The Importance of Customer Communication

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If you’re one of those really lucky shop owners who finally has it all together, one of those guys or gals whose shop runs like a well-oiled machine whether you’re there or not, I’ve got the perfect solution to the lack of stress you must be suffering.

You need to remodel or renovate something. 

That’s right. Invite a contractor into your life and I can almost guarantee you all the stress, damage control and crisis management you can handle. You’ll either learn a great deal about patience and self-control, or you will come to understand what can turn an otherwise normal human being into a homicidal maniac. There are exceptions, of course, opportunities to deepen your understanding of what delivering world-class service is all about. And it provides a look into the mind (yours) of someone anxious and afraid of how things might turn out. 

We just ran that gauntlet for the second time with the same contractor. And the experience, while incredibly stressful, was priceless because it demonstrated just how easy it is for an individual or a business to go from hero to zero, from the penthouse to the outhouse.

About six years ago, my wife decided to remodel our kitchen. Interestingly enough, the first experience was unbelievably positive, so much so that I wrote about it. My wife contacted a contractor highly recommended by a number of her colleagues at work. He sat down with us to be sure he understood what “we” were trying to accomplish (i.e., what my wife’s wants, needs and expectations were). Then he suggested ways to make it better and more efficient. We went over every detail and when we were through, the contractor created a very clear image of what he would do, what it would cost and how long it would take.

He delivered the project early and under budget. But, that wasn’t what impressed me the most. What impressed me most was how brilliantly he managed expectations throughout the project—how well, how clearly and how often the company communicated with us. 

My wife received a phone call from the project coordinator every morning going over what had been completed the day before and what was planned for that day. Ostensibly, the call was to ensure my wife was “absolutely delighted” with the work that had just been completed, to validate that everything was perfect and there were no problems. But it also set up reasonable expectations for that day and the next few days to follow.

The company’s commitment to communicate during the project was so impressive I began to use it at the shop.

We also recommended this contractor to a number of our friends and were thrilled when their projects went every bit as well.

Needless to say, when it was time to remodel our master bathroom, we didn’t hesitate to call the same company. Someone came out just as before. They listened and measured and so on. But as good as the experience had been five years earlier, that’s how bad the experience was this time. 

That isn’t to say their work was anything less than stellar. It was first quality in every aspect of the job. But, no one ever called. 

People just showed up, or didn’t. Or, everyone showed up on the wrong day tripping all over each other. Fixtures that should have been ordered weren’t. Supplies that were supposed to be on site at a specific time weren’t. Because of the sequential nature of projects like this, deadline after deadline was missed.

It could have been worse. The quality of the work could have been substandard. But, it wasn’t. However, the soft, warm, fuzzy, customer interaction stuff was a disaster. And, if you paid attention, throughout the entire project there was lesson after lesson of what not to do if you wanted to grow or sustain a service business. 

I believe remodeling a kitchen or a bathroom isn’t all that different from doing a timing belt, changing a steering gear or replacing a clutch. These are complicated tasks requiring a high level of skill and ability and they are expensive. They are sequential, which means they require cooperation and coordination on a number of different levels. And, all too often, they are performed for a client who has no idea what it is that is being done or how incredibly complex it might be! 

In the end, we sat down with the contractor and shared our disappointment and frustration with him. We explained how perfect our first interaction had been and how abysmal this second one was. We told him what he had done right the first time and what had gone wrong the second. And, what a difference a couple of quick phone calls or text messages could have made. 

I told him that before he undertook his next project he ought to sit down with his people to go over his policies and procedures, especially those focused on communicating with his customers. And, I thanked him for the opportunity to use his company as an example for the second time.


Mitch Schneider is a fourth-generation auto repair professional and the owner of Schneider’s Auto Repair in Simi Valley, Calif. He is an industry educator, author, seminar facilitator, and blogger at mitchschneidersworld.com. Contact him at mschneider@ratchetandwrench.com.

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