March 25, 2004

Six ways to keep your customers happy

  • Residential contractors wrestle the industry's bad reputation
    By Contractors, For Contractors

    How a customer sees the project.

    Images courtesy of By Contractors, For Contractors
    How the contractor sees the project.

    We have all seen the new reality TV shows where a simple cottage is transformed into a castle within a week and the homeowner is very happy with the contractor.

    However, the reality is quite different as demonstrated by these sobering statistics:

    • Contractors top the list of consumer complaints. Home repair has been the No. 2 complaint for the past several years, according to an annual survey of consumer protection agencies.

    • According to the Better Business Bureau, home improvement and remodeling companies lead all consumer inquiries regarding local businesses. And more than 12 percent of all complaints are about home improvement and remodeling contractors, more than all non-automobile service firms combined.

    • 80 percent of homeowners are not totally satisfied with the home improvement they had done. “If you were to canvas a thousand people who have had home improvement done, you might find 20 percent who were totally satisfied with the job, 30 percent who were semi-satisfied, and 50 percent who were completely dissatisfied,” according to Walt Stoeppelwerth.

    Every day, thousands of homeowners and small businesses hire a contractor to remodel, renovate, restore, repair or build new. Each expects their project to be completed on time, on budget and to their satisfaction. Most are disappointed.

    What can a contractor do, if anything, to assure their customers are satisfied?

    Most projects go bad because the contractor and/or their customer makes one or more of the following mistakes:

    • Not having a clear understanding of the project.

    • Not hiring the right contractor for the project.

    • Not having a clearly stated agreement.

    • Not keeping the project on schedule.

    • Not establishing when and how payments will be made.

    Therefore, a wise contractor will do the following six things to assure their customers are happy with the project and will not only use them again, but refer them to their associates.

    1. Know exactly what your customer wants. Many projects go bad because the customer sees the project differently than the contractor.

    2. Build trust and assure the customer you are the right contractor for the project. Fortunately, most contractors are honest and good at their trade. Demonstrate your honesty and skill at your first meeting by providing copies of your contractor's license, general liability insurance, completion bond, etc. Also have a list of references and pictures of projects similar to theirs, or give them a Web site address where they can access this information.

    3. Insist that your customers understand the contract. Insisting on a clear contract isn't about mistrust; it's about insuring a successful project. Most of the details can be defined, agreed upon and priced. However, there can be “demons in the walls.” Try to anticipate problems and inconveniences and come to an agreement on how they will be handled before work begins.

    4. Explain lien laws and consumer rights. Before starting a project, provide your customer a disclaimer statement advising them of the state's lien law and consumer rights. Explain what you will do to protect their project from liens.

    5. Keep your project on time and on budget. Give your customer a task list and flow chart (Gantt Chart). Remodeling jobs particularly disrupt a family's daily routine. They will appreciate knowing you have a schedule and will be tolerant of the disruption and mess. They will also be more willing to agree to change orders due to “demons in the walls.”

    6. Establish how you are to be paid. Along with agreeing on the dollar amount to be paid for the project, you and your customer will want to set up a payment schedule that is fair to both of you. How much should be paid up front? When and how much should each payment be?

    There are good contractors, mediocre contractors and poor contractors. You can establish your reputation as a good contractor by applying these six rules of success. Wouldn't you rather receive a “thank you” card than a court summons?

    For more information, visit and

    Garry Stutz is owner of By Contractors, For Contractors, which was established in 1980. The firm provides computer services, contractor referral services, contractor training and consumer education. Stutz is the author of The Official Consumer Guide for Hiring a Contractor.

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