Careful management of customer expectations is critical to long-term growth for contractors with a focus on residential metal roofs. Homeowners won’t be happy if the installation is sub-par quality, but they also won’t be satisfied with their purchase if the contractor doesn’t do an effective job communicating throughout the process. Contractors with well-defined communication processes benefit from earning customer trust over competitors.
Residential metal roofers manage customer expectations for successful projects
David Lupberger, owner of David Lupberger and Associates LLC in Boulder, Colo., was a home remodeler for more than 20 years before starting his consulting business in 2004. “I know it’s basic, but it’s just every time you see people complain about a project, it’s usually not about the work,” he says. “More often, it’s that the experience did not match their expectations. And you see that probably 80 percent of the time somebody had expectations that weren’t realistic, that weren’t clear, something wasn’t communicated.”
Vertex Roofing Co. has had some success with its communication processes. The company, which completes more than 90 percent of its jobs as residential metal roofs, was founded in Eveleth, Minn., in 2009. It expanded with offices in Phoenix in 2010, Hermantown, Minn., in 2011 and Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2017.
John Roper, general manager at Vertex in Phoenix, has worked in the residential construction industry for more than a decade. He says the very first interaction his company has with potential customers is important for managing expectations. Most people who contact Vertex have expressed an interest in metal roofs, either online or in-person at a home show, he says. However, since most people have never bought a metal roof before, they vary greatly in how much they know about metal roofs, and if they’ve been influenced by misinformation.
When Vertex receives phone calls throughout service areas in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Arizona, they are answered by one knowledgeable person. “Their initial contact with the company, it’s not just an appointment setter; it’s not a call center,” Roper says. “It’s somebody that will actually listen to them and can answer some questions that they may have about the product right off the bat, because a lot of people come to us that like the idea of metal, but they still have a ton of questions. So that’s an important first touch for us, having somebody who cares and knows the product.”
Vertex sets up an appointment for a sales consultant to meet with potential customers. They are entered into the company’s customer relationship management (CRM) software, and set to receive a follow-up email confirming the meeting, what to expect, and asking for all decision makers to be present. The day before the appointment, a second email is sent and a confirmation call is made. “We try to have those touches because life happens for people, and we want to make sure that they know we’re coming, and vice versa,” Roper says.
When Vertex’s sales consultant arrives at the customers’ home, the first thing s/he does is meet with the owners for a few minutes, Roper says. “Sometimes homeowners think the first thing we’re going to do is jump up on the roof, and we actually want to spend time with them first. We’re looking to find out what issues. They know their home better than anybody else. We’re seeing it for the first time; they see it every day. We’re looking to find out any issues that they know about on the roof, ongoing problems that they’ve had, what concerns they may have.”
The Vertex rep completes a thorough inspection of the roof, takes measurements with software and satellite images on a tablet, diagrams the roof, and, once the owner chooses a material, produces an estimate. They offer some style options with brochures, explain how metal roofing works and what’s involved with having one installed with a Powerpoint presentation.
To narrow down options to the ones most suitable for a customer, Roper says the sales consultants learn what reasons the owners have for considering metal. “We want to know what’s important to them because everybody’s got different motivators. We’ve had customers that hated the look of their current roof, and that was their motivation to do metal. A lot of people, it’s because they never want to touch it again. They just want to be done with it for the rest of their life. Some people, it’s the energy efficiency, and most people, it’s a combination of multiple things.”
Lupberger says the first meeting with homeowners is an opportunity for contractors to demonstrate their ability and willingness to walk them through the process, explain it thoroughly and document every step. It’s up to contractors to show potential customers that not only do they have a system to manage their projects, they also have a system to manage their experiences.
“We don’t just sell a project, we sell an experience,” Lupberger says. “And the successful contractors, the best ones, they get it. And so when we meet, we discuss how we will work together. Let’s take the mystery out of it. Let me describe the experience in a step-by-step basis.”
In addition to educating potential customers, Roper says his company’s sales consultants use the opportunity to explain the installation procedure to differentiate Vertex from other roofers.
“If they’re looking at a standing seam roof, they’ll go in with a bag full of components that go into a standing seam installation,” Roper says. “There’s a lot of different ways contractors can do standing seam roofs, there’s a lot of incorrect ways. There’s a lot of ways that would be deemed acceptable, but they’re not ideal. And then there’s the best ways to do it. So we walk homeowners through the installation process from A to Z. We walk them through really all roofing options, whether it be shingles, tile, wood shakes, and we look at the pros and the cons so they can understand.”
