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Customer Service

The Business of Subcontractors

When it comes down to it, the primary business of subcontractors is service. Subcontractors are retained to provide services and products to prime contractors, owners or other subcontractors. In the monopsonistic (i.e., one buyer, many sellers) environment of the construction industry, companies hiring subcontractors can afford to be choosey. Some still chose subcontractors strictly on the low bid principle. Other prime contractors prequalify subcontractors on characteristics such as safety records or history of working relationships. When there are many qualified companies vying for work, a company’s reputation for excellence in customer service can make it stand out in a crowd. Here are some tips to improve customer service in your organization:

Emphasize the importance of customer service to all employees. Field workers, supervisors, office employees and managers must be aware that they represent the company at all times. Even the simplest situation, such as answering a phone, presents an opportunity to prove a company’s commitment to customer service.

Create a culture that fosters customer service. Managers should lead by example. Commitment must come from the top of the organization so that employees see its importance.

Never assume that your employees understand what excellent customer service is, how to provide it, and why it is important. Through formal or informal training, subcontractors should show employees how to represent the organization. Showing your employees how customer service affects the profits of the organization and overall health of the organization will provide them with incentive to improve customer service.

Give employees the power to provide customer service. Allowing employees to act independently in this arena is difficult for some managers. Management needs to give employees the authority to resolve customer complaints. Customers don’t want to hear, “Only my boss can approve that and he’s not around.”

Reward your employees for providing excellent customer service. An incentive program can enhance your employees’ customer service effectiveness.

Foster a customer culture that includes loyalty and commitment. Satisfied employees are motivated to provide top quality customer service. Unhappy employees typically take out their frustrations on others, including customers.

Develop a “can do” attitude. If your customers only hear “that can’t be done” from you and your employees, customers soon will turn to other subcontractors who can find a way to get it done.

Analyze your business practices and processes to make sure they respond not just to your needs, but to your customers’ needs. For example, does your invoice provide all of the information your customer needs to process it?

Maintain open communication with customers. Stay close to the customer and show empathy for his or her needs. It is hard to make sure the customer is getting what it wants if you do not know what it wants.

Respond quickly to all complaints. Remember, if you don’t think something is a problem and your customer does, it’s a problem. Be careful, however, not to “over promise.” It is always better to under-promise and over-deliver than the other way around. Even if the customer is always right, sometimes you cannot fix a problem immediately. Let the customer know what you are doing to resolve the problem and how long it will take. Work with the customer to come up with a win-win solution. Keep the customer posted on your progress. If the customer knows you are doing all that you can, it is less likely to be an upsetting experience.

Pay attention to the details. Very often it’s the little things that impress customers.

Treat customers with courtesy and respect. People like to work with people they know and trust. If you build a strong relationship with certain prime contractors, they are likely to provide repeat business. Of course, it is rather difficult to go out of your way to be polite and respectful to someone who is five months late in paying you. For its own protection, a subcontractor should set the limits as to how far it should go to promote customer service. These limits should be well-communicated to employees so they understand where the line will be drawn.

Educate your customers on how well you are doing and how effectively you can respond to their needs. Brag about your customer service performance.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: E. Colette Nelson is chief advocacy officer for the American Subcontractors Association.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Reprinted with permission from the American Subcontractors Association, asaonline.com.

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