Men are like chameleons when it comes to women. When a man meets a woman of great interest, he changes. He suddenly becomes focused on her in interesting ways. He listens intently, makes eye contact, acts unselfishly, takes her side on issues and becomes a philosopher. When the woman talks about problems at work or otherwise, the man listens and responds with the wisdom of Solomon.
Remember a story about Solomon found in I Kings 3:16 through 28: Two women went to King Solomon to settle a serious dispute. They both claimed to be the mother of the same child. King Solomon in his wisdom said, "Get my sword and we'll cut the child in half." One of the woman agreed and the other said, "No, give the child to her mother." Solomon wisely determined who the birthmother was.
Do you remember how your best customer became the best? If you do remember, recall how you treated that customer and how the customer perceived you at the time. Keep in mind, when you started you were hungry. You were focused on the customer. You listened, made eye contact and you tried to solve every problem unselfishly, sometimes at your own expense. The way you acted caused the customer to look at you in a positive light. The customer actually became invested in your success and growth. You were building a relationship one brick at a time.
My son Anthony met a girl who loves country-western music. He likes music, especially Dave Matthews and never really liked country. Suddenly, he went out and bought a pair of cowboy jeans, belt and a cowboy shirt. His car stereo was tuned to country music. I knew things were heating up when he walked in one night and said, "Howdy" rather than "Hi." Yes, it all sounds silly but we've all done it.
After the honeymoon is over, the husband and wife settle into married life. Statistics indicate that roughly 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. I'm not sure why but I am sure that in many cases people revert back to patterns of selfishness, disinterest, discontent and critical behavior. I'm not Dr. Phil but the most common behavior seems to be selfishness and that could be the crux of the problem.
Do you remember how your best customer relationship developed? What did you do to build the relationship and make it strong? You may have done some of the following:
• Called customer regularly
• Made frequent visits
• Met for lunches
• Listened intently
• Communicated customer value
• Displayed a "can-do" attitude
• Given preferential pricing
• Taken customer to a ball game or played a round of golf
• Solved customer's problems
• Always willing to help
• Never late, always finishing the job on time or early
• Made it very easy for the customer to do business with you
• Allowed customer to be in control
• Developed trust
• Provided superior quality
If I were to pick three things that I believe creates a best customer, I would pick service, quality and trust. Construction is generally a competitive industry and I don't think great service, quality and trust makes us less competitive. Service covers a broad area and could include close communication with the customer in a variety of ways. Obviously, great service involves starting and finishing the job as requested. Service may also include personal involvement, such as lunch, a round of golf or just a willingness to help solve a customer's problem.
Superior quality could cost you a little more than your competitor but it shouldn't. A customer has to be trained to identify superior quality in some cases and often times a customer will not value superior quality until they see the difference. The issue is whether or not you provided superior quality and can sell your customer on wanting superior quality. Quality not only involves the finished product, it involves the quality of the people representing your company in every aspect.
Trust is likely the broadest issue to consider. Willingness to trust your customer is a roller coaster ride. Your level of trust goes up and down with every payment and change order. A subcontractor's level of trust hinges on whether or not the customer pays on time or at all. Trusting your employees to provide the level of service and quality you want to give your customer is also an issue of trust and training. Trusting your suppliers and them trusting you hinge on so many things. An employee's level of trust toward his employer or supervisor is a critical turning point in any business.
Is trust really a consideration in how a subcontractor is chosen to do a job? In the competitive bid market, GCs are most concerned about their subcontractors:
• Competitive pricing
In the negotiated or less-competitive bid market, GCs are most concerned about their subcontractors safety, insurance, quality, service, pricing, bonding, administration, claims, liens and insolvency.
In the negotiated bid market, GCs are much more likely to select a subcontractor they trust, rather than focus on price alone.
Developing a relationship with a GC may begin with price but a wise subcontractor will build the relationship into one of service, quality and trust.
Keep your best customerKeeping your best customer for a long period of time can be much more difficult than one might think. When you do a lot of your customers work your customers employees begin to feel threatened by the relationship you've built with upper management. Your customers' foremen and superintendents talk about these things and when a problem arises on a job, they watch how you solve the problem. If you choose to go over their heads to solve the problem, the people on the job feel threatened and out of control. They begin feeling one of two ways: They let you do whatever you want out of resentment; and second, they micromanage you and point out every defect to you and their boss out of resentment.
Although your relationship with the customer may have begun in the office, it often ends in the field. If you don't develop the same relation you have with upper management with your customer's field staff, you are setting the stage for disaster.
Having a great relationship with the owner, president or chief estimator will not keep your best customer. It's human nature for your customers' field staff to want the same or stronger relationship with you. If you choose to rely on your upper management connections you are choosing to lose that customer at some point.
Keeping a customer your best customer is all about valuing everyone equally. I temporarily lost a good customer because I thought my relationship with the owner was enough. I began thinking selfishly and egocentrically, not realizing that I was de-valuing the customer's field staff.
General contractors hire people to run jobs and build buildings. GCs hire people they believe will do a good job overall. Management puts their trust in every person they hire including their field people. For me to tell my customers' upper management their superintendent is a jerk or their foremen is substandard is a slap in the face. My customers have hired these people and therefore trust them.
In a very short period of time, there is so much resentment between the customer's field staff and the subcontractors that your customer's upper management or owner has to make a decision to either support the field staff he hired or not. Do you think your relationship with the owner is strong enough for him or her to choose little old you over the people he hired? If you do, you're deceived. It's not going to happen.
Total body make overIf you want to correct the problem it has to start in the field. Once a problem has been identified, there is an opportunity to apologize and correct it at every level.
A subcontractor has to act on this kind of problem and not just hope it will fix itself. Things wont improve unless something is done and the best person to do something is the person who developed the relationship in the first place.
Once you identify the problem, brainstorm with your managers. Get a game plan in place. That plan may include an outline of how you plan to solve the problem and sharing it with your customer owner or upper management group. Let them know you recognize the problem and brainstorm with them how to best solve it. Then implement the plan from the bottom up.
Great service, quality and trust are achieved by valuing people from the bottom up. The opportunity to value people from the bottom up comes from the top.
I'm sure you remember the days when you intently listened to your date as she talked. You made eye contact, she felt valued, you were unselfish and she felt cherished. I remember when I did those things. Then came marriage and then came my friend Ken who said you got to do what you did to get her. I'm just paying it forward, you've got to do what you did to get her in every relationship.
After six months, my son is listening to Dave Matthew's music again. I don't know what happened to the cowboy shirt.
Remember: Teamwork begins with a fair contract!