Lupberger says roofing contractors benefit by putting thought into what types of printed materials to leave with potential customers. They should give people some information about their company, their process, testimonials and a value statement that differentiates them from other roofers. It’s also a reminder and begins to demonstrate a paper trail. “I can’t tell you how many people I talk to and I say, what’s your leave behind? And they don’t have anything. By the time [homeowners] meet with the third or forth roofer, they’re all running together.”
Vertex’s sales consultants give potential customers a bi-fold company brochure that acts as a folder for their estimate, product brochures and, when they place an order, a letter of congratulations on their purchase that outlines some expectations for prior to installation, during installation and following completion.
Ahead of Schedule
Roper says in part because Vertex’s work crews install exclusively metal, there are busy times when projects are scheduled four months in advance. They’ve learned over time to be more proactive about communicating with customers on the production schedule on a monthly basis.
“We learned that it was much better to be proactive than reactive,” he says. “It takes less energy and keeps people a heck of a lot happier. Of course we’re looking at jobs internally we anticipate installing that month, and now we’ve actually started to just periodically reach out to the customers who are on the production calendar, and just let them know how many jobs are ahead of them in queue, just to give them some information. We’ve found that some information is better than no information.”
The next point of contact for customers with Vertex comes with a reminder phone call/email a day or two before work is set to begin.
When a crew from Vertex first arrives, and on a daily basis, a foreman checks in with homeowners to keep them informed about the status of their project. The sales consultant continues serving as a contact for customers as well.
Lupberger says communicating with homeowners during construction on a regular schedule can be more significant to meeting expectations when something doesn’t go according to plan.
“Materials that don’t arrive on time, materials that arrive damaged, subcontractors that are overbooked that can’t make it at the appropriate time, that’s why contractors get paid what they do, and no job will run according to schedule,” he says. “But, [as a contractor,] I can work with the homeowner so that there’s no surprises. That’s my job.”
When it comes to communicating with customers about changes in schedule or anything else, Roper has a simple philosophy: “The two keys are: stay calm and be honest.”
It’s a rare occurrence, but recently Vertex ran short on material for a project, and there was one section they elected to re-do. “We had an initial plan going in, and the metal laid as we hoped, but the way the finished product was going to be, with a single panel that was going to be far narrower than the rest, it wasn’t something that we could be proud of,” Roper says. “And we let [the customer] know, this is why we thought it was going to be better, but we want your roof to be impeccable. And that’s just the core of who we try to be as a company. We don’t just want to lie to people; there’s no reason to.”
Upon completion of a project, the foreman from Vertex conducts a walk-around with customers. In the following days, a representative from the production department arranges a follow-up inspection with customers. This gives customers a chance to ask questions and Vertex an opportunity to ensure it met expectations and inspect the work. They also let customers know about their referral program at that point.
The last point of contact with customers from Vertex is the second of two thank you cards sent by the sales consultant. The first is sent when the initial order is placed. “It’s not sent out as a marketing piece, here’s my card, please refer somebody,” Roper says. “It’s really just genuinely to say thank you for trusting us with your business and your home. And people appreciate that.”
Next Steps Letter
Vertex Roofing Co. gives customers a congratulatory letter with a list of what they can expect before, during and after their metal roofs are installed. It is one point of communication the company has with homeowners to ensure it’s meeting their expectations.
The document explains the roof diagram and job notes will be reviewed and materials will be ordered. It states how long materials may take to arrive, what happens when they do, and how they will be contacted as the installation date nears.
Vertex’s letter gives customers some explanation for why their project’s start date is tentative, and won’t be exact until it’s close to the actual time. It tells customers a foreman will be a point of contact for them while the installation is taking place. The letter lists other ways customers can reach the company via phone, text and email.
John Roper, general manager at Vertex in Phoenix, says, “We just want to let [customers] know what the process is going to be because while we may have discussed it, that could be out of mind already 24 hours later, they forgot half of that or more. So they’ve got that sheet that just kind of shows that as a reminder, this is what’s going to happen, when we’ll contact them, what will happen during the installation, things like that.