You cannot over-communicate with clients. That principle is borne out time after time when restoration jobs become bogged down by misunderstandings between the homeowner and the restoration contractor.

Because misunderstandings are the source of so many client problems, it is not surprising that communication topics were a central theme at the recent Executive Leadership Conference sponsored by the National Institute of Restoration (NIR).  Each year NIR gives a Golden Nugget Award for the best idea presented at the conference that attendees can use to improve their businesses. There were more than 30 ideas considered, most of them relating to communication issues.

The winner of the 2008 Golden Nugget Award was Bob Hage of Consolidated Construction Services in Roanoke, Va. He took an idea from Steve King of Intercontinental Restoration Institute in Olds, Ia., about managing customer expectations. The topic obviously struck a chord with restoration contractors nationwide.

What are some of the customer expectations sure to create problems down the road?  I’m sure this list is familiar:   
  • The job will start right away and be completed within a few days or weeks.
  • The homeowner will not be overly inconvenienced.
  • There will be at least six workers on the job every hour of every day as happens with those home makeover shows on TV.
  • They will be able to make selections without having to go anywhere.
  • They can change their minds at will.
  • The jobsite will be clean and neat, and what’s the idea of that ugly dumpster in my yard?
  • Landscaping will not be disturbed.
  • You will work out any problems relating to the lack of power, heat or water.
  • Everyone will love their pets and children.
  • The insurance company will cover everything from code upgrades to decorator costs and what the insurer doesn’t cover, the contractor will.

  Contractors also make assumptions that cause problems. When a contractor tells a client that the job will start right away, he means “by the end of the week” while the client hears “first thing tomorrow morning.”

So common are these issues that contractors must take steps to manage customer expectations before the job begins. And the way to do that is to communicate. King recommends developing a document with realistic expectations that you can hand to the client when a job starts. Give the document a reader-friendly title such as Ten Things To Expect During Your Project. Use that document to spell out such touchy issues as:
  • How debris on the job site will be handled.
  • The procedures for product or weather delays.
  • The procedures for making changes.
  • How changes impact the cost and completion date.
  • The owner’s responsibility to control the access of children and pets to the job site.
  • The number of people on the job.
  • The time work begins and ends each day.

  Because customer expectations are usually based on poor information or erroneous assumptions, anything a contractor can do to enhance understanding will make the job run more smoothly and improve the bottom line.