Exclusive Consumer Research Shines a Light on Roofing Contractors
At the end of the day, every roofing contractor’s goal is to end up with a quality roof installation and a satisfied customer. On a residential project, once the final nail has been driven and the last piece of packaging has been picked up, a final inspection can ensure that the job has been done right. But who really knows what customers are thinking?
Getting insight on the consumer’s perspective was the driving force behind the creation of the Roofing Contractor Homeowners Survey. The survey was designed to determine how homeowners found contractors and how satisfied they were with the performance of the contractor who landed the job. Another goal was to identify the key drivers behind the decision to choose one contractor over another.
We first launched the survey in 2002 and conducted it again in 2006. The results of those research studies were analyzed in articles in the February 2003 and March 2007 issues of Roofing Contractor. The world has changed quite a bit since then, and we decided to conduct an updated version of the survey in late 2012 to get a snapshot of the market and gauge homeowner perceptions.
The sponsors of the most recent survey, IKO and CertainTeed, provided a list of customers who had recently had a new roof installed. Property owners were selected at random from the lists to receive the survey, which was sent out to 1,200 homeowners. Some of the highlights of the 2012 survey follow. Roofing Contractor also invited representatives of the sponsors to share their insights on the survey results and their implications for roofing contractors.
The Survey Sample
Almost all of the buildings of those surveyed were single-family residences. More than half of the residences (62 percent) were between 1,500 and 3,000 square feet. The homes in the survey averaged 2,257 square feet.
Sixty-five percent of respondents were male, and 35 percent were female. When it came to the choice of a new roof, 84 percent were the only or primary decision maker, while 16 percent had some involvement in the decision.
Figure 1 shows the reasons the homeowners called contractors for an estimate. The most common reason given was that the roof was getting old (65 percent). Storm damage (27 percent) and roof appearance (23 percent) were the next most common reasons cited for getting an estimate. Just 22 percent of respondents called because their roof was leaking.
Figure 2 shows the number of contractors homeowners contacted requesting an estimate. The homeowners in our survey contacted an average of 2.66 contractors for estimates, and they received an average of 2.37 estimates. Most of the estimates were delivered in person. Ninety-one percent of respondents received estimates that were presented in person, 33 percent received them by U.S. mail and 25 percent via e-mail. Asked which method they preferred most, 77 percent of respondents indicated they preferred to receive the estimate in person, while 15 percent answered e-mail and 8 percent U.S. mail.
As for the type of estimate received, 81 percent of respondents received simple one- or two-page estimates. Another 57 percent received a formal presentation folder. Very few respondents were shown an estimate on a laptop computer (4 percent) or tablet such as an iPad (2 percent). Asked which type of estimate they preferred, 52 percent preferred a simple one- or two-page estimate, while 45 percent preferred a formal presentation folder.
Finding a Contractor
Where did homeowners turn to find a roofing contractor? Friends and neighbors were at the top of the list.
The survey asked how homeowners found out about the contractors they called for quotes and how they found out about the contractor who landed the job. The results are shown in Figure 3.
For contractors contacted for estimates, 50 percent received recommendations from friends, and 24 percent received recommendations from neighbors. Relatives accounted for another 9 percent. Internet searches were the third most commonly cited source for leads, with 20 percent of respondents contacting a contractor they found online. Angie’s List was used by 9 percent of respondents, and manufacturers’ websites were used by another 6 percent. Social media sites including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Yelp were not cited at all.
Five percent of respondents used phone directories such as the Yellow Pages. Lawn signs were mentioned by 11 percent of respondents. When it came to the contractor who actually got the job, the most common sources were friends (43 percent), neighbors (12 percent) and Internet searches (12 percent). Eight percent of respondents hired contractors who made their first impression with a lawn sign. Lawn signs tied relatives and the Better Business Bureau for the fourth most common method of finding out about the contractor who eventually landed the job.
