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The Designer's Show with Special Guest Ed Earl

How to Increase Profits and Reduce Stress by Providing a Better Customer Experience With Ed Earl

For about 20 years now, I've been a Zen Buddhist practitioner and studied under a Zen master. Everything that I do in my business, as well as my personal life, I've committed to provide more cooperation, collaboration, developing understanding and compassion with the other party.

Oftentimes, there's this conflict or at the very least misunderstanding between the contractor and the homeowner and vice versa. So, now as an Owner's Rep, I'm a professional advisor hired by homeowners that are either building a custom home or doing a pretty high-end remodel. If they hire me early enough during the process, I help them build their team - select their architect, interior designer, contactor or builders. During the build process, I communicate, coordinate, integrate between all of the parties involved. Being a practitioner for 20 plus years, this really helped me to understand how I can bring this Zen practice to my clients, both my homeowners as well as my contractors to have a more peaceful collaborative, less stress, less conflict type of relationship. The first and most important thing that any contractor needs to build in a construction project is not the foundation, it is the trust. You have to start building trust from the minute you meet even before they become a client. You need to continue to develop and build that trust every step along the way. Trust actually begins from your digital presence like your website, referrals, from joining the Better Business Bureau, from having the right professional credentials. One challenge residential contractors face nowadays is the stereotype that contractors are dishonest and will kind of get as much money as they can out of people. We have to try even harder to build and establish trust with our clients due to this underlying suspicion, distrust and stereotypes our society have fed people. As an owner's rep, I tell my homeowner not to base their decision on price. I educate my homeowners and help them understand that they need to make decisions based on the reputation of the contractor by asking these two questions: Do you like him? Do you trust him? If the answer isn't a yes, they should never pick him regardless what the price is. When working with clients, think about the long term relationship. A client for life - that's what you want. So, building trust is very important if you think of the lifetime value of a client. As a designer or builder, you need to make your clients understand that their construction project is a prototype and part of that is you will make mistakes. Be honest by telling them you might make a mistake but also guarantee that you will be upfront about it and will have them in the loop and together you'll work through that. Before beginning any project, I give this chart to my clients that show the emotional ups and downs during the build process. The same chart has also been used by many of my contractor coaching clients as part of their marketing materials. I tell them to use it as part of their sales presentation or when they're doing their pre-con kickoff meetings. This actually helps a lot because it makes homeowners understand the process. Sometimes, homeowners get frustrated and angry and things like that and the chart helps to remind them it's all part of the chaotic process of a home build. There are two keys to building trust with homeowners. The first is documentation. You need to document everything that's happening in your construction project. The second key is communication. You have to stay in touch and keep your client informed by explaining every step along the way. You also need to establish realistic expectations. I think the best way to achieve both of those objectives of documentation and communication is with a cloud-based construction management system. One of the first recommendations that I give to a new business coaching client, is to check out Builder Trend, Co-construct build tools. I tell my contractor coaching clients, your prospect clients observe when you into a make a presentation. So, it's important you show them whatever system you're using. They may be talking to two or three other different contractors and you may be the only one using a cloud-based system. I'd also like to talk about dealing with difficult clients. One of the first steps is identifying whether they're going to be difficult or not and I have found that there's one question I can ask a homeowner to find out. I ask them "What do you do?" and then depending on what they tell me I can know if they're going to be difficult. As an Owner's Rep for 20 plus years, I've pretty much concluded that their profession is a pretty good indicator of whether they're going to be difficult or not. So, I've made my list of the four most difficult professions to deal with. The first profession is engineers. Engineers are precise in their thinking and they want to have everything planned out. Attorneys are second on my list because of trust issues. Due to their nature of work, they feed off mistrust of the construction industry and that's why they can be tough clients. Architects are also the same. They tend to be super picky because they know what's going on. Next on my list are doctors. They can be really difficult. They just don't understand that a home build isn't like a surgery. Lastly, a retired person. They have a lot of time on their hands and they're at the job site more than you are and the only thing that's worse than a retired person is a retired engineer or a retired doctor. So before I start working with these difficult clients, I address their issues based on their tendencies. The key thing here is really getting to understand the other person's perspective. If you're a contractor or designer, getting to understand the homeowner's perspective understand that they're approaching that from a sense of mistrust because of the societal context on the construction industry. As a Zen master of compassion, you just really have to put yourself in the other person's shoes and think like you're the homeowner. Understand they have never done this and that really helps to change things. I think as construction industry professionals, it's incumbent on us to educate our clients. And I think it starts in the design stage. You should set realistic expectations and help them that this is an iterative process and there will be changes, unanticipated uncertainties along the way. It can really help to make the entire project run more smoothly.


Watch Ed Earl's appearance at The Designers Show on YouTube


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