He Said She Said What? Communication is the key to successful design/build projects

In today’s world, communication is a major buzzword. From cell phones and pagers to Web surfing and instant messaging, every consumer has options to get the information they need. And as if that wasn’t enough, now they have choices on how fast they will get it! If consumers don’t like waiting 10 to 20 seconds to download Web information over a phone line, they can sign up for cable or DSL access. 

Now that they have become used to this kind of service in everyday life, and typically are involved in providing that same kind of service at their own jobs, why shouldn’t they demand the same of their design/builder? Providing that level of service can be a challenge, and requires a significant investment in technology, time and training. On the bright side, just like the cable company, a remodeler or home builder can charge a premium for faster service and managed communication options; a perfect fit for the design/build process.

The quality of communication between the design/build company and the client often is the difference between a successful project and a total failure, at least as viewed by the client. Unfortunately, unlike the phone company, you can’t offer clients your service with the choice of communication speed levels. All customers want the fastest service and communication possible. 

From the initial sales call to project completion, countless communications with a variety of delivery methods will be used. Communication includes the people and tools used to transfer and collect information. This can include such things as the person answering the phone, the phone answering machine and message, the contract you provide, the invoice you send out, a fax machine, the company website and even the stub attached to an employee’s paycheck. Each of these is a different communication tool that provides information to the receiver. For the customer, it doesn’t matter which tool you use to send or receive information — they expect accurate and timely information or at least a project status report the moment they ask for it.

Don’t leave your communication tools in your toolbox — just having the newest technologies or communication methods is not enough. Now you have to use them when servicing your client. To a client, whether they speak with the lead carpenter, leave a phone message at the office or send an e-mail, it’s because they expect a quick response. 

If you only check your e-mails once or twice a week, don’t give your address to clients. I once made and confirmed reservations for my wife and me at a bed and breakfast via e-mail from the establishment’s website. Two days later I got a call from the proprietor, telling me the room and dates I had reserved and confirmed on their website were no longer available. When I asked how that happened, the response was, “We only get around to checking our e-mails every other day or so.” By the time they called me, they no longer could accommodate my needs.

A proper communication system should be part of your standard operating procedures. Typically there already is a best way to do things, particularly if you’ve been in business for a while. By documenting how to do things, then testing your documentation, you create standard operating procedures that work. By training employees how to find and follow the instructions contained in your procedures, each customer or issue will be handled correctly and consistently. There is no way to have a standard procedure for everything, but when you come across a situation without a procedure, create one. The overall effect will be that your employees will learn to create solutions on their own, based on the logic used to create the existing procedures. ?

Shawn McCadden, CR/CLC, is a Franchise Systems Manager and Design/Build Specialist for DreamMaker Bath and Kitchen. He coaches franchisees on how to grow their businesses through implementation of DreamMaker’s business systems. He has an extensive background in design/build remodeling and consulting and can be contacted at smccadden@dwyergroup.com. Read his past columns in the archives at www.designbuildbusiness.com.