Four Strategies for On-Boarding New Construction Clients

A deliberate effort to make a new customer feel welcomed, appreciated and valued can lead to more work for you and your company

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In an earlier series of articles we focused on employee retention. One of the critical components of this significant issue for contractors was a technique I discussed called “on-boarding.” Essentially, this is a process for making the new worker feel welcomed, accepted and integrated into the work area during the early days and weeks of their employment.

The Importance of On-boarding for Construction Worker Retention

This same philosophy about making the new worker feel welcomed and appreciated can be leveraged to “on-boarding” new clients. Why?

Because this deliberate effort to make a new customer feel welcomed, appreciated and valued can lead to more work for you and your company.

The “why?” just addressed is simple but it is accurate in its consequences. Our clients will certainly do less work with us if they are not made to feel accepted, appreciated and valued.

Therefore, how can we more effectively on-board our clients?

There is a touch of customer service involved in this effort, but let’s consider a few other strategies to employ and then we’ll look at a few practical techniques to make the on-boarding experience the best that it can be.

Strategies to on-board new clients

1. Senior leaders/owner to be “Greeter” early in on-boarding. While the company’s salesperson or estimator may secure the initial contact that leads to a sale, the contractor or a senior leader should be fast to welcome the client to your family of customers. This personal touch often bolsters the client to see how everyone is involved with his or her future construction experience.

2. Educate those individuals responsible for client building. Every individual (superintendents, foremen, project managers, scheduler, etc.) should all receive some level of training on how to interact with the client.

3. Develop the on-boarding “Welcome” package. The “package” should be one that says “thank you” and include reassurance from your players as to their commitment to seeing that everything you say your company will do…they will do!

4. Business development/marketing strategy to maintain client. Incredibly important for any contractor is to line out a “Customer for Life” strategy that schedules future points of contact to remind, refocus and reaffirm the customers on your company’s clear interest to keep them close.

So, the four strategies presented above address four important areas for your company to embrace. First, the ownership and senior leadership team need to be actively involved in client on-boarding. Second, education should be tailored and presented to everyone that will touch the client — whether face-to-face, by phone, by “snail mail” or by e-mail.

Third, a regular refreshing assortment of welcome letters, gifts, company logo hats, etc., should be completed periodically. Remember, setting the first best impression can make that first impression that wins you business for life. Fourth, to sustain the focus and commitment to new client on-boarding there should be a more formal plan that lines out how your organization approaches new clients and builds long-term relationships.

Now, don’t overlook the previous four strategic “initiatives” for new client on-boarding. If you do not have a commitment to the strategies then the tactical things performed, even if they are outstanding, will slowly burn out.  

If you question this then look at how far your company lived the strategic initiatives or goals created in the past year. How many are you still excited about, talking about at meetings, and measuring and monitoring?

On-boarding techniques

Now let’s look at a few hands-on techniques that you can integrate into your current efforts to win a client for life.

  • Present a company “Welcome Basket” that could include some company hats, shirts, pens, and perhaps an assortment of candy, chips/salsa, bags of coffee, coupons for movies, etc. Actually, the basket contents do not have to be great in quantity, but the quality of thoughtfulness here can go a very long way in the mind of the client. Besides, many new clients will give away much of the stuff you place in the basket.
  • Invite a new client to your office to meet your team. Many contractors have nice offices and nice staff. Introduce your new clients to the rest of the folks who quietly support their construction needs but who rarely receive much of the credit. Just like it is important to introduce a new employee to other company folks, so too will your new client benefit from meeting the other company people involved in meeting their construction needs.
  • Sign the new client up for a regular update from your organization. This might include a company newsletter, blog, etc., but it should reflect what other projects your company is working on that demonstrate that your business is strong and moving to meet the needs of other customers.
  • Provide a copy of the schedule that your workers plan on executing. Some contractors will find this technique a little iffy, not wanting to commit to a particular time. However, lower the bar and perhaps push an end date out just a little farther than you may really believe it to be — and then finish earlier. Lowering the customer’s expectations in order to impress them with an earlier-than-projected finish is always good business strategy. If you can do this…do it with gusto!
  • Schedule regular site tours. Depending on the length of time of the project, encourage new clients to join you on a site tour so that they can see for themselves how their project is progressing. Not only does this show confidence in your workers’ craftsmanship, it actually raises the performance effort and quality because your workers know they will be observed by both you and the new client.
  • Take pictures and post on your site for your new client to access. Perhaps create a presence on your company website that can be accessed by password that your clients can access to see their project at progressive stages of completion. This is just another effort to enhance your overall communication effort to be clear, consistent and available.
  • Conduct “Clients Speak Out” conferences. This is really just a slight variation of the old “Lunch and Learns” that many contractors have conducted for years. In this version, however, it is an opportunity to bring several of your more recent new clients together and mix and match them with longer-termed clients who are still in love with your company and who can cast a great shadow for you with the new clients. Have a few of your operations people attend also, not just your business development folks.
  • Invite new clients to educational workshops that might include teaching your staff on important equipment, tools, software, etc., that might be used on the client’s project. Think I’m crazy? Try it. At a recent meeting I facilitated, the contractor invited a few clients to come and observe how a new laser screed could improve the crew’s effectiveness and efficiency. One customer actually asked to get up on the equipment and learn its operation. The contractor who arranged this is still smiling!
  • Create a 12-Month Client Strategy. Researching this article I was reminded of a few studies over the years that continue to humble me about the number of times companies should be “touching” their customers. You’ll find studies that suggest as few as five to seven times per year and as many as 20 to 25 points of contact. My experience has taught me to lean more to the five to seven touches, but the more important effort is to create valid and client retention reasons for the points of contact. This effort might include the forwarding of articles, news about the customer’s own industry, new developments in your company, changes in the local economy, or just information about hobbies or interests of the new client. It’s just important that you keep both your good name and their interests before them throughout the year.
  • Create three to five company human points of contact. This is very important to sustain the new client for the long term. Unfortunately, I’ve experienced a contractor’s lead field project manager who left the company and started his own company, taking the client with them. While this is always a possibility, contractors cannot be shy about addressing this issue. How? Bring more of the players, including the owners and more than one senior leader, and involve them in many of the touches presented above. It is important that the contractor present a team image to any new client, not allowing that new client to feel like there is only one individual who is interested in them.

On-boarding new clients is your strategy to maintaining new clients for as long as the relationship can possibly exist. Sure it’s about gaining repeat business. Duh! But as owners we also know that the costs associated with maintaining an existing customer can be considerably less than what it costs chasing new clients.

You might have to change your focus and strategy a little to pull off what is provided in this article, but don’t be shy or slow about doing so ASAP. I believe that new clients are often very prepared and hoping for that contractor who will give them the perfect excuse never to consider another contractor!

Oh, go on…go “on-board” a new client already!