The construction market is a cyclical, and often fickle, business. When construction activity is hot, everyone wants a piece of the action. You see numerous "fly by nights" emerge who are willing to provide their services for next to nothing (which is usually what they're worth), cutting into legitimate contractors' business. And while these lowball players typically disappear as the market starts to dip, competition for the business that's left becomes even more fierce between established firms. Often, it develops into a low-bid price war in which no one really comes out the winner.
But it doesn't necessarily have to be this way. Although you can't always escape the low-bid scenario, many contractors have been able to develop such a strong reputation for quality, service and expertise that customers are willing to pay their price. This is an enviable position to be in.
So how can you get to this point with your business? Obviously, it doesn't happen overnight. But there are steps you can take to position yourself as one of those contractors customers actively seek out when it comes time to contract a project.
Obviously, the first step is to ensure you provide exceptional service to your customers, whether that customer is the project owner, the construction manager, general contractor, etc. This requires delivering a quality end product on time and within budget.
Yet, there's more to quality service than the end result. For example, a few years ago, we built a new home that required some minor repairs to the stucco finish on a couple of walls. The subcontractor who was brought in did excellent work and we were pleased with the results. However, he repeatedly failed to show up when scheduled, and didn't return our phone calls. So while the quality was there, the service was not.
Quality customer service also means knowing what your customer truly wants. This requires frequent communication, not only to determine the requirements for the job, but also to reassure the customer that you are working to understand and meet their needs. This will help to build trust, and may even reduce the likelihood of significant changes or rework as the project progresses.
It's also crucial to convey the importance of quality service to your employees. Every individual within your firm — from the receptionist to the CEO — is an "ambassador" for your business. If a customer calls in needing information or making a request, your employees should be trained in how to respond in a timely and courteous manner. While the old adage "the customer is always right" is not true in every case, the customer should always be treated right.
Just as it takes time to generate a reputation for quality service, it takes time for that reputation to spread. However, you can help move things forward through your promotion efforts. This includes showcasing successful project completions and testimonials on your company web site or in your newsletter, advertisements, direct mail campaigns, etc. You can also work with industry and/or local media to generate positive publicity.
The point is don't be afraid to toot your own horn and let people know how hard you are willing to work to earn — and keep — their business.