processes to assure consistent and efficient resolution of customer issues. These efforts resulted in a measurable reduction in customer complaints and litigation nationwide.

This successful dispute resolution program focused on three key components:

  • basic understanding of the dynamics of consumer construction-related disputes;
  • establishment of an operations plan dedicated to the prompt and efficient resolution of customer issues; and a firm understanding of the two competing dynamics in most customer issues: completing the project and effectively dealing with a demand for compensation.

Hopefully you will never need a dispute resolution process, but, like that flashlight you keep in the kitchen drawer, it sure is nice to have it charged up and working when that unexpected storm comes in. 
—Attorney Richard Feeley is president of Feeley Mediation & Business Law, a specialty law firm providing dispute resolution and business legal solutions to remodeling companies.

More REMODELING articles about resolving disputes:

Business How-To: Got You Covered — The key to avoiding disputes is to thoroughly document job progress. Here’s what you should track

Mediation Is Good Business — Why you should have a mediation clause in your standard remodeling contract

Conflict Resolution: Simple steps to avoid landing in court

Setting Expectations: Avoid disputes and client misunderstandings