I generally write my articles based on items, concerns or issues that I’ve recently encountered to help ensure the information I’m passing on to you is timely and relevant. This article is about communication. The difference between a professional contractor and an unprofessional contractor often comes down to communication. Obviously, the quality of your work goes a long way. However, companies that provide good work but do a poor job of communicating leave the project with poor relationships. These are more damaging than a mediocre project could ever be.
The communication string starts internally within your own company, well before you communicate with customers. To start things off, I have a question for you. This is a serious question you should not just read and dismiss: How well have you communicated to your employees what your company stands for and what your vision is pertaining to the company’s reputation?
Establish your identity
I work with a contractor in the Midwest. The company is not particularly large, but the owner has done a fantastic job of communicating to his employees its identity as a “customer service all the way from start to completion” company. As a consultant, I can see it in the jobs they do and the way they respond to the projects and issues they encounter.
The result of this mentality is a great and loyal relationship with their accounts and the ability to charge a higher-than-average price. Their customers are willing to pay a little more for them because they have experienced high-service commitment and consistent, good communication.
If you need an easily followed model of employee communication and its impact on customers, look at Chick-fil-A. It is not the cheapest chain but it takes great care of each customer. As a result, it has more sales and a higher profit margin than any other fast food chain. The shoe company Zappos.com built its reputation on customer service. An account of a woman who purchased shoes but had to return them due to a death in her family went viral and propelled the company to international fame when this woman reported that the Zappos customer service rep who had helped her had the company send flowers to her home.
Improve internal interactions
Internal company communication related to projects is a key point as well. It always surprises me when a crew shows up to a site without specifications or some of the products they need to correctly perform the scope of work. I see this happen regularly and it is an issue easy to control.
Simply discussing each project before the crew heads to the job goes a long way. Also, make sure the crew has a copy of the specifications before they leave the shop so they have time to review them prior to arriving on site. When a subcontractor shows up to a project without all the information, the GC-sub relationship gets strained from the start. It’s hard to recover from these types of setbacks.
Make sure the right hand knows what the left is doing
Communication between contractors and GCs also is important. I had a recent project where the GC talked to the polishing contractor and worked out a date to be back on site. The crew in the field did not relay the information to their office in a timely manner. Consequently, the office scheduled the crew to be somewhere else on that date.
Not knowing this, the GC scheduled me to fly across the country to attend a meeting on site with the owner, architect, GC and polisher. The morning of the meeting, we found out the polishing contractor was several states away. The owner was extremely upset and the GC felt responsible. I wasted two days and the planned meeting didn’t happen.
I have a hundred examples like this that are all related to communication between the contractor and GC. Communication related to scheduling, scope of work, unforeseen conditions encountered on the project, change orders and completion dates are the most common areas I see break down.
As communication with the GC in turn affects the customer and other related parties, good communication at this level is imperative. As I said before, if the communication fails here, even if you have done a great job, everyone involved feels like you did not. This means they are less likely to call you in the future and less likely to push to help you on things that are important (like payment or change orders).
Consultants can help
I generally act as an owner’s representative. Having a consultant involved does several things. It allows the owner or final customer to realistically view the process and get the best possible outcome from the project. This is good for both the project’s owner and contractors involved. From a communication standpoint, though, this adds an additional layer.
If you are involved on a project with a consultant, it is important to openly communicate for many reasons. If you have issues related to existing conditions, the consultant can potentially help figure out an acceptable solution. If it is not possible, the consultant’s assistance with discovering the responsible party and assisting you with appropriate change orders is invaluable.
If you are on a remodel project with issues, the consultant’s relationship with the owner brings issues to the front early so the responsibility for resolving the issue does not solely rest with the subcontractor. One example of this issue happened on a project recently. The concrete that was set to be polished had high air content. This caused a lot of voids or pinholes at the surface of the slab. The owner was not aware of this issue with the slab at the start of the project.
The polishing contractor was experiencing scratches that were deeper and more frequent than normally would be expected. After trying several options to remove the scratches, the contractor contacted me about the issue. I researched the history of the concrete, figured out the issue and we, as a group, came to the conclusion that the concrete needed an epoxy grout coat to fill in the large amount of pores, which would allow the polishing to be done correctly. The contractor was able to submit a change order for the extra process and the owner was happy.
If the contractor had not contacted me and continued the project, I would have found this issue on my punch list review. When the contractor brought up the slab issue at that point, it would appear to the customer they were just looking for extra money and didn’t want to complete the project per specifications. By communicating the issue with the consultant early, the contractor changed the entire dynamic of the project.
Communication—whether it is between an employer and employees, sales and operations, subcontractor and general contractor, or subcontractor and owner or owner’s rep—is one of the most important things you can improve. This relatively simple issue can elevate or destroy a contractor faster than any other single thing you can do.
The beauty is that unlike many other things that cost money to upgrade, bettering your communication is virtually free. It takes time and repetition to make sure it becomes a habit rather than a short-term resolution.