When it comes to communication, becoming more efficient may mean becoming less effective. This is more than a clever play on words; it's an important issue that every business owner must address.
As our pace of life continues to increase, our natural tendency is to seek more efficient ways to communicate. We send an e-mail rather than make a phone call. We leave a voice mail rather than have a conversation. We call or e-mail instead of stopping by to chat face-to-face. Although these may appear to be more efficient ways to communicate, they may actually be less effective than the methods they replace.
The remodeling business is more complex and more overwhelming than ever. Homeowners are bombarded with a huge number of product choices and are inundated with opinions about how best to choose a remodeler and conduct a remodeling project. They feel overwhelmed, which creates anxiety that increases stress. The result is either an inability to make a decision or a tendency to postpone decisions, to say “Let me think about it.” Neither result is ideal when it comes to moving a project forward, and it also affects the members of your team. They are called upon to interact with clients more than ever before, and the more they interact, the more they are caught up in the stressful pattern.
The Human Touch These days, your clients and your employees need your personal touch and guidance. You need to serve as sage and therapist (and sometimes as marriage counselor). That requires looking at each person as a complex individual with subtleties that only become evident through face-to-face interaction. You may believe that you don't have time for this kind of interaction anymore, but I believe that you cannot afford to lose the human touch.
Make time by improving time management. To improve personal time with clients, for example, establish a regular weekly meeting when you can spend between 30 and 60 minutes with them. Use an agenda to ensure alignment, but stay alert for issues that the clients want to address. At critical milestones, make sure everyone is present who needs to be — both spouses, for instance. Do the same for your team. If you have a large number of employees, meet in smaller logical groups — all production staff at one meeting, for example, all office staff at another — but set up a regular schedule.
Keep an eye out for unmet or unrealistic expectations. If you sense that a relationship is getting off track, meet with all the people involved to address the issue. Sometimes an e-mail or a phone call will communicate the information, but personal interaction reinforces the trust and the emotional energy that is the basis of all relationships.
How Effective? Communication effectiveness is difficult to quantify. One place to start is to review client satisfaction surveys to make sure you ask them about communication. Then be sure to monitor how clients score you and your team in this area.
Another place to look is sales close rates. If they are falling off, you may want to interview or survey prospects who did not buy from you to find out if communication style was a factor in their decision.
Also look at employee retention rates. Have they improved since the introduction of newfangled communication techniques or have they worsened? I think you might find that being more efficient in your communication techniques is not necessarily an improvement.
A blend of real human interaction is required for a truly successful outcome. It won't happen by itself, but it doesn't take much to add a personal touch. At the end of the day, your clients and your team will judge you more on the experience than on the information.
—Mark Richardson is president of Case Design/Remodeling and Case Handyman Services, Bethesda, Md., and is the author of 30-Day Remodeling Fitness Program. 301.229.4600; firstname.lastname@example.org.