Top 7 Tips for Great Customer Service

Every company talks about and promises great customer service. But to survive and grow a business, it's so important to actually practice excellent customer service. It's how a company is remembered, which generates word-of-mouth viral advertising for your business. Here are some tips to making sure homeowners and business owners remember you and your service:
  1. Calling your clients when you say you're going to call them, even if it's to say you don't have time to talk and to set up another time to call. Also, it's important to be available to take their call when they say they will call you -- even if you're not immediately available to take the call.

  2. Make sure your clients know how to contact you. Giving them your answering service or a number you won't be near is not good customer service. Make sure the client has options to contact you: your office number, your cell number, and your email address. This way, they know you'll be there for them. Just don't let them take advantage -- let them know when it's appropriate to use your cell phone, for example.

  3. You're in business to make a profit. But if you can save your clients money, always make an effort to point out where they can save some in the process... and not just where you will save. Giving strong financial advice to your clients will allow them to trust you and, more importantly, return to your company. They will also be willing to give valuable referrals.

  4. Problems arise in every building, remodeling, or repair project. When you see a problem coming, let your clients know about it. By preparing them for any situation, it will ease the impact and prevent them from wanting to blame you for it. Many tend to avoid complications until after they've happened and sometimes when it's too late to give a client any options.

  5. Always try to give options for any challenge or for any opportunity. By stating there is only ever one way to do something limits the chance for change and improvement. Giving options also allows your client to be able to make a decision and be a part of the process. Even if the other options are bad ones, you're giving the client the chance to see that your way might be the best way. If they only will take a bad option, let them know you'll have to amend your contract to ensure they realize it's truly a terrible idea -- and to remove blame from your company.

  6. If you make a mistake, accept fault for it. It's a tough pill to swallow, but it will help you and your company in the long run. It might even cost you money, but if your client is satisfied with your work after you've made corrections it could mean more business later. Everyone is human and mistakes happen. Taking responsibility is the right way to do business.

  7. Follow up with your clients. It cannot be stressed enough. Always call on previous clients to make sure to thank them for their business. You want to make sure they're happy with your work and that there are no problems. Many times, they may be unhappy about something but it turns out they are doing something wrong. This could remove blame or hurt feelings. Use a follow up as a time to talk about special upcoming promotions and specials or to ask for referrals.
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"Lumber Sales have Declined 15 to 20 Percent"

The Daily News reports from Massachusetts. "Home builders in MetroWest are re-evaluating the real estate market now that housing prices are decreasing, adjusting marketing tactics and even delaying construction to wait out the cycle. The inventory is increasing because prices are too high, said Laurie Cadigan in Concord, who is president of the Greater Boston Association of Realtors."

"'It takes sellers about six months to catch up to buyers' expectations,' Cadigan said. 'Sellers looking to sell at last year's prices aren't going to be happy.'"

"Framingham Acquisition LLC changed plans for its 290-unit Arcade project in downtown Framingham because the condo market softened, according to Michael Gatlin, an attorney for the developer. The original plans called for condos to be built in the building but the units were later changed to apartments."

"'When you do any kind of project like this, you have to justify it to your lender, the prices you're getting for the units,' Gatlin said. The developers 'found that there were some condo prices that were soft and it seemed like a difficult market to justify to a lender.'"

"'Toll Brothers Inc. is building an over-55 development in Marlborough, called the Regency at Assabet Ridge. The developer is using a different approach to moving its homes: getting them on the market as soon as possible, according to Jason Witham."

"Builders creating more homes for the market are creating even more supply, according to Terry Egan, editor-in-chief of the Warren Group. 'Any new home built that comes on the market right now is facing a lot of competition,' Egan said. Not only from other new homes but from an expansive supply of existing homes for sale."

"'Right now, buyers have clout that they haven't had for a long time in Massachusetts. They're driving hard bargains, and it's something developers are aware of,' he said."

"Lumber yards that supply home builders have also been affected by an increasing supply of homes and downward pressure on home prices. The cost of lumber has declined $35 per 1,000 square feet of board according to David Lamson, chairman of Lamson R.S. & Sons of Hudson. He said it's because developers aren't building as many new homes."

"'They are not building as much, and they don't have the demand,' Lamson said. 'There's a glut of houses on the market right now, and all our builders are cutting their prices for the houses to move them. Most every builder has got houses in inventory.'"

"Lumber sales have declined about 15 percent to 20 percent in the Northeast, and particularly in Massachusetts this year, he said."