Respondents were asked to list the lowest quote they received, the highest quote they received, and the amount they actually paid for the project. The averages of the results are shown in Figure 4. In our most recent survey, the average of the lowest quote was $8,179. The highest quotes averaged $12,274. The average price actually paid was $9,461, a figure substantially higher than the lowest price quoted. Since, on average, the homeowners passed on a quote that was 14 percent lower than the one they accepted, it would seem that price is certainly not the only factor at work in the decision-making process.
If price is not the be all and end all, what is? What types of information are contractors sharing with their potential customers, and what differentiates the contractor who got the job from the contractor who was simply spinning his wheels?
Landing the Job
Know Your Audience
Referrals were the top sources of leads in our survey. How can contractors make sure their customers recommend them to their friends and neighbors?
According to Jim Slauson, vice president, Certified Program and Services for GAF, referrals hinge on quality workmanship. “First of all, you have to be doing a quality job all the way around,” he said. “A lot of little things play into that, and all those little things can bring customer satisfaction by demonstrating the contractor has gone above and beyond what was expected.” According to Slauson, the devil is in the details, and it’s attention to detail from start to finish that convinces homeowners they chose the right contractor. “The goal is to make sure they are comfortable with their choice — that no matter how many people they solicited, no matter how many estimates they had, that they made the right choice,” he said.
But first you have to land the job. The typical homeowner in our survey called between two and three contractors for estimates, and the ones who got the job usually shared much more information in their proposals than their competitors. According to Slauson, the key in a proposal is covering all the key points without overloading the homeowner. “Customers want options, but you don’t want to go in there and present all of the styles — you’ll overwhelm them,” he said. “It’s all about knowing your audience. The majority of contractors might go in with one or two options — typically a standard laminate shingle and an upgraded laminate shingle of some type. What they don’t do is to take the additional step to show them something that is a new style — something that looks much different. Our surveys as well show that homeowners want to know more about more options in look and style. Curb appeal is very important. People are now saying, ‘I’d like something different.’ A mistake many contractors make is they don’t train their salespeople to feel comfortable showing one or two other options.”
The proper amount of detail is crucial on the invoice as well. One of the most common problems with estimates Slauson sees is that many of them are simple half-page estimates with a lump sum price. “Most contractors do very little to explain, above and beyond what the price is, all of the things that they are going to be doing to ensure that the result is a quality job and a great customer experience,” he said. “It’s important to explain the quality and integrity of the firm, all of the training that installers go through before they get up on the roof — all the things they don’t see.”
Talking about their participation in a manufacturer’s certification program is a good way to establish credibility and underscore training, but this opportunity is all too often missed, noted Slauson. Contractors certified in a manufacturer’s program might also be able to extend warranty protection, for example. “If you have the capability to offer extended coverage, it’s important that the homeowner understands what you can offer them and why you have that capability,” he said. “There’s an immediate way you can differentiate yourself, even if they don’t choose that option.”
Another thing that contractors have to face is that technology is rapidly evolving, and new technology is essential for reaching the younger generation. “It all goes back to knowing your audience,” said Slauson. “Think about who your client is today and how you should communicate with them. Contractors need to embrace technology. The homeowners are doing it. The world is changing so quickly.”
“Our industry is a tough one to change, but it’s changing by the second,” he concluded. “Contractors have to change, too. They’ve got to embrace technology that will get them there and keep them there.”
Homeowners were asked whether or not contractors shared with them information about a number of topics, including workmanship, product choices, warranties and financing. They were also asked to rate how important those topics were when making their final decision.
Figure 5 shows the type of information shared with customers by the typical contractors they consulted and the contractor they eventually hired. Some of the differences are striking. It’s clear that the contractors landed the job discussed many more aspects of the job than the typical contractor. It appears communication is a key factor in the sales presentation, and the more detailed the communication, the better.
The vast majority of respondents (92 percent) indicated the contractor they hired discussed the importance of quality workmanship and their plans for ensuring a high-quality installation. Sixty percent of respondents indicated the typical contractor consulted for an estimate shared this information. This was a crucial component for homeowners, as almost all (94 percent) of respondents rated plans for a high-quality job as an important item to consider when selecting a contractor.
