Managing Roofing Customer Complaints
Keeping homeowners happy requires more than just a
American Metal Roofs' crews pay attention to safety
and are responsive to customer needs.
Photo courtesy of American Metal
Combine emotional homeowners with disruptive metal roofing
projects, and you get a toxic brew that can erupt and do damage to
your company. Metal roofing projects bring strangers and dirt and
noise into the quiet citadel of a family, potentially unnerving
parents, frightening children, and scaring the family pet to huddle
in the furthest reaches of the basement.
It can get even worse. If something goes wrong on the job, you
now have an angry customer venting at your employees, interrupting
your other services and potentially causing lost profits. And even
worse, it is common currency in the home improvement industry that
a happy customer tells someone about your company, but an unhappy
customer tells dozens of people, ruining your reputation.
There are two things you need to know about managing a customer
complaint. First, an angry customer provides you a great
opportunity to make a fan of your company. Second, you can and
should implement processes in your company that manage your
customers' expectations and improve your business.
|Photo courtesy of McCarthy Metal
Create Raving Fans
Let's begin with the opportunity. Victoria Downing is a
remodeling industry veteran who is president of Remodelers's
Advantage, a peer networking consultancy that helps remodelers
improve operations. "The fact is," says Downing, "that client
complaints are one of the best marketing opportunities a remodeling
company has. It's an opportunity to really shine."
Of course, no metal roofing contractor wants to go down the line
of dealing with customer complaints. It can be enervating and too
much of it will damage a company, both in terms of reputation and
employee morale. Downing suggests some very specific actions for
handling a complaint should it arise. "You have to do it quickly,"
she says. "You have to do it in person. You have to go into it with
an attitude of listening and letting them vent."
The venting portion is especially important. Industry consultant
and former remodeler David Lupberger wrote a book called, "Managing
the Emotional Homeowner." In it, he argues that interrupting a
client during the venting process will only exacerbate the issue.
No matter how long it takes, you have to let the homeowner have his
or her say whether you agree with it or not.
"Rule number one is you have to eliminate the
fallacy of perfection."
Jerrod Butler, Guild
After the steam has blown off, Downing says, "A lot of times a
remodeler will get the best result if at the end of allowing them
to vent, they ask the client what would the client want to happen.
Often the client will request something that is less than the
remodeler would have given them in the first place."
Downing also suggests that the person to handle the complaint
should be someone who has worked with the client closely, such as
the project manager. She warns that the owner jumping into the fray
too soon may be an overreaction and make a smaller problem bigger
just by the owner's involvement.
Handling those moments of exacerbation and frustration are
important skills, but Frank Farmer, president of American Metal
Roofs, Flint, Mich., says, "We take a more global approach with
managing customers. First, if a customer's expectations are not
met--we may think everything is perfect--you're going to have
customer complaints. It's not something we've done wrong, but the
customer still isn't happy."
American Metal Roofs sells more than $6 million annually in
metal roofing projects across Michigan out of two locations. Farmer
is very focused on establishing procedures for the entire company
and all elements of the sales process are scripted from initial
phone calls to in-home sales to handoff to production to follow-up
surveys. "We offer a 100 percent lifetime warranty," Farmer says,
"so customer satisfaction is everything."
Farmer points out that establishing expectations begins during
the marketing process and requires ensuring the language you use in
your outreach is consistent throughout the organization. You can't
overpromise in your ad, because you'll under deliver on the
Much of the burden on managing customer expectations falls to
the sales people. The issue may be something that the customer just
hadn't anticipated even though the company does nothing wrong.
Farmer gives a great example. "We used to have complaints where
customers would say the snow slid off the roof and now they can't
get out of their garage. We adapted our sales presentation to a
good news and bad news situation. Snow will slide off the roof
unless we put something there to stop it, so the client can either
shovel the roof or shovel the drive."
