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By Duane Craig
August 7, 2016
Customer satisfaction is one of the most important aspects of any organization. Customers expect high quality, and nothing less. High quality ensures higher customer satisfaction and a greater chance of continued partnership. If customers aren’t satisfied, they will not return to you for business and will most likely voice their dissatisfaction to others and ruin your reputation within the industry.
When it comes to quality, perceptions count. Clients often have preconceived expectations of how the finished portions of projects should look. These expectations are often not informed by contract documents.
Therefore, when a contractor finishes a portion of the project according to the plans, the owner might not see the finished work as meeting their idea of quality. It is a simple thing to point at the construction documents as evidence of meeting the quality mark. However, if you don’t meet the customer’s perception of what constitutes quality, lingering dissatisfaction will remain.
There is also a problem that arises when quality is ambiguous or is difficult to evaluate. In this case, expectations play a bigger role in determining client satisfaction.
Customers form their perceptions of quality from interactions they have with the contractor and the contractor’s subcontractors and employees. Every time an owner interacts with someone on the jobsite, they are forming opinions about quality. The sum total of all of interactions influence their level of final satisfaction with the project’s overall quality.
Here are four main areas where customers tend to form their perceptions of quality:
Quality of site supervision, subcontractors, and personnel––mainly, the owner’s experiences interacting with them
How the contractor addresses the environment and safety on the jobsite
How well the contractor meets the quality standards and the quality of the handover
The perceived quality of a finished project has a lot to do with how the customer chose the contractor. The customer will have expectations about construction quality based on past or direct experiences with the particular contractor and with other contractors. Customer expectations also get formed based on word-of-mouth about the contractor, the customer’s personal needs, how the contractor markets himself, the contractor’s overall image, and even the customer’s investment in the project.
At every step of the contractor-owner relationship, there are quality judgments being made. A wise contractor views quality as a business objective rather than just a series of project objectives.
There is a big difference in customer loyalty between customers who feel satisfied and those who feel overly satisfied. Customers who are only marginally satisfied are highly likely to look for a different contractor when they have future work. They are also more likely to either not recommend you, or to talk negatively about you to others.
Client satisfaction seemed to drop off near the end of the project. This had to do with how well contractors handled quality assurance and handover, how good the handover material was, the quality of the maintenance manual, and how well the contractor handled defects and deficiencies during the handover inspection. The implication is that customer satisfaction issues arising at the end of projects come about because project participants didn’t plan or design the final stages of the project very well. The element of surprise near the end of a project can also quickly lower the owner’s perception of quality. This happens when contractors don’t keep owners well-informed about project completion time and the final budget. Lots of change orders right at the end of the project can be particularly troublesome. These surprises can overshadow all of the excellent quality performance from earlier in the project.
Poor communication is at the heart of many quality issues. Many contractors don't inform owners of issues in a timely fashion. Optimism is the main culprit. Contractors often hope for the best and skirt around talking about project negatives thinking that things will change for the better, even when those assumptions aren't realistic. When this happens, the contractor is opting for short-term customer satisfaction over long term satisfaction at project turnover and beyond.
The very first step in achieving quality outcomes on any project is having a firm grasp of what constitutes the required quality. Whenever quality specifications aren't clear or aren't specific enough, addressing them early on in the project is crucial. It's also important to help the owner understand what the various quality requirements are so that they are viewing quality from the quality specifications, rather than from perceptions.
Quality is a major factor in customer satisfaction, and not one that is determined by simple metrics. It is the sum total of many variables and can be affected by personal perceptions. Making your pursuit of quality a company wide activity helps convince customers that you are delivering the quality they expect.
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