Exceptional customer service begins before a customer picks up the phone.

For those of you who used the customer relations questionnaire found inPlumbing &  Mechanical’s October issue (“Customer Relations 101: Don’t Expect It, Demand It”), I’m sure you were pleasantly surprised and maybe even shocked by your employees’ opinions and responses. And you could easily identify which comments came from your service department, even though some similar comments came from jobsite employees.

Naturally, quality workmanship would be important for both. That concept emphasizes two crucial construction words that every qualified, skilled crafstman must maintain - proud and pride. He or she needs to stand back and proudly say, “I did that!”

The word “I” is the smallest word in our American dictionary, but it is the biggest word in our industry. We always want to be proud of our work, proud of our appearance and behavior, proud of our company and its reputation, proud of our family and, of course, proud of ourselves. That’s what I have always called the pride of a craftsman.

Service Best Practices

Effective customer relations with your service department begins in your office, before any customers telephone for service.

You can literally adopt your customers’ premises and potential problems by maintaining pertinent data on their equipment, maintenance history and past problems. This information should be readily available when customers identify themselves with their phone number or address.

When equipment information is not available, your service manager should ask for data that would help your service tech to bring the proper tools and materials to the jobsite.

You need up-to-date availability times for all of your service techs before you give a time commitment to a customer. Your skills inventory database will instantly identify which of your techs is qualified for that specific task.

Possibly the single, biggest complaint from potential service customers is hearing a recording rather than a live person when they are desperately calling for help. Imagine how many of your competitors they telephoned before you answered their message - if you even answered.

Your service manager should answer every call with at least “Please hold” when he or she is on another call. Listen to the customer’s situation and establish a definite time for him or her to meet your service tech. Relate this time, the address and specific problem to your tech with an emergency phone number to call if there is any delay.

Your service tech should arrive on time, dressed in a clean, professional-looking company uniform. He should introduce himself, then ask what the customer believes is the problem. Before entering the home, shoes should be removed or booties worn to protect the customer’s premises.

After examining the situation, the tech should relate the problem, his recommendation to correct the problem, flat-rate pricing or approximate cost to make repairs and method of payment (check, cash or credit card).

When your customer agrees to have the repairs made, your tech can begin work or call your office for any tool, equipment or parts he might need.

If your tech has a helper, you might recommend sending the helper to pick up whatever is needed. If your tech is alone, you may wish to send someone from your shop with whatever the tech needs to complete the job. You can call a taxi to come to your shop and deliver the needed tools or equipment. Or have the taxi driver go to a supply house, pick up your order and deliver it to the jobsite.

When your tech has resolved the problem and cleaned up whatever mess or disturbance he caused, he should thoroughly survey the customer’s premises and equipment:
  • He can recommend upgrading equipment to save fuel costs or future repairs.

  • He should document all of the data, as well as whatever he serviced, and bring it back to you for future reference.

  • He should always recommend a periodic maintenance contract.

  • He should fix, repair or replace minor items free of charge for good customer relations.

  • He should collect your money whenever it is possible.
Isn’t that how you would like to be treated when you are the customer?

Prepping The Jobsite Team

Good customer relations for your entire jobsite construction team may not seem to be so critical since we involve more of our employees with a multitude of different individuals who are not actually our customers. However, you must keep in mind that any one of these individuals could help or hurt the company on the current project or influence the decision for any future projects.

Here again, effective jobsite customer relations starts right in your office with your project management team.

Questionable clauses should be amicably negotiated into or out of your subcontract before you sign it. This prevents unnecessary conflict for the duration of that project.

Clarify billing and paying procedures for stored materials, change orders and extras, retainage and final payment.

Coordinate your predicted schedule with your client’s critical path schedule before making a commitment. This is especially important with long-lead items and delivery dates.

Purchase all necessary equipment and materials with confirmed delivery dates. Process shop drawings, catalog cuts and all required submittals.

Include your working jobsite foreman in your kick-off meeting to value-engineer the project and ensure all team members are aware of their specific responsibilities. You must assign a project manager (owner, traveling superintendent, “head honcho”) with full authority and responsibility to be your foreman’s boss.

The project manager should accompany your foreman to every jobsite meeting to make commitments and make sure that they are fulfilled. In addition, both will control all extras and change orders, and coordinate flex-time opportunities.

Your jobsite foreman’s primary responsibility is to produce a quality product, on schedule, with a profit. Good customer relations for a foreman require being concerned with and helping everyone on that jobsite to make money - that is the only reason he or she is there.

One of the best ways to garner goodwill on the jobsite is what we call “horse trading.” It simply involves lending and borrowing whatever you or the other trades need. Along with expediency, this saves time lost going to your shop or a supply house for short-term usage.

There is no charge by either party for this service but your foreman should always document and date whatever was traded to eliminate any abuse or future disagreement.

We used to say, “There is always a better way; think twice before you do it.” Today they call that value engineering and it does have a lot of value. Your foreman has worked side-by-side with other trades on other jobs and watched those craftsmen do many tasks much more efficiently. He or she can ask the other trades if doing a certain task a particular way saves time and/or money.

Share those suggestions with the other team members rather than telling them to do it. Everyone loves to be asked and no one likes to be told.

Anything related to the jobsite should be written down; you cannot afford to rely on your foreman’s memory:
  • Your foremen should be documenting all of the necessary data in their daily logs to keep you out of court or arbitration - or to win in court if you must go through any kind of litigation.

  • Documenting promises and commitments, to or from your office, your customer, the other trades, your inspectors, the design team or the project owners will maintain crucial customer relations.
We face so many crises, interruptions and personal situations every day that it is easy to overlook or forget what we promised and not honor our word. Your customer does not know or really care why you didn’t fulfill your commitment; he just knows he can’t trust you.

I highly recommend that you review your employees’ comments on your Customer Relations 101 questionnaire. With today’s recession and dramatic work shortage, you can easily understand why your work-producing reputation is so vital.

No one knows when this recession will be over, but I can assure you that good customer relations are essential in good times as well as bad. It is something you can do that doesn’t cost money but will help you make money.