Tim McCarthy, McCarthy Metal Roofing, Raleigh, N.C., is part of
a network of metal roofing contractors that Farmer has created.
Many of his crew have trained with American Metal Roofs. "We have a
list of items the sales people need to cover," he says. "After we
go through the scope of work, we address items that may lead to
problems later on."
McCarthy's list includes:
- General work hours
- Personal items that need to be moved
- Landscaping that might be disturbed
- Dumpster placement
- Material placement
- Exterior power source
- Job sign location
- Removing pictures from walls
- Job safety issues, such as ladders and scaffolding are for
employees only and children and pets need to be kept out of the
- Neighbors who should be contacted
|Photo courtesy of McCarthy Metal
Having the sales people go through that check list helps ensure
that every topic is covered and that thoroughness is buttressed by
the actions of the crew on-site. All crew members wear uniforms,
never play loud music, clean up as they work, are always in
harnesses on the roof and do a complete clean-up at the end of
every day. The actions of the crew back up the promises of the
For many metal roofing contractors, it is the hand-off to
production that can cause problems with customer expectations.
That's why American Metal Roofs scripts all interactions, but the
company goes even further. After the sale is complete, the project
is handed over to a customer concierge who is the point person for
the customer. "A couple of years ago, we employed the customer
concierge," Farmer says. "The function is to coordinate between the
customer and the installer. Not just to review contracts, but to
have a meeting of the minds."
The customer concierge goes so far as to make sure he is
communicating with the customer in a way the client wants. Do they
want to hear once a week? Every day? Do they want communication by
phone? Email? Text? That kind of attention to detail and customer
focus helps smooth any bumps that may arise during the
installation. A customer who knows the contractor has his or her
best interest at heart and demonstrates empathy to concerns will
build up trust that makes the process run more smoothly.
Create a Feedback Loop
Managing customer expectations continues on after the completion
of the project as well. And it is at this crucial point that
essential information can be gathered to improve the company and
smooth future problems. That requires reaching beyond the vocal
customers to reach the ones less likely to give you feedback.
Both American Metal Roofs and McCarthy Metal Roofing use Guild
Quality to survey past customers. Guild Quality is based in Atlanta
and it provides survey services and customer satisfaction
consulting for home improvement contractors and home builders.
Geoff Graham is president of the company, which was founded in
2003. "We all want the wonderful customer who is going to share
with you," says Graham, "painful as it may be. You also have to
hear from the rest of the customers who are mildly annoyed or
lukewarm and won't share with you, but will share with everyone
else. We want contractors to institutionalize the process for
collecting information and not waiting for the customer to share a
problem when particularly unhappy."
Contractors such as American Metal Roofs and McCarthy Metal
Roofing use the surveys to identify common complaints so they can
address them with the entire staff. "All the relevant employees
receive feedback as the customers provide it," says Graham. It goes
straight to them as an email or can be accessed through an app.
"The best performing businesses have empowered their project
managers to take immediate action as things come up."
Managers and owners review the information on a weekly or
monthly basis, looking for trends and discussing with their staff.
"One of the important questions in our surveys," Farmer says, "is
asking for areas of improvement. Areas where we fell short of
expectations. Ways we can see if we might improve."
Farmer takes advantage of another important aspect of surveying.
"Every survey that mentions a person, that person gets an email
from the president of the company and it's put out to his peers in
the company." One sales person in particular received four to five
times as many mentions as any other sales person. Raising that
profile of the person not only gave him congratulations for a great
job, but also encouraged sharing his best practices with the other
sales people, improving the whole company's sales process. "Now all
the other guys get mentioned as well," Farmer says.
The final word on managing customer complaints goes to Jerrod
Butler, director of business development for Guild Quality. "Rule
number one is you have to eliminate the fallacy of perfection," he
says. For metal roofing contractors who may feel compelled to paint
a perfect picture because they sell a premium product that may lead
down the path of being unable to satisfy customers.