Is your construction company shifting from new home construction to remodeling? Find local job leads at Construction Deal today.


Economic Growth Slowed in 3rd Quarter

From KGW.com "WASHINGTON, D.C. - Economic growth slowed to a crawl in the third quarter, advancing at a pace of just 1.6 percent, the worst in more than three years.

The latest snapshot of the economy, released by the Commerce Department on Friday, showed that the slumping housing market figured prominently in the economy's dramatic loss of momentum. Investment in homebuilding was cut by the biggest amount since early 1991. many economists were forecasting.

"The housing bubble burst and that really knocked down growth," said Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors. The third quarter's 1.6 percent growth rate was the weakest since the first quarter of 2003, when the economy grew at a 1.2 percent annual rate.

Spending on home building dropped at a rate of 17.4 percent in the third quarter. That was the biggest drop since the first quarter of 1991 when such spending was sliced at a 21.7 percent pace."

Building Permits Down in Some Areas

From the Oakland Press: "The number of permits issued for new Oakland County homes dropped by 51 percent in the year's first three quarters vs. that period in 2005 - a decline slightly greater than that of Southeastern Michigan as a whole.

Builders were issued 1,690 permits for Oakland County projects from January to September this year, according to Housing Consultants Inc., a Clarkston company that tracks those permits. That compares with the 3,446 issued to builders in the first nine months of 2005.

The totals exclude permits issued for rental units.

In Southeast Michigan's nine counties overall, builders got 8,256 permits from January through September. That represents a 46.3 percent dip from the 15,362 permits issued in that period in the region in 2005.

The region includes Oakland, Wayne, Macomb, Washtenaw, Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, St. Clair and Lapeer counties.

"Things have slowed down a lot," acknowledged James P. Babcock, president of Babcock Building Co. Inc. in St. Clair Shores and of the Building Industry Association of Southeastern Michigan. "We're hearing that from all our members. I think the affordable homes are still selling."

New builds priced at less than $200,000 - those that some first-time buyers can afford - are faring better than pricier homes, he said.

"Once you're in a move-up market, things have slowed down because people can't sell their existing homes," he said.

The weak housing market is tied to Michigan's sluggish hiring climate. Foreclosures have worsened the situation.

Michigan reported 7,846 properties entering some stage of foreclosure in September - a 14 percent increase from the previous month and nearly three times the number reported in September 2005. That's according to RealtyTrac based in Irvine, Calif. With one new foreclosure fi ling for every 538 households, the state has the third-highest rate in the nation, behind Colorado and Nevada.

"If (lenders are) selling a home for 80 percent of what a builder sold it for two years ago, how's the builder going to compete with that?" Babcock asked.

In the region, Genesee saw the greatest decline by percentage - 59.5 percent - as the number of permits issued in the first three quarters dropped to 595 from 1,470 in 2005's comparable quarters. Monroe saw the smallest percentage dip - 26.5 percent - as permits fell to 429 in 2006 from 584 in 2005.

Macomb County led the region in permits issued in 2006, with 1,962, followed by Wayne, with 1,838. Oakland County was third.

Only two Oakland County communities were among the top 10 in the region in terms of number of permits issued. Lyon Township was sixth, with 245, and Novi was eighth, with 215.

Macomb Township was the community with the largest number of permits issued in 2006 - 549. Detroit was second, with 471, but 281 rental units were included in the total.

Builders are now in "hunker-down" mode, Babcock said.

He said he's heard of builders who are considering leaving the state or getting into a different business.

"It's harder to make a buck as a builder," he said. "I don't know when it's going to turn around - maybe after the election."


Update: We've Added a Financing Option for Homeowners!

We wanted to let our network of Contractors know that ConstructionDeal.com has added to our growing list of services for homeowners! We have partnered with a major home loan company to help make sure those who use our site have access to financing for their projects.

When the homeowners place their home improvement jobs with Construction Deal, they'll also be able to apply online for a home equity or homeowner line of credit to help pay for their construction, remodeling, or major repair project.

Our goal at Construction Deal is make sure the consumer is able to complete their home improvement project. And it can also make sure they have their financing and budget in place before you begin working with them.

Please visit the Construction Deal Lending Center for further details!


New Home Construction Reports - October

Some housing bubble reports from Wall Street and Washington. "M.D.C. Holdings Inc. reported third-quarter net income fell 60% as profit margins narrowed in more competitive markets and home orders plunged 40% from a year earlier. The 'operating environment in most markets became increasingly competitive in the face of continued expansion of unsold new and existing home inventories,' said CEO Larry A. Mizel."

