Is It Important to Establish Good Communications with Your Clients? You Bet It Is!
Busy contractors spend the better part of their day out in the field where they work more with tools than with people. During a hectic day, client communications can easily fall by the wayside, leading to poor client relationships and disagreements.
Point is, while communication is critical in any industry, the role it plays in construction cannot be played down. Poor communication with a client on a major building project can mean losses of thousands, even millions, of dollars.
Add to this the emotional involvement of clients that can really muddle things. If you thought the movie Titanic was dramatic, wait till you see a homeowner working on their first renovation. Building and budget misunderstandings can cause tears, payment delays, lawsuits and 3am phone calls from furious relatives.
The manner in which you communicate with your clients is just as important as the quality of the work your company produces.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” This quote, attributed to George Bernard Shaw, perfectly describes the disconnect between many contractors and their clients.
The client/contractor relationship is built on trust. Establishing that trust with you clients can only occur when they understand your process, the language of your construction contracts and the methods of communication, to name only a few.
Even the preeminent project managers have found themselves attempting to bridge the gap in understanding between he/she and the client. Do they really appreciate the costs, timelines and mechanics of the project? Does the client comprehend why delays take place or acknowledge the possible risks entailed? Do they feel at ease and secure from the initial get-together to project completion? Do they realize that you have no control over the weather?
If you answered no to any of these questions, chances are you could need to work on your client communication skills.
Whether you’re a general contractor, project manager or service manager, the following tips will benefit you. They’re applicable to commercial, industrial and residential construction and can be implemented immediately.
Establish the method of communication
The first and arguably the easiest step in this process is deciding on what mode of communication best works for you. As a busy construction professional, you may prefer a specific type of contact, such as phone calls, e-mails or a particular software you’re using. This decision needs to be made clear to your clients right away to ensure you’re both on the same page. By doing this, you’ll be far more organized, allowing your business to take on even more clients.
Additionally, for larger companies working on industrial or commercial projects, pair up a customer with a primary contact to make sure both parties’ lines of communication are always well-defined and trustworthy.
One of the things that makes clients frustrated is when they don’t know who to contact for concerns ort issues. “I’m panicking about the floorboards leaking. Do I call Gus the carpenter, Mandy the general contractor, John the plumber, or the guy with the moustache and clipboard?”
The more points of contact there are, the easier it is for things to get lost in translation, or never translated at all. It’s important that you have one person they can easily reach out to, especially since construction involves so many parties such as supervisors, suppliers, contractors, subcontractors, electricians, architects and consultants, among others.
From the project onset, assign a single point of contact who is willing to provide any information and make decisions for you when dealing with clients. Having a principal decision maker or both sides simplifies the communication process and, should there be a breakdown or slip-up, it will be easier to track the source to avoid “he said/she said” blame game.
Keep in mind, too, that this isn’t simply about convenience. If your client has a single point of contact, they’re more likely to feel everything’s going smoothly, even if there’s actual chaos. It helps keep your messaging consistent and there’s less chance of misunderstanding.
Start relationships with face-to-face communication
Meet face-to-face with new clients. Talking in person can you and your client develop an understanding that can be valuable down the line. When talking to a client, be personable. Don’t say you can do a job that you’re not sure you really can do.
This straightforward method of communication will develop trust and make you job easier. If they’re confident in what your firm can do, they’re likely to be accepting and realistic if and when faced with delays and problems.
As we’ve seen, down the road, you may want to use less direct methods to communicate with clients, like e-mails and phone conversations. Do so only after you and the client have established a relationship and you both feel comfortable with one another.
Note: Text messages are seldom a good way to communicate with clients. They are absent all nuance and expression. What might sound harmless from your end can appear bad-mannered, enraged or uncaring to your clients. Anything that entails more than a few words to answer should be dealt with over the phone or face-to-face.
Use visual technology
Your client is paying out good money to convert a dream into something real. As such, they’d like to know exactly what they’re getting upfront. Truth is, hand- sketches or a few photos of the proposed project won’t cut it anymore. Today, a client wants to see 3D images of a building before the first brick is laid. They want CGI graphics with fake trees and happy make-believe people. It’s now part of your job to give them this virtual encounter.
Don’t be anxious, even the smallest construction firms can be aggressive when it comes to visuals. Technology in this area has expanded rapidly and there are reasonably priced devices on the market. By employing visual technology, you can transform how you communicate with a client. Don’t be afraid to give it a try. You’ll be pleased with the results.
