The Emotional Homeowner 3: Communication

Minimize problems with clear communication and get it in writing
By David Lupberger
September 17, 2010

Most complaints about kitchen and bath professionals are not about the actual construction work done on a project. They’re usually about expectations that weren’t met. In other words, communications regarding a project weren’t clear.

Needless to say, a variety of problems can arise from a lack of clear and effective communication. This applies to all aspects of a project, including its scheduling and even the documenting of all that’s been said and done. As design professionals, we can best prevent troubles from occurring down the road with a detailed, user-friendly paper trail.

Following are five things you can do that will keep you and your customers on the same page while eliminating most of the misunderstandings typical of a home improvement project.

1. Use carbonless memo forms. Here’s a $1,000 tip: At the end of each meeting with homeowners, write a simple summary of what was said. You can buy a carbonless memo pad from most stationery or office supply stores. Go one step further, and get your name and company logo printed at the top of each form. During the course of each meeting with your customers, make notes on that carbonless memo pad.

Review what was discussed during that meeting, and include a simple summary of what is supposed to happen by the next meeting. This simple memo form holds you and your clients accountable. They may even thank you for these notes, which will keep them in the loop and document the project’s progress on an ongoing basis. If conflicts arise in the future, you can always refer back to your written meeting notes.

2. Keep a homeowner notebook. You’ll want to keep your meeting notes and other types of project documentation in a notebook. To record other types of communications, the notebook should be broken down into four sections:

Section 1: All contract documentation

Section 2: Meeting notes

Section 3: Change Orders

Section 4: Warranty materials

By giving your customers this notebook, you provide them with a way to keep their project documentation organized, as well as a great example of effective project management.

3. Schedule weekly progress meetings. Even with a good contract and clear specifications, unresolved details will pop up on larger jobs. For longer-duration projects, set up weekly or biweekly progress meetings where you and the homeowners meet to review any questions, make decisions and consider any changes to the plans. Establishing a schedule of regular meetings will help alleviate some of the worry your clients may have about contacting you with an important question because they know when they’ll see you next.

4. Keep an onsite job book. To facilitate customer communication, place a “logbook” onsite in a staging area away from all construction. Let your homeowners know that the book is there for them to record any questions or comments regarding their project. This in turn provides an efficient way for the project supervisor to receive comments when he or she arrives onsite in the morning.

The book not only provides a written record of homeowner concerns, but it also reduces loose notes and unanswered phone calls, and the recorded concerns can help you better prepare for the next progress meeting and provide a more targeted solution. Plus, at the end of the job, you can present your clients with the book as a project diary and memento they can review long after their project is over.

5. Create a documented schedule. One of the biggest homeowner fears is: “When will we get our house back?” All homeowners have heard horror stories of a kitchen or bath remodel that went on far too long. How do you best respond to this fear? Show them a construction schedule that becomes part of their contract and lets them see and understand the flow of their project.

A construction schedule helps illustrate a process that most homeowners do not understand and lets you address their real fear about how long you are going to be in their home. Because most projects do experience changes in the schedule, use the weekly or biweekly progress meetings to make amendments to their project schedule. Keeping them informed on a regular basis will eliminate most of the complaints that come up during the construction process.

—David Lupberger is ServiceMagic.com’s Home Improvement Expert. He draws on more than two decades of experience in the residential remodeling field, working with remodelers to develop proven business systems. More than 90 percent of Lupberger’s work came from repeat and referral business, demonstrating the trust he developed with clients. That experience led him to write a book called Managing the Emotional Homeowner, which has become one of the bibles of the remodeling industry. Lupberger’s “Ask Dave” column on Proconnection.ServiceMagic.com is a tremendous resource for professionals.

Miss the first two installments of “The Emotional Homeowner”? You can read about the stress homeowners feel when embarking upon a home improvement project here and about how designers can establish trust with them here.
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