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Choosing a Building Contractor- Your 30 Point Checklist for a Positive Customer Experience

We put a lot of work into improving our clients’ experience of the design and construction process, and the choice of main contractor is by far the biggest factor in creating an enjoyable and stress free build. Building contractors are great people with incredibly broad skills, but their attitude to customer service is very different to other businesses.

Our best advice to clients is explained in full below:

  • Design Your Own Experience
  • Most Builders Don’t Really Think about Customer Service As  A Process
  • Essentials and Optional Extras
  • Adjust Your Expectations or Increase Your Professional Services Budget
  • Analyse the Builder’s Set-up and Define Service Expectations Early
  • Have Faith in the Building Contract

To bridge this gap, we have developed a checklist of attributes to explain our clients the fit between the contractor’s overall business set-up and the service the client will experience.  

Links to Study the Six Categories

  1. Essentials- intangible qualities of every professional builder
  2. Management of Time and Money
  3. Resources for Customer Service
  4. Resources for Getting the Job Done
  5. Achieving Quality
  6. Set-up and Accreditation

Over the years, we have observed six categories with 30 key attributes of contractors which define the client’s experience of the build. For each of these, we describe a high, medium and low level. Low levels are the lowest merchantable standard at the current time, medium levels are typical of competent contractors and higher levels represent the best service I have seen in practice. It should be noted that the high levels have generally been encountered on expensive, high value projects.    

Design Your Own Experience

Many of these attributes are comprised of physical equipment, well trained staff or management resources which are all expensive to maintain. From an architect’s point of view, it is actually very easy to create a fantastic experience of the construction process by only employing the builders who have invested most time and money in resources for customer service. We don’t do this because it would not always represent good value for our clients.

Such customer- focused construction companies exist; they are wonderful to work with, and I have massive respect for the standards of service they deliver. 

In my experience of administering tender processes, these companies are a lot more expensive and are seldom successful in traditional tender processes where headline cost is usually the deciding factor.

Most Builders Don’t Think about Customer Service

By default, the construction industry operates on a “no frills” model. Contractors are focused only on the many factors which combine to physically create a building, and they don’t include “customer service” tasks in their prices. In other industries with high value transactions it’s normal to provide customers with complex written reports on how money is being spent, regular updates on how work is proceeding and dedicated customer services staff to provide constant reassurance.

If you want these sorts of outputs and services from a builder during construction, you have to list them specially as part of the contract requirements and accept the associated costs.   

Essentials and Optional Extras

There are attributes of contractors such as “honesty and integrity” and “follow through” which are absolutely essential. Main contractors cannot complete projects and build a business without them. 

Adjust Your Expectations or Increase Your Professional Services Budget

Construction is not like other industries; builders usually focus on the end product they have been contracted to deliver and are relatively uninterested in the customer’s experience of the process. This can be incredibly frustrating when you’re used to receiving good customer service for smaller and less risky transactions like buying a car, going to the doctor or even getting a new hairstyle.

The contract administration system actually works by completely separating the client from the site operations, so even when construction work is going well, you can feel like you’re outside the process, not in control, or like you’re being ignored. Remember, the system is designed to function on auto- pilot from the client’s point of view.

This feeling of isolation from the running of the project is compounded by the fact that clients usually limit packages of services from their architect to the bare bones needed to deliver the building. This further limits time for communication and face- time. 

Analyse the Builder’s Set-up and Define Service Expectations Early

You could specify what what kind of additional customer service you want from the builder, and include it in the building contract, but this isn’t usually a practicable approach. A more realistic approach is to look at the physical set-up, management style and personality of the contractor you’re employing and think coolly about what it will be like to work with them. 

You must then decide to either to work with them or not, with a clear view of what that experience will be like. 

This must be your conscious and informed decision. 

Have Faith in the Building Contract

For first-time developers and home-owners, appointing a main contractor can feel like an epic leap of faith.   

Once the builder meets the basic criteria of competence and capacity, the mechanisms of the building contract, combined with the services of your architect and consultants pretty much guarantee that the building will (eventually) get finished according to your agreed design.  

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