Rachel Fulford is the associate editor of Construction Business Owner magazine.
Two industry experts offer clarity & reassurance regarding interfacing with your clients
It’s the best of times. The construction industry is pulsing to the beat of booming business opportunities. Just as other sectors are benefitting, construction is enjoying the positive effects of a thriving economy, in which technological advancements change the way the industry is performing many tasks—from the mundane to the extraordinary—on a seemingly weekly basis. But in a culture of constant praise for technological innovation, trade skills are often neglected or stigmatized. So, for construction, it is as much the worst of times as it is the best.
For many contractors, in a world of so much change—exciting advancements, up to five generations sharing the workplace, etc.—it’s difficult to feel comfortable even in a favorable economic climate. Something that is consistently necessary, though, is providing high-quality customer service. However, in the construction world, who is responsible for the customer service experience and how it is often carried out is unique, making it difficult to figure out exactly how to maintain a high level of service.
To answer that question for you, we called on two field experts—DPR’s Mid-Atlantic Business Unit Leader Lisa Lingerfelt and Turner Construction’s Business Development Manager Matt Nicholson—to share a little about what they have learned, what they are witnessing, and what their secrets are for achieving the highest rates of customer satisfaction.
CBO: In a recent article on the changes taking place in marketing due to generational shifts and technological advancements, JBKnowledge stated that by 2025, millennials will make up 75 percent of the workplace. How have you seen customer service change in recent years, especially with the influx of millennial workers?
LL: It’s not that customer service needs have changed as much as the ways people communicate has changed. On a day-to-day basis, it seems that younger people entering the field prefer email. Email is good, but personal phone calls and face-to-face follow-ups are still the most effective ways to collaborate and build relationships.
MN: Business information modeling (BIM) and project management (PM) software platforms like PlanGrid and Procore give us the ability to communicate in real time. Technology has streamlined communication in areas where processes were formerly manual or on paper. We no longer have to worry when information will be updated, as it happens automatically. And we can be sure that we are working with the same, up-to-date data.
Millennials are so savvy with technology that they have made these new tools even more valuable, coming up with ways to use them as effectively as possible. It’s just second nature to them. They’re innovative, and I love that.
CBO: According to the 2016 Forrester report on customer-service technologies, 'By 2021, the internet of things (IoT) will have transformed many companies from being products-based to services-based.' Have technological advances, such as BIM, IoT, and prefabricated and modular projects altered customer service in any way?
LL: It seems that schedules are becoming faster, and there is a larger demand for finishing projects early. Technology does aid with speed to market and helps us support our customers’ goals. However, we need to be sure our customers truly understand the cost-benefit analysis up front to ensure the technology and project approaches will truly aid in their end goals. For example, a customer could say it wants total BIM and coordination on a project, but we want to collaborate to ensure there is enough time before construction starts for the customer to receive the full value from BIM.
MN: Costs are down, and quality and safety are up. Most of the work, especially initially, can be done off-site, bringing greater value to all involved. As labor prices and the labor shortage continue increasing, prefabrication helps us address those issues that could have an adverse effect before they get the chance to. BIM helps in much the same way.
CBO: Some argue that customer service is now up to marketing or sales, and others stand firm in their belief that it’s everyone’s responsibility. Has the responsibility become more centralized or decentralized? Who is held accountable?
LL: Customer service takes everyone, and as such, I would not say it is centralized. We focus on building relationships with new clients and winning work with them. However, winning repeat work through great execution is just as important.
Executing a project takes a large team, and there are many client interface points—from billing to field supervision to project management and engineering. We do have dedicated leaders who are held accountable, but it takes a big support network to make their jobs easier and to provide the customer with a seamless experience at all touchpoints.
MN: For us, the role has become more centralized. BIM is just a tool. Everybody impacts the client experience, whether directly or indirectly. And, depending on the phase, certain individuals have more of a primary role delivering customer service.
Project executives are the consistent point of contact for customers—a step above PM. They report to project executives and marshal the necessary resources needed at any time for the customer. Therefore, they are held the most accountable for the customer service experience. But they hold others accountable as well. This adheres to our philosophy: We pursue clients nots projects.
CBO: What would you say are three best customer-service practices that will never go out of style?
LL: Focus on doing the following:
- The customer is always right. Perception is perception, so although you might not agree their feedback all the time, you should accept the feedback and work to change the customer’s viewpoint.
- Know the customer’s business at least as well as they do; help them solve near-term problems and help them foresee any new problems on the horizon.
- Take the time to get to know your customer and build a relationship with them. Take the time to listen. Be patient. Building trust is the gateway to success.
MN: In all your interactions with and decisions pertaining to customers, ask yourself:
- What is best for the client?
- What is the right thing to do?
- Are we doing an exceptional job taking care of our people and fostering a great company culture?