"Margins thinned particularly in California, Nevada and Virginia, M.D.C. said. In the third quarter the company said it booked pre-tax charges of $29.4 million for inventory impairments and project cost write-offs."

"'Builder concessions and incentives continue to rise,' said CEO Mizel. 'Confronted with expanding inventories and increased uncertainty, many buyers displayed a wait-and-see approach to purchasing a new home.'"

"'M.D.C. said home orders in the third quarter fell 40% to 2,120 from 3,551 in the year-earlier period. The cancellation rate jumped to 48.5% from 25.7%."

"'We expect cancellations to remain high as long as home prices deteriorate,' wrote Banc of America Securities analyst Daniel Oppenheim. 'We believe land impairments will likely continue and increase from the $19.9 million charge in [the third quarter] due to the relatively young age and geographic concentration in stretched markets of the company's lots supply,' he added."

"Homebuilder Technical Olympic USA, Inc. reported consolidated net sales orders of 1,470 for the quarter ended September 30, 2006, a 19% decrease from the... quarter ended September 30, 2005. Joint venture net sales orders for the third quarter of 2006 were 125, an 86% decrease the third quarter of 2005."

"TOUSA's consolidated cancellation rate was 33% for the third quarter of 2006 compared to 20% for the third quarter of 2005. TOUSA's combined cancellation rate for the third quarter of 2006 was 44% compared to 18% for the third quarter of 2005."

"The Company anticipates a pre-tax charge in the range of $35 million to $48 million for the third quarter of 2006 related to land deposit write-offs and asset impairment charges."

Thanks to Ben at The Housing Bubble Blog for gathering the information.


New Commercial Categories Added

Contractors! ConstructionDeal.com has begun implementing commercial categories into our system. And since our goal is to help your business succeed, we're expanding our listings to include categories in Construction, Remodeling, and Repair & Maintenance. Many of the members in our network requested the addition of these commercial categories and we, at Construction Deal, have listened! If your company does commercial jobs, you can add those categories to your Construction Deal account today!

If you are a subscribed or registered member, you can log into your account and update your preferences to make sure you will receive job lead updates. On your "Lead Page", click on Preferences, and then click edit under the "Serving Categories:" section. Check off all the commercial categories that apply to your company! Simple as that!

: You may notice that some categories have already been checked for you - that's because we added them to your profile if you also do similar residential work.

If you have not registered for free with Construction Deal, this is the perfect time to become a member! With new commercial construction, remodeling, and repair jobs, we'll have more leads to offer to your company! We will continue to provide new services to help your company grow and prosper.

At this time, there is no extra charge for being added to our commercial construction job categories so feel free to select all the new services that apply to your business. Once we've updated our site, we'll begin marketing for commercial leads, and you'll see many new jobs being posted!

If you don't see a category that corresponds to your specialty, let us know today!


Doing Things FOR Your Customer

This is from a post on Seth's Blog, a marketing website. I think it applies to Service Professionals very nicely:

"To [or] For

Here at the White Plains airport, I'm noticing all these people doing things to me. Enforcing irrational rules. Intentionally putting the seats far from the electrical outlets so people like me won't steal electricity. Yelling over the PA system. Scolding people for not standing in the right place.

The key difference between marketing for growth and acting like a monopolistic utility is one of posture. Do you spend time doing things to your customers or for your customers? When someone calls, are you viewing it as a chance to do something for them, or to get rid of them to cut costs?

One of the reasons small is so much more important than big is that people who think small have the power and flexibility to do things for their customers."


Top 10 Tips to Surviving Economic Downturns

With the slowing housing market and the rising interest rates, many are predicting that 2007 could be a slow period for economic growth (and might end up in a recession, depending on what the Fed does and how the housing market reacts.) Here is some information to help your building or remodeling business survive any business slow down:

1 - Advertise More, Not Less: When business slows, it's not the time to completely disappear from radar. Increase your ad and marketing budget to keep your company name in peoples' minds. The few who do need your services will come to you first.

2 - Learn a New Specialty & Exploit it: When you're an expert in a field where not many others practice, you'll always be in demand. Not all professionals can do this, but it might work in your field.

3 - Expand Your Services: If your field cannot support specialists, you can add more services to your list. If you're only in new construction and you add remodeling, you could be doubling job bids.

4 - Train Your Employees: The more training your staff has, the more efficient the company can run. Cross-training helps a company run leaner, with fewer salaries. And train employees to do the job better than you so that you can focus on running the business without worrying about job quality.

