Kitchen & Bath Design News

AUG 2014

Kitchen & Bath Design News is the industry's leading business, design and product resource for the kitchen and bath trade.

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18 | Kitchen & Bath Design News August 2014 T he Rolling Stones may have made a fortune with their hit song, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfac- tion," but you don't want this to be your customer's theme song at the end of one of your frm's kitchen or bath projects. Survey after survey has driven home the point that there are very few areas of a remodeling project that have the impact on customer satisfaction that an orderly, on-time conclusion has. This month, we'll take a look at the client's percep- tions and preconceptions; how you and your staf can infuence the client's experi- ence, and steps you can take to make sure that the entire process moves along as ef- ciently as possible. Let's consider some of the challenges that face kitchen and bath professionals as they attempt to navigate the road to excellent customer service. There is the extended time frame that our product requires, the unique aspect of building a product in the cus- tomer's home while they try to continue on with their lives and, fnally, the stress of a cost that may seem open-end- ed to them. The prescription for all of these involves the same old remedy: clear and timely communication. PRECONCEPTIONS Most clients come to us af- ter spending a good deal of time thinking about their remodeling project, swap- ping war (horror!) stories with friends and neighbors and often talking to several of our competitors. They've probably watched some of the current television "real- ity" shows about remodeling during which a kitchen re- model seems to be completed over a long weekend. All of these perceptions are the result of decades of information and, often, misinformation, about the remodeling process. For too long, remodelers had a reputation for being long on promises and short on performance, often over- charging and delivering shoddy work in return. Over the last couple of decades, through the eforts of pro- fessional trade organizations such as the NKBA and the NAHB, things have begun to change. When a customer first comes to you, it is important to begin to address some of the misconceptions they may bring. REALITY CHECK Managing expectations should begin the day that a potential customer walks in your door. Let's say your typical kitchen project takes two months to design and specify – a month from con- tract signing to start date and then 10 weeks to execute the project. If a client wants their new kitchen to be ready for a scheduled family function three months away, it's better to face up to this impossibil- ity than to deny that there is a problem. Worse yet is to take on such a project and try to "fast track" it when there is little chance that it will be completed on time. Another misconception is that their life has to be mis- erable during a remodeling project. While there will al- ways be inconveniences and disruptions, take time to explain what the client can actually expect and what steps and procedures your frm will take to make sure those are minimized. Don't downplay the signifcance of these difculties, but try to give the client the confdence that your frm has experience in dealing with them. Still another common con- cern when a client embarks on a remodel is that the proj- ect will end up costing twice as much as they expected to spend when they started. The key here is to establish a realistic budget, create de- tailed, complete plans and specifcations and keep the budget revised as changes to the scope of the work change during design. If this phase of the design/build process is carried out properly, the final contract price should be complete and accurate and not result in signifcant change orders as the project moves along. This process re- quires that you do adequate site evaluation and inspection to expose any challenges the work will involve. MEETING EXPECTATIONS Now that we've addressed some of the client preconcep- tions, we have also created some expectations of what their remodeling experience will be like with our frm. Over the years, we've found that our clients judge us more by the remodeling "experience" than by the quality of our work. That's not to say that quality isn't important but, rather, that excellent quality is a given and the public diferentiates among contractors by more subjective criteria. Among the things our cli- ents fnd of greatest concern are: the perception of how organized we seem, how well our staf relates to them and how concerned we seem with their needs during the remodeling process. Did we prepare them for the discomfort and stress that would come with the project? Did we keep them informed of changes in the schedule and warn them when we saw delays coming? Did we respond appropriately when problems arose? Did we respect their home during the process? Part of managing expecta- tions is to have a comprehensive plan for the work to be done. Do you routinely prepare a time- line for each project and share this with your client? Is there a procedure for making sure that materials and subcontractors are ordered and scheduled on a timely basis? Making sure a project fows smoothly is a primary element in creating a satisfed customer. How does this relate to the timely conclusion to our client's project? The answer is that there is not a "cut and dried" defnition of fn- ishing on time. If we have established the correct re- lationship with our clients, properly described and de- fned what they can expect from their project, included them as part of the "team" that is established to accom- plish the project and then given our best efort to meet their needs, we will almost always have a happy client. The key to any successful project is to remember that you are working in your cli- ents' home. This is usually their major asset and they are heavily, emotionally invested in it. It's important to build a trust relationship with the clients and try to get them to take a role as partner in the successful completion of their project. If your clients feel their home is in good hands, you will have a successful project and happy customers. The lesson, once again, comes down to communi- cation. You have to do good work and run your business efectively, of course, but if you establish a rapport with your client and create a solid relationship, you will have a client and referral source for years to come. Make sure you stay focused on the clients and their needs and you will not hear the phrase that they "can't get no satisfaction!" "Things our clients fnd of greatest concern are: the perception of how organized we seem, how well our staf relates to them and how concerned we seem with their needs during the process." Read past columns and features and send us your comments about this article and others by logging onto our Web site: Business Management { Bruce Kelleran, CKD, CPA } Tips for Increasing Your Clients' Satisfaction To increase customer satisfaction, it's important to address any misconceptions from the start, manage clients' expectations and provide ongoing communication about all aspects of the project.

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