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Managing Roofing Customer Complaints

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Keeping homeowners happy requires more than just a friendly smile

American Metal Roofs' crews pay attention to safety and are responsive to customer needs.

Photo courtesy of American Metal Roofs

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 Roofing

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 Quality


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.


Manage Expectations

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 site.

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 worksite
  • Neighbors who should be contacted
Photo courtesy of McCarthy Metal Roofing

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 sales people.

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.