Keep it clear and concise. Avoid industry jargon and buzzwords.
Once your lines of communication are set up, the subsequent step focuses on how you communicate. Although it might sound amazingly simple, using clear and concise language can enhance client communication significantly.
Of course, this doesn’t involve using a minimum of words and brief messages, it merely means being precise about what you’re dealing with. Whether it’s an e-mail or a voicemail, keeping your message clear-cut and down-to-earth will create a more professional, more efficient relationship.
Let’s face it. Construction is the love of your life. You live and breathe its language every day. When talking to a client, it’s easy to drop terms like balloon framing and backing rods. But do you see your client’s eyes glaze over when you’re speaking?
Even though you and the client might speak the same language, your clients aren’t aware of the everyday vernacular of the construction world. Excessive technical terms, buzzwords and jargon can destroy an otherwise positive customer experience. And while this might apply to all industries, you’re especially at risk in highly specialized fields like construction. There are thousands of terms that seem normal to builders, engineers and contractors that would probably boggle the mind of a normal person.
The language you employ in communications with your client needs to be understood by both parties to be successful. This involves not only the words you say during the sales process, but the terms used in the written contract.
You need to use plain and simple terms and words understood by everyone, and if a certain complex term is used, take the time to fully explain this to the client. This will seriously cut down on misunderstandings and give the client confidence in the job you’re doing.
Practice active listening
Are you a good listener? Being a clear writer and speaker is only half the job of being a good communicator. The plain truth is that most people aren’t. In fact, research has demonstrated that we remember only between 25 and 50 percent of what we’re told.
When you engage in oral communication, you want to be an active listener. Don’t just sit there and absorb information like a digital recorder, that’s passive at best.
Having recognized the problem, several professional organizations now offer training in “active listening.” The jobsite Indeed defines active listening as the ability to focus and understand the speaker’s message as well as replying thoughtfully to what is said. Contrast this to passive listening where a person only hears the speaker without remembering or being aware of what’s actually been said.
This is where you focus strictly on the speaker and process their meaning, rather than letting your mind wander off somewhere.
Active listening is critical for effective client management. Often, just by listening to your clients, you can resolve difficulties, improve accuracy and avoid disputes.
Here are some good listening tips:
- Some people take longer than others to process what they’ve been told. If they’re a slow speaker, make an honest attempt to talk at the same speed.
- Match their gestures and expressions with a bit of subtlety. Not in a creepy, weird manner like some mime, but simply enough to establish empathy and understanding.
- Ask appropriate questions to clear up statements and demonstrate attentiveness.
- Don’t interrupt the speaker or try to talk over them. Some persons don’t mind interruptions, while others lose their concentration and effectiveness every time someone “stops by for just a sec.”
- Concentrate on what the speaker is saying and avoid reforming a response in your mind until they are through. You could miss an important piece of information that answers your question if you’re focusing solely on what you’re going to say when it’s your turn.
- Make eye contact and provide nonverbal signals such as head nods to show that you’re actively listening.
- Rephrase what they’ve said and repeat it back. This shows your understanding or gives an opportunity for them to correct you.
Poor listening has ruined a lot of marriages, so let’s go out on the limb and say it can destroy an already tense client relationship.
Stick to the facts
Basically, you want to be Sgt. Joe Friday of the construction industry. (For those of the younger generation, Joe Friday is a fictional character created and portrayed as the lead for the TV series, Dragnet, in the 1950’s and 60’s. He’s best known for his statement “Just the facts, Ma’am” although TV historians will tell you he never exactly said those exact words at any time on the show.) Okay, there’s your TV history lesson.
We want you to be aware that you should only be concerned with providing or getting facts. Don’t elaborate or include unimportant information in your communications. Unless asked, keep your personal opinions or feelings about a project to yourself. However, it is imperative you reveal your professional opinions about a project when you suspect they could be helpful to its conclusion. After all, your company’s know-how is part of the reason you won the job in the first place, so don’t be afraid to speak up.
One last tip: In addition to forming a clear line of communication and deciding the most beneficial methods to use, you should determine how often you need to be updating and communicating with the project owner on its progress.
Need some help in communicating better with clients? Give us a call and we can share some success stories of other construction companies who were in the same situation. Contact PDDM Workforce Solutions when looking for your next new hire at (724) 788-4048. Please contact either Kim Dulkoski (x2002) firstname.lastname@example.org or Sonya DiGiorno (x2004) SDiGiorno@pddmsolutions.com for further information on how we can help your company hire your professional staff.