“The key is to set realistic customer expectations, and then not to just meet them, but to exceed them – preferably in unexpected and helpful ways.” – Richard Branson
When asked how things are going in our industry, the most frequent answer is typically: “It’s busy.” Quite the understatement, really. We’ve studied the forecasts, read the reports and braced ourselves for the deluge of awarded projects to commence – all while trying to manage the challenges of labor shortage and the unrelenting opposition of Mother Nature. But even more daunting than those challenges are the demands of the client’s expectations.
Although these challenges encompass the entire industry, the customers’ demands have not lessened. Anyone attempting to pacify a facility manager by using “it’s busy” as an excuse for any project delays can attest to how little patience there is for the plight of the contractor. So, how, in this climate of extreme busyness, are we to properly manage our reality with that of the customer? In the end, there will be only so much that scheduling, manpower and weather permit. Thankfully, there are measures we as project managers, estimators and business development professionals can take to effectively “hold the customer’s hand.”
“The first step in exceeding your customer’s expectations is to know those expectations.” – Roy H. Williams
Set Realistic Expectations
The only way that expectations can be managed, met or exceeded is if they are realistic to begin with. If a customer is expecting something unrealistic, be transparent about the actuality of the situation. From the start, the client should be clear on what to expect; and, conversely, we must be clear on our own deliverables. What we promise and what we execute greatly impacts our credibility.
Walk in the Customer’s Steel-toes
From our standpoint, it can be extremely frustrating to maneuver through the sales and scheduling process when the customer’s timeline was yesterday. Why didn’t the customer pull the trigger on the project earlier – before the backlog blew up? Don’t they realize that we have other customers that planned in advance, got on the schedule and have priority? Do they not understand that there is absolutely nothing we can do to control the weather, and that most projects can only be carried out in certain conditions?
The truth is, they are not thinking about any of that. More than likely, the client is simply focusing on how to get their job done. They are also doing so under circumstances that we have no idea about. The project may have taken a back seat to other, more pressing issues – but once approved, movement must be immediate. If there are delays or problems with a project, the facility manager will be hearing about it from all fronts, and not in the nicest of ways. Explaining their contractor’s backlog, scheduling issues and weather challenges is not going to fly with the client’s board members, residents or those working under their respective roofs.
When things aren’t going perfectly or are leaning more on the stressful side, we tend to go quiet. In this boom, the very last thing we should be doing is under communicating. We should be going over and above with regular communication to stay on top of expectations and manage relationships. If plans change, we should be upfront. We need to take the time to educate the client about the process, keep them informed and check in with the right amount of frequency. When it comes to managing the expectations of the client, there is no such thing as over communicating.
June 24, 2019