Communication is the key to gaining the customer's trust.

When choosing a construction firm, customers say that trust and integrity are more influential than the price of the bid, according to a recent Intuit Construction Business Solutions study. (Intuit produces QuickBooks and a variety of construction business software.) Its study found these qualities to be especially important with residential customers, 43 percent of whom cited trust as the number one reason they selected a particular construction firm.

Conducted by independent research firm Decipher, the study surveyed more than 500 customers of commercial and residential construction firms. The results were announced last January at the International (Home) Builders' Show in Las Vegas, the world's largest trade event for the construction industry.

Personality and professionalism also count. More than 80 percent of respondents cited these characteristics as important factors in selecting a firm. These qualities, along with trade skills, contribute to a contractor's reputation and can mean the difference between success and failure when dealing with customers. When asked how they had heard about the firms they hired, more than 75 percent of respondents from each group favored word-of-mouth over telephone directory and Web research.

"The message for contractors is clear: Company integrity is as critical to the success of a construction business as the cost of the job and the quality of the finished product," says Carol Novello, president of Intuit Construction Business Solutions. "The study shows that it is just as important to have the right business management skill set and processes as it is to have the ability to lay a foundation and finish a job."

Customer Satisfaction Ratings

The Intuit study found that contractors are generally succeeding in keeping their customers happy. The survey revealed:

94 percent of businesses would recommend their construction firm.

84 percent of homeowners said they would recommend their contractor.

Approximately 60 percent of those commercial and residential customers trust the firms they hired or do business with.

Commercial and residential customers also agreed on their main reasons for dissatisfaction. A total of 56 percent of residential and 40 percent of commercial customers cited job quality as their primary reason for dissatisfaction. Other key factors included low productivity and efficiency, and both groups felt that construction firms need to do a better job communicating with them. In fact, 41 percent of commercial businesses wanted more clarity and promptness in the communications from their construction firm.

Open to Interpretation

On the whole, findings of this study ought to be encouraging to trade contractors and workers. They show that good work does get appreciated and people value it even more than cost.


Frankly, I was surprised to find so many businesses and homeowners say they'd recommend the contractors who do work for them. This runs counter to the impression one gets from cocktail party chatter and other anecdotal evidence suggesting more widespread dissatisfaction with contractors.

In a way, it's also contradicted by another survey result cited above. How does one explain that 94 percent of businesses and 84 percent of homeowners would recommend their contractors, but only 60 percent say they "trust" those firms? Could it be that the remaining 34 percent of businesses and 24 percent of homeowners think of recommending them to people they don't like?

Interpreting any survey requires reading between the lines. I for one am skeptical that this survey accurately measures peoples' deep-seated attitudes. How a question is framed has a lot to do with shaping the responses. It sounds nobler for a person to say he or she cares more about quality than cost, but deep down how many people really mean it?

In the real world of construction, there are gradations of quality and price that can't be accounted for in a simple either/or inquiry. It might be revealing to ask a person how much more he or she is willing to pay for a job likely to last, say, 30 years vs. 20 years. It's a fanciful example, of course, because it's impossible to state precisely how long any given job will last. Nonetheless, I have a feeling the responses would find not many people willing to pay an extremely premium price for the extra longevity. In the real world, people base many value judgments on a "good enough" frame of mind.

Enough skepticism. What really drew my attention to this survey has to do with that word "trust."

The Importance of Trust

Intuit's findings coincide with various other surveys I've seen over the years showing trust to be extremely important to customers in their dealings with contractors. There are a number of reasons for this.

For one, the stakes are high. The need for construction services such as yours does not arise very often. It's not like dealing with a grocer or restaurant where one returns time after time based on satisfaction with the products and services offered. It's not even like dealing with a plumbing or HVAC service firm, whose customers may call once or twice a year for relatively inexpensive maintenance and repairs. The wrong choice in such repetitive business relationships usually doesn't have very serious or lasting consequences. If you're dissatisfied, you simply stop patronizing the business and try a different one.

However, construction and remodeling companies may have only one opportunity in a lifetime to perform for many of their customers. Potential referrals provide some incentive to do a good job, but thanks to the yellow pages, plenty of companies can survive indefinitely doing shoddy work and treating customers badly.

With your line of work, many thousands of dollars typically are at risk, and lousy work can render a facility uninhabitable for a long time. Also, most people don't fully understand the complexities of construction work and rely on you to know things like codes, permit procedures and correct product applications.

First and foremost, customers must trust that yours is a legitimate company and not one of the fly-by-night shysters that infect the construction industry. It doesn't take much homework to establish a contractor's basic legitimacy, but the more subtle elements of trust are harder to earn.

According to Intuit, some 80 percent of survey respondents factor "personality and professionalism" into their contractor selection. The study also said many customers require more "clarity and promptness in communications" with their contractors. Personality and professionalism are conveyed by communications. Many good, honest contractors don't get the credit they deserve simply because they are no good at making people understand how good they are.

Communications is a catch-all term. Part of communicating with customers has to do with the advertising and marketing materials you put out. It also has to do with personal interaction, i.e., listening to customers describe their problems and expectations, and responding effectively to their concerns. It means not talking down to people in jargon incomprehensible to folks outside of the construction business. And a big part of what's labeled "communications" is simply a matter of returning phone calls in timely fashion.

It's not enough to do good work. Building trust means tending to all the little things that add up to this big thing called "communications."