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Doing What You Promised, on Time

MONDAY, JULY 28, 2014


So many people are urging contractors to refrain from the cliché “on time, on schedule and on budget.” But make no mistake, this advice still stands.

The real question is, “How does a construction company demonstrate a real and higher-order understanding of, and commitment to, a client’s needs—not just lip service?”

The answer lies in proactively managing customer service.

Unsplash / Sam

If your customer service is not steadily going up, it's going down.

Customer service deals with delivering value to the client, to ensure both success on today’s project and winning the next one. This service needs to happen 100 percent of the time.

Ultimately, it is what field, project management and administrative functions are doing to ensure that the clients get everything they have been promised—in both the contract requirements and the procurement process (sales promises).

Service Quality Gaps

Service quality depends on many variables. Employee action (or inaction), uncontrollable events, disgruntled customers and uncertain service delivery all impact whether delivery matches the promise.

When promises do not align with the delivery, a service quality gap exists. Some typical gaps and their causes follow.

Not knowing and/or communicating what clients expect.This can stem from:

  • Failure to understand basic and higher-order needs during the work acquisition phase;
  • Failure to communicate known expectations to all individuals involved in the project;
  • An insufficient relationship focus (making the right “touches”); and
  • Failure to understand the needs of other stakeholders, such as owners, the community, architects and occupants.

Having poor-quality designs and standards. This can be the result of:

  • Poor process/service designs in billing, change orders and project updates;
  • An absence of client-driven standards specific to the project (rather than the “usual” approach); and
  • Lack of physical evidence (appearance of our people, equipment and project site) that matches the desired brand.
Unsplash / Sarah Holmes

The most successful projects are built on thorough understanding of stakeholder expectations.

Not delivering to defined standards can come from:

  • Failing to deliver promised reports and other documentation;
  • Deficiencies in your people through lack of information, education or motivation;
  • A client’s failure to fulfill its role by not providing the information needed to make decisions; and
  • Problems with intermediaries, other trades, consultants, advisors and other stakeholders.

Promises fail to match performance. This can have a variety of causes, including:

  • Simple overpromising, raising client expectations beyond your capacity to deliver;
  • Inadequate internal cross-project communication;
  • Failure to manage ongoing client expectations; and
  • Lack of ongoing client-management satisfaction.

How many of these gaps could have been avoided through a more methodical approach to improved customer service—and, therefore, satisfaction?

Filling the Gaps

So, how does a contractor demonstrate a real commitment to client needs?

The solution begins and ends with the people. The solution seems simple: Instruct employees to be “customer focused” or “put the customers first.”

However, this approach is so vague that it leaves the average employee wondering what those words really mean in practice. What are they supposed to do differently, better, more frequently, not at all, more forcefully, more gently?

5 Dimensions

One successful approach is to break down concepts into manageable portions and then provide tangible examples or “sticky stories” to focus desired behaviors. Here are five dimensions of service quality that can be shared easily and adapted to individual companies.

To build reliability:

  • Provide service as promised;
  • Handle client/project problems dependably;
  • Perform services right the first time;
  • Provide services/information at the promised time; and
  • Maintain error-free records.

To build assurance, employees must:

  • Instill confidence in clients;
  • Be consistently courteous;
  • Have the knowledge to answer client questions, or know where to go for answers; and
  • Handle surprises and crises calmly and confidently.
Unsplash / Sonja Langford

All employees should be trained to respond promptly and decisively to customer needs.

To strengthen tangibles, the company and employees must maintain:

  • The quality, safety and appearance of equipment;
  • Visually appealing facilities;
  • A professional appearance; and
  • A good jobsite and field office.

To develop client empathy:

  • Give clients individual attention;
  • Manage client issues in a caring fashion;
  • Have the clients’ best interests at heart;
  • Understand the clients' needs; and
  • Be open and available at all times.

To establish responsiveness:

  • Keep clients informed as to when services will be performed;
  • Provide a decisive and prompt reaction;
  • Be willing to help clients; and
  • Be ready to respond to clients’ requests.

Power of the People

This entire approach rests on the capability and willingness of your people. Ultimately, a service culture is the key to closing service quality gaps.

House painter
©iStock / YinYang

Customer service is everyone's job and should be a natural way of life for the company.

This exists when giving good customer service is a natural way of life for the company and time is spent seeking ways to become ever better in delivering great service.

Exploring how a client is “touched” during the course of the project sets a company on the right track. An easy start is to bring together a cross-section of office and field employees to analyze key touch points in the construction process.

Questions to explore include:

  • Where are the major challenges?
  • What are the most common items to fall through the cracks?
  • What is the impact on the client?
  • What can be done to smooth out or overhaul a step to yield a more positive result?

Customer Charter

Remember those client expectations and how failure to reach them leads to a service quality gap? Well, why not make a big deal of those expectations and ensure they are communicated to all project team members? Posting a “customer charter” at the project site puts those expectations in plain view.

Excellent customer service must be a top priority for everyone in the organization. Actual change, not marketing spin, separates a company from the competition, delivers value and affects the ability to win (or lose) repeat work.

Strive to make service quality a part of the company’s living culture, not just a tag line.

About the Author

Stephen Boughton is a senior consultant with FMI.


With a focus on business development and strategic planning, he works with contracting companies nationwide to help position them competitively in the marketplace. He may be reached at 813.636.1245or via email.



“Building Success” is written by professionals at FMI, the world’s largest provider of management consulting, investment banking, and research for the engineering and construction industry. FMI serves contractors, building materials and equipment producers,architects and engineers,owners and developers,and others across the industry. Author information is available at the bottom of each blog entry.



Tagged categories: Architecture; Construction; Consultants; Engineers; FMI; Good Technical Practice; Business matters

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