Have you heard of the phrase “business to consumer” to describe our business type? That phrase does not fully capture what we do. We do not hand our clients a product, receive payment, and then walk out the door. In every step of our process, from design through construction, we are working in our clients' personal lives. Maybe it would be more accurate to call our work “business to personal lives.” All of us need to acknowledge this important responsibility.
The connection to our clients' lives is especially strong for personnel who are on the jobsite every day. Our crews are often asked to feed household pets or to make sure kids do their homework after school.
During weekly client meetings, we periodically ask them what we could do to make the process more livable, making sure to listen to the client's response and to probe when necessary. If they hesitate in their response it means something is bothering them. When they reply with the standard “make the job go faster,” don't laugh it off. Ask the project group if there are areas that might have an impact on job progress, however minimal that impact might be.
We also find that a four-day workweek reduces stress for clients. When we discuss upcoming work in our meetings, we will unhesitatingly make adjustments if a client can't handle a particular activity on the scheduled day.
In the circle of contact around the clients, it may seem that peripheral participants do not have the same impact as those in the core group. However, the successes or failures of office staff, subcontractors, and suppliers in their various roles all affect the project.
Recently our brick mason realized that his saw would create dust that could coat a neighbor's trampoline, so our project manager contacted the neighbor and covered the trampoline. That action prevented the client from having to deal with an irate neighbor, and the neighbor was impressed by our diligence. A little communication goes a long way toward alleviating stress for staff and clients.
Peter Pagenstecher is a principal of Brenneman & Pagenstecher, an upscale remodeling company in Kensington, Md.