Lessons learned: don’t have the same bad experience over and over – Customer Service – builders

Lessons learned: don’t have the same bad experience over and over – Customer Service – builders – Brief Article

Carol Smith

Lessons learned in the daily conduct of business leave their footprints in a builder’s operations. An experienced builder can review a professional colleague’s practices and paperwork and make an educated guess at past problems.

For instance, an Ohio company’s orientation documents include a sheet for buyers to sign acknowledging that the builder has given them seven days to inspect and report cosmetic damage to sinks, tubs, or counters. After seven days, the new homeowner is responsible for any attention these surfaces might need. This builder’s history includes a bitter and costly disagreement with homeowners who claimed they did not have an adequate opportunity to inspect these surfaces.

A Florida company has a long contract clause prohibiting clients from contributing materials or labor to the construction of their home. Most builders can easily imagine the hassles of one or more sweat equity arrangements that ultimately led the company to this firm prohibition. Can you guess why an Arizona builder has contract wording that provides the company the right to select and install finish materials and colors if the buyers fail to complete selections on time? (They have not needed to enforce this provision.)

No doubt you can examine your own company documents and practices and identify similar items. With names and faces clear in your memory, you can probably relive the chain of events that resulted in a new procedure, a new contract clause, or a new sign-off sheet for buyers to read and acknowledge.

Such lessons profoundly impact internal practices and policies. Builders often become frustrated with unpleasant results, or get angry with homeowners or trades only to realize later that the fault lies in the company’s methods. Such lessons can be costly. A Midwest company’s warranty practices included trusting trades to inspect items and provide reliable information. When a homeowner’s complaint about their asphalt drive was checked by the company’s asphalt contractor, the report was that the drive merely needed a seal coat. Winter being on the horizon, the work was postponed until spring.

Over the winter the builder became dissatisfied with the asphalt firm and retained a new one. In the spring when the homeowner contacted the builder for the seal coating to be scheduled, a call from the warranty office to the original asphalt company produced disappointing results.

The homeowner’s complaint and the arrangements with the original asphalt firm were handled by phone. The warranty rep remembered the situation and believed the homeowner’s description of the results. However, the asphalt firm could not recall having inspected the job and certainly had no recollection of a commitment to perform any work. In the end, lacking documentation, the builder paid the new asphalt company to apply the needed seal coat to the driveway.

After a period of raging at the injustice of this expense, the builder’s reason returned. He began to see the cost of the seal coat as price the company paid to learn several important lessons: First, get complaints in writing to establish the date they are reported and the homeowner’s description of the concern. Second, document action the company takes–whether it’s issuing a work order straight-away or scheduling an inspection. Finally, a company representative should attend inspections performed by trades, suppliers, or testing labs. Documenting the circumstances, participants, date, and the inspection results provides what may be essential material if disagreements arise later.

Of what value is recognizing this dynamic? This understanding helps builders see that being familiar with all current company documents is essential to enforcing them effectively. It also points out that consistent performance requires regular review of policies and procedures with employees. And it helps to accept that updating the company’s documents, policies, and procedures from time to time can forestall the company’s becoming irs own worst enemy. New challenges will occur, but they should be solved the right way, first with the client involved and then within the builder’s system.

Objective evaluation of the company’s performance should be the first step any builder takes in untangling any client dilemma. The ability to analyze what actions (or inactions) on the part of the company allowed the current problem to occur may point the way to a solution. Accepting responsibility promptly and using recovery skills effectively can turn a disaster into a success or at least limit losses.

At the same time, should the fault be in the client’s behavior, the builder can more easily achieve a resolution. For example, if a home buyer demands the right to move items into an unfinished home, being prepared to point to clear information about possession in the contract, in the company video, and in the homeowner manual may put an end to the customer’s demand. At this point, the builder may conclude that he needs to make this point very clear to future clients. As a result, he may decide to incorporate a conversation about the circumstances of possession at the point of sale. then highlight the details in the contract or have the buyers initial that clause, and review this again at the final pre-construction meeting and near to delivery for additional emphasis.

Just as builders strive to build perfect homes, they strive to create perfect operational systems. Being critical of your company’s performance, able to recognize new lessons, and being responsive to the need to continually revise practices can lead to fewer problems and many happier clients.

Carol Smith is president of Home Address, a customer relations consulting firm in Monument, Colo.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Hanley-Wood, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group