The differences in product options and choices available was another crucial component for homeowners to consider, but less than half of respondents felt the typical contractors consulted for estimates took the time to discuss this topic. Eighty-six percent of respondents indicated the contractors who landed the job helped them understand the different product choices.
The contractor who got the job was far more likely to discuss underlayments, flashings and attic ventilation than the typical contractor. The contractor who got the job was also far more likely to share roof measurements and warranty information.
When it came to the topic of a special application certification from the manufacturer, 73 percent of respondents indicated that the contractor who got the job shared this information, compared to 39 percent who indicated the typical contractor discussed certification programs.
The contractors who were hired were also far more likely to talk about the differences in service between other contractors and themselves. About three-quarters (76 percent) of respondents indicated this was a topic discussed by contractors who got the job, while 39 percent of respondents indicated the typical contractor brought it up. But then again, it looks like the contractor who got the job was differentiating himself from the start. If only one of the contractors a homeowner consults discusses the importance of underlayment, flashings, attic ventilation and a host of other factors, hasn’t that company already set itself apart from the competition?
The survey also included questions on job satisfaction and the likelihood of recommending the contractor to others. As Figure 6 shows, after the job was completed, 96 percent of those surveyed felt they received a good value for their investment. In addition, 90 percent of respondents indicated they were likely to recommend the contractor to others.
Those solid numbers were not a surprise to Jay Butch, director of Contractor Programs for CertainTeed Roofing, and John DeRosa Jr., manager, Sales and Contractor Development for IKO.
“Dollar for dollar, the roofing industry provides consumers with cost-effective solutions that match their needs,” Butch said. “The products and services offered deliver a wide array of roof systems designed for both enhanced aesthetics and long-term performance. The fact that nine out of ten consumers would recommend their contractor is a testament to the professional contractors in our industry. The majority of contractors provide an incredible benefit to their customers by furnishing top-quality workmanship along with great service in a straightforward manner.”
IKO’s John DeRosa agreed that the results said a lot about the contractors in the survey, and he asked them to take the additional step of following up with customers after the job is completed. “One suggestion I would offer is to harness the power of these positive reviews by following up with your clients to identify the factors that compelled them to choose you for their project,” he said. “Most homeowners approach the contractor-selection process with a negative perception, low expectations and low level of trust. If they chose you to do their project — and paid more for you to do it — it suggests that they saw something different that compelled them to use you. What did they see? What were their perceptions as they approached the process, and what fed those perceptions? In what ways did you shatter those perceptions? Taking some time — after the project — to ask these questions may provide valuable insights into the differentiating factors you should talk about on future sales calls.”
Tips on Sales Presentations
According to DeRosa and Butch, the survey underscores the importance of making an effective sales presentation that educates the consumer and sets your company apart from the competition. It also shows the importance of talking to the homeowner in person. “One of the reasons homeowners may not want to take the time to meet with roofing contractors is their perceived lack of differentiation — they think you are all the same,” DeRosa said. “This is further complicated by the fact that many homeowners think their roofing project is limited to simply buying shingles and labor. If you want to meet with them, you will need to give them a compelling reason and tell them why it’s in their best interest to meet with you. One example is your need to conduct a thorough roof inspection — which would require you to get into their attic or crawl space.”
When it comes to differentiating your company, DeRosa had this tip: “Review your sales presentation and ask yourself, ‘Would the customer expect me to say this about myself? Is it likely that my competitors are saying the same thing?’ If you answer yes to either of those questions, you will need to make a change. It’s very difficult to win the differentiation battle when you are using the same terms, asking the same questions and making the same promises as your competitors.”