5 - Focus on the Short Term: Smaller, less time-consuming jobs can create positive cash flow due to higher turnover.

6 - Cut Costs: But do not cut key employees. Many companies cut jobs and pass on the workload to others. This can cause quality problems, morale issues, and you'll end up losing trained employees. You'll spend more to retrain new workers... if you can even find replacements. Let employees know you're cutting costs and involve them in the process - they may be able to find solutions you'd never think of.

7 - Customer Satisfaction More Important than Ever: Make sure you treat your customers well no matter what the economy is like. But go the extra mile when for your loyal customers when times are slow. They'll remember you and recommend you.

8 - Convert Costs: Cut down on fixed costs, if possible. Variable costs can be managed, but steady and regular payments can hurt you when the economy heads south. If salaries are your biggest fixed cost, try to align them with performance. Incentives mean you'll pay more when sales go up and pay less when sales are down. If conditions are really bad, try to turn employees part-time to avoid losing them completely.

9 - Expand your Circle of Business: By expanding your radius, you can bring in additional jobs. Travel to additional cities can mean more opportunities. And referrals can come later when the economy turns around.

10 - Negotiate with Suppliers: With the new home construction slowdown, materials are in less demand. Many suppliers are willing to bargain with you and bring prices down, which can increase your margins.

Register with ConstructionDeal.com, for free, to review possible job leads in your area. We will continue to be a resource for your company and we will help you expand your business. Don't forget to bookmark this Contractor Update blog and check it often for more tips on making your company more profitable!

Read the article - U.S. Economy Update: Will the Housing Bubble lead to Recession?


Top 7 Ways to Eliminate the Competition

If you are in the construction, remodeling, or repair business, then you have competition. What's the best way to stay in business? By being better than your competition. And, if at all possible, eliminating your competition.

1) Discover Your Specialty - create a niche for your company that allows you to be a specialist in your category. If you are concrete contractor, perhaps you become the acid stained concrete specialist. Install flooring? Perhaps you are the Travertine or Bamboo Wood Flooring Installation master.

2) Do Your Research - Whether you can afford to make your business a specialty or not, talk to your current customers and find out what they are truly looking for from their service professionals. Find out what they want and make every effort to give it to them. If your customers want itemized billing statements or 24 Hour Service Calls at no extra charge, try to make sure you can accommodate their needs. They’ll be talking about you to their friends and family and not your competition.

3) Focus Your Company Goals - to be the best in a market, you need to know what you are doing and how you're going to do it. Having a business and marketing plan that clearly states your goals and when you want to reach them - over the next quarter, year, and 5 years - will give you a course to follow. For example, you could plan to expand your business by adding a showroom within 2 years. Or you plan to increase your marketing budget by 10% in the next quarter. It will force you to make necessary changes to reach those goals. And keep track of your goals. It doesn't do any good to set a goal and not measure your results.

4) Market Your Specialty - if you've chosen to develop your niche specialty, don't forget to let people know about it. How you're different from your competition is what sets you apart and makes customers want to choose you. Put it on your website, business card, and yellow pages ad. Don't just tell people you're a plumber; tell them why you're the best plumber for the job.

5) Monitor Your Competition - your competitors will constantly be making changes. It's important you know what they're doing so that you can be prepared for it. If they're working on Saturdays, you'll work on Saturdays and Sundays. If they redesign their website, you add new functions to your site. One company brings in several new trucks and you can't afford to do the same? Make sure you let your prospective clients know that your company won't be spread "too thin" like some other company that-shall-remain-nameless.

6) Ask More Questions - your competitors talk on the phone with prospective clients and they hear about their needs, tell them approximately what time they'll show up, and that's it. If you make sure to ask questions, on the phone and in person, you'll be conveying that you are the expert. Many people think that by answering questions they'll prove they're an expert, but that's not always the case. When you ask questions, it means that you know the subject thoroughly enough to know what their answers will mean about the job. If I take my car to a mechanic, tell him the problem and he says, "Huh. Never heard of that. Okay, I'll take a look" - I'm worried. If he says "Did it go click-click or did it go bzz-bzz? And were you in gear or neutral?" - I've got the feeling that he knows my car, knows the problem, and can fix it. Which mechanic do you think I'd recommend?

