We recently had some improvements made to our house, and after going through the experience, there were some things I noticed about the process that I thought could be improved. I shared my observations via letter with the president of the company, but I’d like to share them publicly, too.
To be clear, I won’t share the name of the company we used for these home improvements, for their own sake, but I am happy with their work — I would use them again, and would recommend them to friends or family who were looking for similar work to be done.
However, there were two main areas where I thought they could improve:
- Communication — We received more consistent and more informative communications from this company when we were still a prospect than after we became an actual customer. That’s not the right balance.
- Decision-Making — When there was a problem with our order, the lines of communication and decision-making between the company employees and subcontractors was unclear, so my wife and I felt pressured to make a decision that shouldn’t have been ours to make. That’s unfair to the customer.
Let me provide the story here, and I’ll make observations as I go, and then summarize at the end.
My wife and I had been discussing, off and on, the idea of making some improvements to our house. So one day in early October 2016, we were pleasantly surprised to return home and find some men from a company we had been researching who were canvassing our neighborhood, providing basic information and setting up appointments. We talked with them and set up an appointment for a salesperson to come to our house.
I was impressed with their pre-sales process automation:
- October 13 — We received an Appointment Confirmation email. It was well designed, branded for the company (including a photo of the company president), and contained helpful information.
- October 14 — We received a second Appointment Confirmation email. This email was a plain text message, but it was still helpful in reminding us of our pending appointment.
- October 15 — The day of our actual appointment, we received another plain text email, but it provided our salesperson’s name. This is marketing genius — whenever a customer or potential customer invites your company and your employee into their home, put the customer at ease by identifying your employee by name before they arrive. Include a photo, if you can.
- Throughout this time period, we also received a few text messages that helped keep us informed of when exactly our salesperson would arrive.
On Saturday, October 15, the salesperson arrived at our house for the sales appointment. He was immediately likable, which at least for many people, also makes him immediately trustworthy. He was very professional in touring our home, making notes of what work we wanted done, and explaining the process to us. He explained the different options that were available, and how they may or may not benefit us as a family. He provided lots of good information, and gave us a good, no-pressure quote. We were pleased with the price he gave us, and had no issue with immediately becoming a customer.
At this point, I was impressed with this company. They had a good lead generation system, they followed up on leads in a timely manner with a defined process that was obviously automated, and their salesperson was top notch. The danger here was that they had set high expectations from me as a customer regarding their communications ability, and the quality of their employees.
(There was one issue I had at this point — I was surprised that their sales process was still paper based. The salesperson had an iPad, but used it only to show us some marketing material. He didn’t use it to record the measurements, develop the price, or complete the sale. In an industry that relies on accurate measurements and communication of those measurements, why not develop a mobile app that simplifies the process for your salesperson and for the customer? This discussion will have to be a separate post.)
Our measuring appointment was set for Thursday, October 20 at 10:00 AM. We were pleased that the measuring appointment was set so soon after our sales appointment. This was the appointment when a different representative from the company would come out to double check the measurements made by the salesperson, and verify that all of the information was correct.
For this appointment, we received only one email before the appointment — we received it the day before, on Wednesday, October 19, but it didn’t provide the name of the person who would be coming to the appointment. This seemed strange to me, that they could provide the name of the salesperson when we were not a customer, but now they could not provide the name of the person who would be coming to perform the final measurement.
To be honest, I couldn’t tell you the name of the person who came to measure our windows — not because I didn’t receive it in an email, but because he was completely unremarkable. I don’t expect everyone to be as likable and charismatic as our salesperson was, but I did expect the person who was coming to this appointment to be highly trained and knowledgeable. If anything, I expected him to know even more about the work we were having done. However, I remember having the distinct feeling that he wasn’t as informed or as fully trained as he should have been. I have confirmed with my wife that she had the same impression. This would be verified later in the process.
That email we received on October 19 was the last email we received from the company. Again, it seemed strange to me that now that we had agreed to have the work done, and were paying several thousand dollars for the work, we were receiving less information than we had received when we were simply a prospect. This is completely backwards.
We knew that the process would take a while after the measuring appointment — supplies had to be ordered, and parts had to be custom made for our home, and then of course we would need to schedule the time when the actual work would take place. However, we received no information during this time period. To me, this is a key time to maintain communication with your customer — keep them up to date on the status of their order. Reassure them that actual work is taking place on their behalf. This is where a relatively simple communication process and/or automation could go a long way.
Here are some examples of information that I as a customer would find extremely helpful during this time period, reinforcing the soundness of my decision to hire this company to work on my home.
Let the customer know:
- When the measurements have been received and confirmed
- Who has been assigned to oversee the order or project, and provide contact information
- When the materials have been ordered
- When the materials have been received by your company
- When the project manager will be contacting me to schedule installation
- Who will be coming to my home to complete the work
We received none of this information. We had placed our order on October 15, so when it came to December 1 and I still had heard nothing, I called the company. I finally was able to speak with an employee who confirmed that the materials had been delivered to them the day before (on November 30), and that “someone else” would be contacting me to schedule the installation. If a good communication process had been defined and implemented, I would have received that information via email, saving me the phone call, and saving the company the time that a representative spent on the phone.
After a week went by with no further communication from the company, I texted the salesperson, whom we had not spoken with since mid-October. He responded immediately, and later that day, another employee called to schedule the work on our home for Tuesday, December 20 and Wednesday, December 21.