Butch pointed to the vast difference in the amount of information supplied by the typical contractor versus the one who landed the job. There is a lesson there for contractors. “If, on average, consumers obtain sales proposals from three contractors, then this vast difference in ratings is an indicator that approximately two-thirds of contractors are not meeting the consumer’s expectations in one or more criteria,” he said. “Surely contractors are not doing this by design; therefore, it illustrates the importance of touching all the bases and covering the major points with prospects during the sales call. Despite the fact that consumers may be better educated from their online research, it is important to take the time to thoroughly inform them about your company’s value proposition, the services provided, and the roof system components.”
Of course, different buyers can have different priorities, Butch noted. “It is up to the salesperson to decipher the prospect’s buying style and determine the appropriate level of detail to convey. This can prove to be a balancing act between communicating too little and providing TMI (too much information); however, it is usually best to err on the side of conveying more than less. Walk prospects through the entire re-roof process, and be sure to convert roofing jargon into laymen’s terms they will understand. Never assume the consumer is crystal clear, until you confirm that they are.”
Both Butch and DeRosa pointed to one area in which contractors had lots of room for improvement — using photos of the homeowner’s actual roof to document its condition. Just 16 percent of respondents said photos were shared by the typical contractor, and 43 percent said they were shown photos by the contractor who was eventually hired. If people don’t include photos in their presentations, they are missing out on a key opportunity, Butch asserted. “Contractors should never leave home without a digital camera,” he said. “Photos can be printed out, shown on a laptop or tablet, or sent out as an e-mail attachment.”
DeRosa recommends taking photos before, during and after projects are completed. “These are a particularly nice idea when working on projects where roof planes are not easily visible to the homeowner. Taking the time to provide these assurances will not only help you establish trust, it will also provide some valuable documentation in the event the customer becomes unreasonable.”
Given that “word of mouth” sources generated such a high percentage of leads, contractors should do all they can to make sure their customers recommend them to their friends and neighbors — and that begins with ensuring you deliver superior service.
“The first step in earning referrals is making sure you are ‘referral worthy.’” DeRosa said. “This has less to do with the value of the spiff you offer and more to do with shattering the customers’ expectations to the point where they enthusiastically want to tell everyone about their experience.”
Butch agreed. “First and foremost, contractors must perform their work in a manner that meets or exceeds customer expectations — within the four corners of the contract,” he said. “And, almost more importantly, it is critical to manage the entire customer experience from start to finish, ensuring that clients fall somewhere on the scale between very satisfied and delighted. Nowadays, to create delighted clients, contractors need to go beyond solely installing a proper roof system — that is the consumer’s minimum expectation. The customer experience begins the moment a client contacts a contractor and continues not only until the project is completed, but beyond. Commonly the relationship can last for many years — almost indefinitely — after the job is done. For instance, the contractor may be called upon to do additional projects, or the client may continue to refer new prospects to the contractor.”
“Contractors that have a great reputation enjoy word of mouth advertising; those who build a customer base of ‘raving fans’ generate a continuous stream of referrals that get parlayed into profitable sales,” Butch continued. “Further, it is a well-established fact that contractors who implement a customer referral program reap a greater amount of referral leads than those who choose not to do so. The more contractors can do to actively market their companies to their existing database of customers, the less reliant they become on marketing to the general public. Unless a contractor is strictly a referral-based business, both forms of marketing are required to generate leads; however, everyone knows referral leads trump cold leads all day long!”
While social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Yelp were not mentioned as a source of leads in this survey, DeRosa warned contractors not to dismiss their importance. “The survey tells us 0 percent of the respondents used social media to find their contractors,” he said. “I hope this does not discourage anyone from using Facebook or help justify anyone’s decision not to use it, for example. It’s important to clarify that social media is not about lead generation; it’s about creating awareness. Statistics tell us that the median Facebook user has more than 100 Facebook friends. Your efforts to engage your clients on Facebook will create awareness with their 100-plus friends, and that is an excellent way to develop awareness of your brand. When it comes time for your clients’ Facebook friend to hire a contractor, they are not going remember seeing you on Facebook, but they will find comfort in the fact that your name is familiar to them.”