7) Tell More Stories - you can share your skills, your specialty, and your plan with a prospective client. And you might win the bid to do the job. But when you tell stories, you'll turn your service into an idea. You've been on the job a long time and you've seen a lot of things. The best way to convey the remodeling or building project into an emotional need for your clients is to wrap it in an entertaining tale from your past experience. You can talk about how your last kitchen renovation transformed the clients' lives. It doesn't have to be a long story, just a few sentences about something that did or didn't work out on a past project. It focuses their attention on you, allows them to know the depth of your experience, and makes it more personal for them. And I bet your competition isn't doing it.

To stay ahead of your competition, register with ConstructionDeal.com for free, to see what remodeling, construction, or repair job leads are available in your neighborhood.


Remodeling Business Slowing?

The Record.net. “When the home-sales market is hot, the remodeling business usually is, too. But home sales began slowing last fall, and a downturn is starting to show up in the renovation sector, say local contractors.”

Business is still good, just not as good as last year, said Rick Fooy, owner of Silver Fern Construction & Remodeling in Stockton.

The local remodeling business roared in the previous five years along with the existing and new-home market, Fooy said, but this year, work has slowed to perhaps 80 percent of last year's pace.

‘”I think people are a little unsure of finances,’ said Rick. ‘It’s all about money.’”

Daniel Maloy, of HandyDan Construction in Stockton, said there's still a lot of work out there, but he has noted that a lot of customers are concerned about the scope of remodeling projects and pushing their lines of credit.

"Everybody's needing stuff done," he said. "They're just more concerned about what they want to spend."

Plus, with home prices flattening or even sinking in a slow housing market, there’s more concern about whether the cost of a remodeling will be recovered when the house is sold later, he said.

“Julie Anderson said she also has been getting calls from real estate agents looking to fix a house up for sale. During the housing boom, sellers could often sell ‘as is.’ Real estate agents and brokers now say that increasing competition is forcing sellers to get their properties into top shape if they wish to sell.”

“Fooy said he hasn’t found that most people are downsizing jobs, there are just fewer customers. ‘There were just so many people borrowing money,’ he said. ‘Everybody was in a big flurry to do it.’”


U.S. Economy Update - Will the Housing Bubble Lead to Recession?

The economy and the housing market have been doing very well the past 10 to 15 years. The new housing construction and remodeling industries have been riding a wave of high growth and maximum earnings (despite an economic slowdown at the beginning of this decade.)

The biggest problems that have arisen during all this time are that incomes have grown but have not kept pace. Also, fewer jobs have been added within that same time frame. Now, that could mean that our current workforce is more productive, but it's bad news for our real estate market - fewer workers means they need fewer houses.

Our new Federal Reserve Chairman, Bernanke, could be the deciding factor on how our economy performs over the next two years. Bernanke's policies and communication style are much different from Greenspan's (the former Chairman.) If he focuses too much on stifling inflation, he could create a serious recession in the coming year. If he lets the economy grow again, inflation could skyrocket (and higher prices will also have the effect of lowering demand for materials and labor in our construction industry.)

What has many concerned is our bond market. The bond market pricing has been showing to a very high, very flat yield rate (with little or no difference between the 3-month T-Bill and the 10 year bond.) Every time this has happened in the past (the early 70's, 1975, the early 80's, early 90's and 2001) the economy has ground to a halt and we were mired in a recession.

If the economy is going to slow down, and it looks like it will, the degree of the slowdown is going to be determined by the real estate/housing market. Housing prices are not going to fall like crazy but they will not appreciate for a while and will drop in many areas across the country. The question is: how many people will be hurt by a loss of equity in their homes or a rise in their interest rates? There are also many jobs tied to the real estate and construction industries and the loss of jobs could continue to pound down any economic growth. Many consumers have been overspending, having gotten used to the years of successful prosperity, and it could come crashing down. Fuel prices have lessened somewhat, but most agree that they will rise again by winter, so consumer confidence is shaky and could get worse with any more economic bad news.

The one good area of possible growth for the construction industry? Commercial. Retail may suffer if there is an economic downturn, but office construction and multi-family unit construction should grow in 2007. Apartment construction should be strong - if interest rates rise, it will become more affordable to rent than own. And many apartments were converted to condominiums to cash in on last year's real estate boom. The shortage of apartments will create strong growth as demand continues to rise.

ConstructionDeal.com is in the process of a complete site redesign and we will be incorporating more light commercial, heavy commercial, industrial, and governmental job lead categories.

Read Top 10 Tips to Surviving an Economic Slowdown with your Small Business.

Stay tuned to Contractor Update (bookmark us today!) - a FREE service of ConstructionDeal.com - and we'll try to continue to bring you more economic news for the construction and remodeling industries. To bid on local jobs -- subscribe to our network today!