Beyond the Build

Customer Relationships

What Does the Customer Really Want?

It’s a million dollar question that I ask myself daily. I think the answer lies in service, especially in these times. While I do believe that the economy is getting better, we have to remember that the downturn has made clients more mindful of the way we walk them through a build. Nearly 1 in 3 construction industry employees is out of work. If a customer’s experience isn’t top notch, someone else is eager to provide. Now more than ever, customers can and will go elsewhere.

The service experience, good or not so good, has an impact on the customer’s continued relationship with contractors. This, combined with downward pressure on pricing and margins, makes it tough for all of us. We are often dealing with subcontractors and vendors who are stretched—financially and resource-wise.

Last week, one of my customers said, “The initial bid is only the first step in a project.” How true. Quality and price are important, but it’s a long way to true customer satisfaction at the end of a project. That’s where the experience comes in. Customers need to feel they are in control. Brands can become commodities, and it’s important that we are constantly working toward superior experiences for our customers.

So what’s the value leveler? Or, in metaphoric terms, “How much do we wax the floors to make sure our customer is satisfied?” If you clean and wax them too much, you waste resources of time and money. If you don’t’ wax them enough, the customer may sense this and take their business elsewhere.

The service experience is the new differentiator, equal to price (almost) and quality.

Here are things that in my experience have proved solid for providing memorable service and a unique experience:

Do what you say you are going to. If an unavoidable situation causes something to get behind or fall through, communicate.

Show you care from day one. Be involved and empathetic, from the beginning to the end and beyond.

Listen with both ears. Tune yourself to see potential pitfalls before they become actual mistakes. Ensure project requirements are truly understood.

Admit mistakes. If you make a mistake, relay information quickly and honestly. Hopefully it is with a customer relationship who understands.

Seek your opportunity to go above and beyond. Provide that extra touch of care where you see the chance.

Follow-up. Check to ensure customers are satisfied, immediately after the project and again after the warranty period. If there’s a problem, correct it or be a part of the solution.

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.