Christmas is the time when many people receive gifts. Unfortunately frequently these gifts aren’t what we wanted. There are the numerous multi-coloured ties, pairs of socks and gaudy holiday shirts. Many join the queues at shops after Christmas returning unwanted gifts, gifts that are the wrong size or gifts that don’t work. If you were one of those people what was your experience? Often the person behind the counter is overworked and harassed from dealing with the one hundred previous customers. Did you leave feeling that you had been treated politely and efficiently? Will you be returning to shop there?
Many of us have ordered items through Amazon, eBay and other on-line stores. Sometimes we receive items that are the wrong size – which might be our fault because we ordered the wrong size, maybe we were over optimistic, perhaps we got confused between US, UK and European sizes, or possibly the item is smaller than other manufactures? On occasion the item comes damaged in the post, either the product wasn’t packaged properly or it was faulty when it was dispatched. Then there are the products that don’t live up to the advertising. I’m sure we’ve all tried to send items back. Unfortunately in some cases we have to pay the postage to return the item and it’s simply not worth the cost. Often we get the run around from suppliers which end in lengthy email and telephone discussions which only serve to make us angry, disillusioned and disappointed. Have you given a product a poor on-line review because of poor after service?
From time to time in construction our customers are faced with a similar situation when they receive a product that doesn’t meet their expectations, or a product which isn’t what they ordered or perhaps a product that’s faulty. Are you guilty of delivering a project that has disappointed your customer? Did they receive a project which didn’t meet their expectations or one that gave problems soon after they accepted it? They probably felt a bit like you do when you unpack a parcel only to find it’s not what you wanted, it’s the wrong size or it’s faulty!
Unfortunately even the best contractors have things go wrong on projects and faults develop. It is how these problems are resolved that clients will remember.
Of course we’ve all had customers complaining about problems that have absolutely nothing to do with the construction. Indeed, I can relate countless stories where I’ve saved our company millions of dollars because we explained to the customer the problem wasn’t due to our fault. There was the time that one customer complained the concrete in their crusher was cracking – fortunately I had been told that they had on numerous occasions used explosives to dislodged rocks jammed in the structure – clearly something the structure had not been designed for!
How do you respond to customer complaints?
- Ignore complaints – despite numerous calls and letters from the customer they don’t respond and hope that the customer will eventually give up.
- Say they’ll fix the problem and then forget about the problem or deliberately do nothing to fix the problem.
- Fix the problem poorly – they either don’t fix the problem correctly or they don’t fix the thing that was faulty.
- Fix the problem but in so doing leave a mess or damage something else.
- Play the blame game – they immediately blame the client, the designer, their subcontractors or their suppliers. It’s never their fault. Even though their subcontractors and suppliers who may have been responsible are their responsibility they avoid doing anything about rectifying the problem.
- Fix the problem immediately. Sometimes even when the problem isn’t their fault
- Communicate, analyse, discuss, and rectify the problem ensuring the repair is done well and that the client is happy. This is called ‘after service’!
In most of these cases the client is frustrated by the contractor’s lack of care and action. Frequently they’ll avoid employing the same contractor again. In some cases they’ll lodge a complaint in the media or with the relevant trade organisations and authorities. They will definitely be telling other people about the poor service they received. Ultimately this impacts the contractor’s reputation and will impact future work opportunities.
Even when the original construction was completed well, the disputes that arise from unattended complaints will sour the relationships and leave an unhappy client.
Not attending to the problem immediately may allow the problem to become worse and more damage occurs.
- Be responsive to complaints – get someone to visit the project to ascertain what the complaint is. Preferably a person with knowledge and experience who can provide meaningful and competent feedback and who can investigate possible causes of the problem.
- Communicate with the client – inform the client when someone will visit the project to view the problem.
- Take urgent action if required – in some cases the fault may be causing a hazard, or it might be disrupting the client’s regular activities. Immediate action may have to be taken to make the area safe or to restore normal operations. These actions may involve temporary repairs.
- Investigate the cause of the fault – as I mentioned earlier sometimes the problem isn’t due to a fault of the contractor but could be due to a design fault and if the designer was appointed by the client then the client should refer the fault to the designer. On occasion, the fault is due to the client’s or their contractor’s actions, or are simply normal wear and tear.
- Report back to the client – this involves informing them of how the fault will be repaired and by when. If the problem is not a result of poor workmanship by the contractor, their supplier or their subcontractors then inform the client why it is not the contractor’s fault. Possibly suggest ways the problem could be fixed. Offer to repair the fault at a fair and reasonable cost.
- If it’s possible to claim the repairs from insurers notify them and get their assessor involved.
- If the fault is due to the contractor’s suppliers or subcontractors, communicate with them and organise that they carry out the required repairs. If they are unresponsive inform them in writing that you’ll engage another company to carry out the repairs.
- Inform the client when the repairs will be done, what will be done and how it will happen. In some instances the repairs may have to happen after-hours so as not to unduly disrupt the client’s activities.
- Send a competent team to carry out the repairs. The team must:
- Communicate with the client’s representatives.
- Ensure the work is done safely.
- Not damage any other items.
- Keep the client informed of any problems or obstacles which could delay the repairs.
- Repair the work correctly so that the repair doesn’t become a problem later.
- Ensure that they’ve attended to the root cause of the problem so that the fault doesn’t reoccur.
- Reinstate the area to what it should look.
- Clean up all the mess.
- Notify the client’s representatives that they are leaving
- If you’ve engaged a subcontractor or supplier to carry out the repairs get someone to inspect that the work has been done correctly and that nothing else has been damaged in the process and the project is tidy.
- Check back with the client that they are happy with the repair.
A client who is dealt with in this manner will invariably be happy, even if the contractor has convinced them that the fault isn’t due to the contractor and that the client or their designer or other contractors are responsible for the fault. Client’s often don’t remember the problem, but rather they remember the efficient after service provided by the contractor.
Often contractors damage their reputation because they think that once they’ve finished the project they can walk away and ignore client’s complaints. However, it is also important that the contractor isn’t incurring the cost of repairs for faults that they aren’t responsible for.
Unfortunately in some cases the contractor attends to the repairs badly and their team causes more mess and angst for the client, upsetting the client’s team and members of the public. In some cases the work area isn’t cleaned up properly and the contractor has to respond to the client’s complaints and send the team to finish the job.
In a few cases the client may have unreasonable expectations and it will be difficult to convince them that the work is in accordance with the project’s scope of works and specifications. In these cases it may be necessary to employ a third party industry expert who can report back whether the work in question complies or not.
Are your customers happy? Have they received the project they were expecting?
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This article is adapted from information in the author’s popular books: 'Successful Construction Project Management: The Practical Guide' and 'Building a Successful Construction Company: The Practical Guide'.
'Construction Claims: A Short Guide for Contractors' has just been published. These books are available on Amazon and other online book stores.
Paul publishes articles regularly on LinkedIn and his website.
Paul writes regular articles for other websites, gives lectures, mentors, and is available for podcasts and interviews.
© 2016 This article is not to be reproduced for commercial purposes without written permission from the author.