Article first published as Great Customer Experience: Surprising Lessons from My Contractor on LinkedIn
Contractors don’t generally have the best reputation.
When I think of contractors I tend to use the words: never on time, over budget, and not trustworthy.
As we began to get serious about remodeling our kitchen and master bathroom, the question “Who do we get to do it?” came up early in our planning. Fortunately, we had previously worked with a local contractor on several smaller projects over the last few years updating our 110-year-old house. We were pleased with his work and asked him to work with us on this much larger scale project.
From the first new project meeting, Chris Crimmins‘ approach had developed by adding new tools and processes. He talked with Karen and me about our goals, our priorities for the project, and, of course, about our budget. Based on the information we provided, he put together a detailed proposal and final budget for our review.
Because of the quality of the work Chris completed in the past and his understanding of how to preserve the unique character of a historic home, we really didn’t seek other options. The demolition began in late February. And, after five months of work, I have a beautiful new kitchen (cooking is a hobby of mine) and we have a great new master bathroom.
And – surprisingly – the project turned out to be a great experience.
Lesson #1: Communicate Well and in Real Time
During the project we always knew what was going on. We knew who was scheduled to show up at the house each day. We knew when that schedule had to be changed. Everyone associated with our project was able to see exactly what was happening and when.
Lesson #2: Choose the Best Tools
The open communication described above was made possible because Crimmins utilizes an online project management platform called Basecamp. Everyone associated with our project — plumber, electrician, cabinet maker — was included. We could see who was scheduled to be at our house and when. We could post questions and the best people to answer our question would respond (and everyone was updated simultaneously). Progress photos were taken most days so we and everyone else could see what had been accomplished.
And it all happened on laptops, iPads, and iPhones. When I was on the road, I knew what was happening and could also respond to comments or questions using the Basecamp mobile app. The biggest benefit is we did not have to make multiple phone calls to get something changed or ask a question.
Using a real time communication platform allowed everyone associated with the project to respond on the fly – in real time. Having the right tool made all the difference in making our construction project a great experience.
One quick example of the power of open communication: A progress photo was posted after the new wallboard was installed and the rough electrical was completed. Chris Barber of Barber Woodworking (our cabinet maker) posted a comment that he thought one of the outlets for the new oven was not in the right place – just from viewing the photo online. He was right. The outlet was moved before the cabinets were installed, saving time and hassle. This is just one of many examples.
Deep into the project there were questions about decisions that had been made months earlier. Because conversations were documented, there was no ambiguity about “who said what when.” Sometimes we were right, sometimes they were right, but in every case the clarity and documentation minimized hurt feelings and frustrations, making a better experience for both us and the contractor.
You can say you provide good customer service, but using the right tools can turn simply good service into a great experience.
Lesson #3: Pick the Right Team
Brian Coley was our on-site project manager. This really means he was the “relationship” manager. He managed the relationship with us as clients, Chris as business owner, and all the sub-contractors, vendors, and suppliers.
It was remarkable that everyone – almost without exception – showed up on time, completed their work and cleaned up – thanks to Brian managing the process well.
While Chris was available when we needed him, it was Brian who kept the project moving day-to-day. Brian took the progress pictures and posted them. Brian tracked down the parts we needed and made the phone calls when the wrong parts were sent.
Crimmons as the business owner works at making sure he has just the right team to create a great customer experience. He understands the difference between working on his business and working in his business.
Lesson #4: Take Responsibility
Even with good communication, the right tools and the right team – mistakes happen. Sometimes things just don’t go right. In a project of our size, it’s bound to happen. But the mistakes were handled in a timely and responsible manner. When it was their mistake, they took responsibility and did what they could to make it right.
What can the insurance industry learn from my contractor? Seems to me the same four principles apply:
- Communicate well: How well do you communicate with your clients and prospects?
- Use the right tools: What real time tools are you using with clients to enhance their experience with your agency or company?
- Pick the best team: Are you making sure you have the right people in the right positions in your organization?
- Take responsibility: Mistakes happen. What do you do to make it right?
In today’s world, good customer service is expected. That’s why your agency is in business. But creating a great customer experience is what will set you apart from your competitors and keep customers coming back.
Crimmins Construction dispelled the myth of the shoddy contractor – they were on time, on budget, and trustworthy.
I’m thinking a good gourmet meal in my great new kitchen just might be a way to say thanks to the Crimmins team who helped us have a great customer experience. And I’ll probably post it on Basecamp.
Steve Anderson is a leading authority on insurance agency technology. He is a prolific writer known for his knack for translating “geek speak” into easily understood concepts. Check out his free weekly newsletter “TechTips” and other resources for the insurance industry on his website.