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By Missy England
March 29, 2017
It's typical to pursue quality by tracking benchmarks or quality indicators. But the ultimate goal for any quality program is customer satisfaction. Quality measured by the customer is the only measurement that serves to differentiate your business from the next. Therefore, in order for your quality program to set you apart from the competition, you have to make sure quality throughout the project is catered to the customer.
Marketing construction services are complex. Projects typically involve large amounts of money, and take a long time to complete. When you are selling to another business, the return on investment is generally more important. There are more people involved in making decisions and projects are more complex.
There is also a multilevel aspect to the relationship between contractor and client that complicates marketing and final delivery. There are many different parties that operate independently and who collaborate with each other on delivering the required project outcomes. Since construction is a relationship based industry, it makes sense to view customer satisfaction as relationship focused rather than transaction focused to yield better quality outcomes. In short, satisfying customer expectations is often the final measurement of quality.
When you look at the work of your competitors do you see a big difference in the quality they deliver compared to the quality you deliver? For many contractors, the answer is no. That's because quality indicators are standardized. Specifications of standards, materials manufacturers, and building code authorities are included in contract documents. Your project’s drywall finish quality must meet the same quality specifications as your competitor’s. So where is the opportunity for you to differentiate the quality that you deliver, without exceeding the specifications, and ultimately your budget?
When it comes down to it, the best way you can differentiate your business using quality is by exceeding customer expectations. To do that, you’ll need to begin with a very good understanding of what the customer expects. Long before you outline your quality control plan and start measuring the quality delivered on activities and tasks, you should be focusing not only on what the quality measurements mean to your customer, but also how they expect them to be delivered.
That's a tall order given that the customer is often working with you through an architect who manages the design intent for the project. In many ways, you are depending on the architect to pass customer expectations on to you. But it isn't uncommon for those expectations to not get passed to you at all, or get passed on to you without reflecting the customer’s true expectations.
You can see the desires of customer quality expectations in the contract documents. But to get a good view of what the customer expects, you need to spend as much time with them as possible. And if there is a design person or people in the project between you and the customer, it is important that everyone spends time looking at the design documents and the contract documents and discuss the customer’s expectations.
The specifications from standards, material manufacturers, and building codes are often unimportant to the customer. They are probably never going to see the concrete slab again once the flooring is installed. And, the studs in the walls will simply be a vague memory of the skeleton that existed before the finish was applied. So, the customer’s perceptions of how well you met their quality expectations largely depends on the quality that’s evident to them in the final touches including:
Another important way you can differentiate your business is by exceeding customer quality expectations with your business processes. Because construction is a relationship-based activity, the quality of communication and collaboration are very important. When you empower your technicians in the service aspects of your business, you simplify the customer’s role and set another quality standard.
When you answer your customer’s questions accurately and promptly, you’re setting a quality standard. When you immediately address customer concerns without passing the buck, you’re setting yet another quality standard. Each of those standards tell your customer how you view and value quality. When you are also transparent, accommodating, and easy to work with, your customer feels more comfortable in the business relationship. They will also feel more comfortable referring you to others.
Quality as your differentiator then, is about far more than simply delivering on the specifications. It comes from the root of everything related to the project. From the bidding cycle on, there are multiple ways that you can make meeting customer expectations your quality differentiator. What it takes is a continual effort to see the project through the eyes of the customer, and then following through with a customer-centric quality plan.
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