In Your Customer Relations, Is Your Experience Working Against You?

Many of us have been in our respective lines of work for so long, we easily forget that others don’t know what we know. We have been inside our experience so long, we unconsciously make assumptions that can wreak havoc on the road to building trusting relationships.

When it comes to building or remodeling a home, trade jargon and assumptions can cost you big time! Construction law journals are filled with cases of misunderstandings. So what are you doing to make sure you & your customer understand one another? Here is the short list of things to consider:

1. Inquire right at the beginning about the extent of your customer’s previous experience with your trade. Have they built or remodeled before? If so, what was their experience like? Pay very close attention. Their response will tell you volumes about what there expectations will be. If they haven’t built or remodeled before, you would be well served to do an orientation to help them understand the process of doing business with you, what your role is and is not, the typical demands of the process and your recommendations as to how to best deal with them.

2. Make sure to verbally review your bids or contracts with your customer, line by line, along with all the inclusions and exclusions. Frequently ask them if they understand or have questions. Many contractors don’t want to be bothered and feel that it’s the customer’s responsibility to read the contract and raise questions. Well, I say, ‘Yes and No’ to this response. Both you and your customer share this responsibility, but only you can be responsible for your expectations. My own assumption here is that your interest is to build a good reputation and create happy customers. If you care more about just getting the job without making clear and mutual understanding a priority, your frustration and stress are indicative that it’s time to do something differently or die blaming your customers. Do yourself a favor, make it easy for people to understand you, your process and paperwork. It’s your responsibility to make sure others understand the jargon you use and your terms & conditions. Since they are yours, you are responsible for them.

3. And while you are making it easier for them to understand you, learn to pay attention to facial cues of doubt, hesitancy and silence. They indicate someone at the table has something to say. Don’t overlook these moments. Often people don’t ask because they do not want to appear uninformed. Persist to uncover what is on their mind. You can bet that what is not being said is what needs to be discussed to assure clear understanding. Also, be willing to say that you misunderstood something, when you did. If you are attached to being right, it will kill the relationship in the end. You are human and,as such, make errors. You’ll get more traction in building trust by being willing to admit your mistakes than being rigid and righteous. Take the lead. Be a proactive listener. Make your communication practices a reflection of your commitment to build a trusting relationship founded on mutual understanding.

4. Be vigilant in giving you undivided attention to your customer so you can catch as much of the ‘unspoken’ as possible. If you are distracted by something acknowledge it, take care of it and return your full attention to your customer.

5. Finally, I strongly suggest recording & documenting your conversations. It will provide a valuable reference should there be questions down the road. This might seem like a burden, but it’s one that will save your butt many times over. Voice recorders are inexpensive and a must to help you get it right the first time, especially if you like to be right!