Client expectations affect nearly every business that works directly with customers, but in the construction industry they are especially difficult to manage. Construction work is complex, costs a significant amount of money, and can take several weeks, months, and even years to complete. Customers are highly invested in the success of their projects due to these factors.
Common issues like poor communication and misunderstandings lead to unrealistic client expectations for timelines, budgets, finished designs, and more. To promote good business relationships and improve customer satisfaction, it’s important that construction companies clearly communicate with external stakeholders throughout the entire construction process from the planning phase through implementation.
How To Manage Client Expectations in Construction
There are several specific strategies to keep in mind to successfully manage client expectations. Following these guidelines will help your construction company build trust and establish a reputation that helps generate both new and repeat business.
1. Establish realistic goals
When making a pitch or drafting a proposal, it can be tempting to over-promise or exaggerate your capabilities. However, even though this may win you the contract, if your company can’t deliver on your claims, it will only hurt you in the long run.
Be honest about what you can offer potential clients. Determine how you can compete for business without putting too much pressure on your field team to live up to unrealistic expectations. If a client pushes back or asks for a change in terms that isn’t feasible, take the time to calmly explain the reasons why their request is denied and offer some compromises that address their concerns without putting your staff in a difficult position.
The bid is the first step in building a client relationship. Starting off on the right foot is essential.
2. Offer detailed initial estimates
Once you’ve won a contract and are starting to draft a final estimate, don’t skip the small details. While it may seem wise to share only a high level overview to avoid overwhelming your clients, providing a comprehensive breakdown of project plans will better protect you from disputes and misunderstandings.
Creating a detailed estimate is easier when you have high quality historical data to inform your decisions. The more you understand about how your team works, the more accurate your estimates will be. Planning project phases and setting realistic deadlines based on the timelines of jobs you have completed in the past sets you up for success and gives both your field crew and your clients confidence at the project’s start. You can also review any setbacks your team experienced and give your estimates an appropriate amount of padding.
Many clients won’t have experience in construction, so you must take the time to thoroughly explain estimates and projected schedules. Consider scheduling a meeting to review project plans in person or set up a phone call or virtual discussion. Having a conversation with customers helps you make sure you are clearly communicating and gives them a chance to ask any questions.
3. Provide regular status updates
Client communications shouldn’t slow down once you’ve started working. In fact, keeping customers informed with consistent status updates as work is completed is one of the best ways to manage their expectations and keep all stakeholders on the same page—especially because many variables like weather, supply chain issues, and other unavoidable factors may affect productivity.
Construction companies should provide the following information to clients throughout the duration of a project.
Periodic progress reports
Open, honest customer communication isn’t all bad news. You should also share progress reports from the field and let clients know when key parts of the project are completed.
You should already be tracking progress in daily reports internally, so why not share key highlights with your customers to keep them engaged and demonstrate all the work that’s going into the project. This helps them feel like active participants and keeps them from becoming frustrated having to seek out information about project status on their own.
Make sure that the production data you are sharing is well organized for customers who may not have a deep understanding of construction work. Clean, professional report formats with visual documentation like charts, graphs, photos, and videos help them understand progress without lengthy text explanations that burden your team.
Due to unpredictable circumstances, schedules rarely work out perfectly as planned each day, and sometimes overall project timelines must be adjusted. When clients are informed of schedule changes quickly and given evidence for why they are necessary, construction companies can avoid costly disputes.
The issue with many timeline changes is that they come as a surprise to clients. They may be expecting a project phase to be completed by a certain date, and when it isn’t, they have to seek out the reason why from their contact at the construction company. This creates conflict and leaves customers feeling duped.
If an issue arises that affects day-to-day work, like bad weather or a potential safety concern, tell your customers right away. Let them know the project schedule may be affected. Give them options for getting back on track, and keep them involved in your rescheduling process.
Just like timelines, budgets are difficult to perfectly predict. Any issues that will affect a project’s expenses should be shared with clients immediately, and they should be involved in any decisions you make when it becomes clear the budget stated in your initial estimate is not achievable.
Let customers know as soon as possible when there is an unexpected material price increase, environmental damage, or any other reason the budget estimate will need adjustment. A construction budget management software can help you stay on top of your spending. Making them aware of the situation head on is better than trying to cut corners to meet a budget that is no longer realistic.
Risk updates go hand and hand with timeline and financial changes, because unsafe working conditions often lead to necessary schedule and budget changes. Carefully document risks in the field each day and share them in real-time with clients so that they stay informed.
Again, keeping clients aware of the daily happenings onsite is the best way to make sure they have appropriate expectations about project progress.
4. Ask for feedback
Sometimes clients keep concerns to themselves until it’s too late. They may be reluctant to ask questions or share ideas because they don’t know the right terminology to use or they feel they should trust the experts.
Construction companies should directly ask for feedback from clients at different stages of project planning and implementation and invite them to provide their thoughts or ask for clarification. Creating an open, two-way communication channel makes customers feel more at ease and increases customer satisfaction. It gives you the chance to proactively correct miscommunications before they develop into disputes.
5. Build a personal relationship with the client
It’s good business practice to build personal relationships with your clients that are based on trust. Communicating openly and frequently engaging customers in the construction process will help you set realistic goals and ensure the outcome of a project meets their expectations.
Raken’s digital construction reporting software helps construction companies collect real-time data from the field and organize it in a way that can be seamlessly shared with internal and external customers. Schedule a demo today to see how our innovative app can help you reach your goals for improving productivity and customer satisfaction.