Once again, we received no further communication from the company until Monday, December 19 — the day before work was scheduled to begin — to state that our installation would need to be pushed back a day, to Wednesday, December 21 and Thursday, December 22, because the installers were delayed at their current project.
This was a major inconvenience, as we then had to shift other things in our schedule to accommodate the work that would be done on our home. I was also frustrated by the lack of information — I didn’t know who to expect at our home (Are they employees or contractors? What are their names? How many will there be?), or what to expect when they arrived (Is there prep work we need to do? What will they do when they arrive?).
The morning of Wednesday, December 21, I received a phone call from a company employee who identified herself as our project manager. I was grateful for the call, but was surprised that this was the first time I had heard from her. As our project manager, I would have expected some communication from her much earlier in the process.
She confirmed that the installation crew would be arriving that morning between 9:00 and 10:00 AM, and provided the crew leader’s name. The installation crew arrived on time, their vehicle and trailer looked clean and professional, the installers looked cleaned and professional, and one crew member was even wearing a sweatshirt with the company’s logo on it, which I thought was reassuring.
But the crew leader introduced himself by a different name. It’s a minor thing, but it threw me off a little bit. I asked him about it, and he answered, “Oh, my first name is [the name the project manager gave me], but I go by [the name he gave me].” If that’s the name that the crew leader goes by and likes to be called, then that’s how the company needs to introduce him.
From the beginning, the installation seemed to go off-track. The crew leader began his walk around of our house, and noted that the measurements for one of the rooms — the room that represented just over half of the entire project — were wrong, and so the materials he had were the wrong size. This was not reassuring. Even worse for me, he didn’t seem to know what would or could be done about it — he needed to call his manager.
In the meantime, the rest of his crew started work on another room in our house. I didn’t know what to expect, and was surprised by how much demolition was involved to prepare for the new work and materials. Because we had received very little communication after we placed our order, and because the installers provided no information when they arrived, I struggled to envision what the finished product would look like, and my confidence level was low because of the wrong measurements in the other room.
When you are a contractor, you are accustomed to the work you do and what is involved. Do not assume that the customer has the same experience or knowledge that you do. Take a few minutes before you start work to explain the process of what will happen and what the customer can expect. This is their home, after all.
While the installers started working, I called our project manager to see what she could do to help. She didn’t know yet about the wrong measurements, and said she would have to call the installation manager for more information.
This is one area where I really became frustrated that day. In this type of work, I can’t imagine that this is the first time they’ve encountered this scenario where some information was wrong, or something would need to be fixed. I expected them to have a clear process of how to resolve the problem and communicate that resolution to me as the homeowner. I obviously expected wrong.
The crew finished the first part of the project, and I was very pleased with their work. They did good quality work with high quality materials, and everything looked nice when they finished.
As they continued working, the unremarkable measurer showed up at our house, apparently to be educated by the installation crew leader regarding his inaccurate measurements. The crew leader explained the problem to him, but the measurer was adamant that the crew leader’s method did not match with how he was trained to measure, and he seemed very self-defensive.
Even worse for me, there was discussion between the two of them of whether or not the installation crew could “make it work” — perhaps my least favorite phrase in home improvement — and both seemed to be looking to me to make a decision regarding whether I wanted to use the materials that had been ordered to “make it work,” or if I wanted to pursue ordering materials that would be the right size.
This seemed like a completely inappropriate expectation of me as the homeowner — I strongly believe that someone from the company should have stepped in to say, “[X] is the right way to do it, so we will make sure that [X] gets done, and here is what we will do to make it happen.”
I called the project manager once again to fill her in on what was happening — notice her lack of proactive communication when she knew there was a problem at our house — and she said she once again would need to contact the installation manager for more information.
Thankfully, in the afternoon, the salesperson stopped by to check on the installation progress. He confirmed that the measurements for the room in question were wrong, and that the right way to handle it would be to order new materials for that room. This meant that there would be a delay in that room, but I was perfectly fine with that — I would much rather have a delay and get the right materials than to try and “make it work.” I cannot begin to express how reassuring it was to finally have someone step in and make the decision on behalf of the company so that everything would be done right.
The installation crew finished the work in the other rooms, and we are very happy with their work and the quality of the materials that they used.
The next morning (Thursday, December 22), I received a phone call from our project manager to confirm that new materials had been ordered for the remaining room in our house, and that she would contact us again once the materials were received and ready for installation. I’m slightly troubled, based on our track record so far, that I have no idea how long we will have to wait for our new materials to be ready. We should be receiving regular updates as to the status of our order.
Takeaways for Improvement
Here are the areas where I think this company could greatly improve:
- The post-sale communication process needs to be as polished (or more polished) than the pre-sale communication process. If the company can put that much effort into communicating with me before I spend a single penny with them, they can put that much effort into communicating with me once I’m a customer who has spent several thousand dollars.
- All team members need adequate training, especially when accuracy is the key component of their job. Sending out a person to perform final measurements when they don’t fully understand how to measure all scenarios is a mistake that only compounds itself once the installation work begins.
- A clear line of communication and decision making needs to be established, documented, and understood by all members of the team, including employees and contractors. The customer should never feel like they’re being asked to make a decision about a mistake your company has made — your company policy should be clear about how to make it right, and what that means for the customer.
Remember, each employee or contractor is representing your company, and providing the customer with an experience that is either positive or negative. Make sure you’re not overlooking key areas that can lead to your customers having a negative experience.
How did I keep track of these details? Evernote