There are two kinds of construction projects: those that run smoothly and those that don't. A myriad of elements contribute to a smooth project, not the least of which is your relationship with the clients. A positive contractor/client relationship is one where communication remains consistent and organization and planning are a top priority.
In addition to making for a more fluid design and build process, your client relationships are also integral to your company's brand. Positive relationships paired with a successful build-out yield invaluable word-of-mouth referrals, not to mention positive online and industry reviews, all of which add up to more jobs.
Successful contractor-client relationships have three things in common. If you review the most successful projects you've worked on, the ones in which you enjoyed the relationship and/or mutual respect of the client, you'll see there were three factors that served as the foundation of the relationship.
Clear communication is a tenet of any relationship, be it personal or professional. In the case of construction projects, communication doesn't start after the contract is signed. Rather, it begins from the very first time you meet with the clients to discuss the project so you have the ability to bid fairly and accurately, making sure you have a clear understanding of their expectations in regards to quality right from the start.
From there, relationship building involves at least one visit (typically several) to the job site to make sure everyone's vision is united. Finally, unless the client has significant experience with construction, your team should be careful to use layperson's terms, rather than construction jargon, so clients don't have the sense that they are ignorant or feel too awkward or insecure to stop and ask you to explain or clarify things.
In order to streamline the client-contractor communication stream, it's recommended that you:
- Choose one point of contact. The more points of contact there are, the easier it is for things to get lost in translation, or never translated at all. From the beginning, designate who the main points of contact will be - one for your construction firm and one of the client's representatives. Having a primary decision maker on both sides streamlines the communication and, should there be a breakdown or mistake made, it will be easier to track the source to avoid "he said/she said" blame games.
- Select a primary mode of communication. Check in to see which mode of communication makes the most sense for the client. If the clients are older, odds are telephone conversations will be the preferred method whereas the younger generation typically prefers text or emails. If phone calls are the primary source, major decisions and/or changes should always be followed up with an email so there is a written record of the conversation/decision.
- Establish payment terms and conditions early on. Money and budgets; they are the sticking points and triggers for both you and the clients. Therefore, it's essential that you clarify payment terms and conditions early on in the planning stages so nobody is caught unawares when invoices are sent out or if the budget needs to be adjusted with respect to economic fluctuations, change orders or other unexpected factors.
- Communicate via visuals. Visual communication is often as important, if not more important, than verbal communication when it comes to talking about a project's scope and design. Many construction professionals forget how difficult it can be for non-industry professionals to read or makes sense of two-dimensional plans and elevations. Therefore, take advantage of 3-D construction technology so you can provide the client with a better representation of what you are talking about. The more clearly they can see what you are suggesting, the less confusion, disappointment and/or change orders there will be as the project progresses.
Open, clear and honest communication is the stepping stone for an organized project.
Organization from start to finish
Organization is essential to project fluidity. It begins by providing a detailed review of project's scope and continues as you thoughtfully create your construction project timeline, schedule subcontractors, provide detailed project status updates and conduct a thorough review and analysis at project completion, so you can evaluate what went well and what - if anything - could have been done differently.
An organized relationship between a contractor and the client include:
A written, detailed description of the scope of the project. As much as you can, provide a step-by-step process for the client to review. This helps them to understand behind-the-scenes complexities that aren't always visible at the job site.
Provide regular status updates. Determine a regular schedule of project updates that makes sense based on the scope of the project. For smaller remodels and residential construction projects, daily and weekly status updates are a good idea. These updates serve as a way to communicate any unexpected delays or back-orders in a more immediate manner so pushed-back scheduling doesn't catch clients unawares. Larger projects may require less frequent - but still regular - updates as you and the clients see fit.
Phase/Project wrap-up and reviews. Phase wrap-ups can be rather general unless there was something pressing that needs to be documented, such as a major delay or stoppage. At the end of the project, create a short to medium review that covers topics, like:
- Which elements of the project went well or exceeded expectations?
- What could have been communicated or executed more efficiently?
- Are there other approaches that could have been implemented to get things done faster, better or safer?
By creating this document with the client - even if they are worked on separately - you get to celebrate the project's closure together, and you ensure clients feel included in the entire process.
Allow clients to feel a part of your team
Ultimately, your clients should feel like they are a part of the process - and your team - even if they aren't wearing a tool belt or operating the backhoe. Your efforts at providing clear communication channels, combined with sharing the project timeline and regular updates, are all steps that contribute to a feeling of collaboration and teamwork. The more connected the clients feel to your process, the more connected they will feel to your company, making it easier to weather any unanticipated storms together and with a modicum of conflict or tension.
It's that feeling of, "we're all in this together," that fosters a sense of loyalty and respect from your clients. Those feelings will inspire them to refer your construction company to friends, leave heartfelt, encouraging online reviews and contribute positive, forward momentum to your company's brand - all of which bring future contracts to your door.