Inside the customer experience:

How you conduct yourself and your business matters

iStock-506993414A customer’s perception of how successful a project is among the most valuable feedback a painting professional can receive. The challenge for the paint pro can be deciphering the customer’s true opinion when there may have been a few minor concerns or issues on the job.

To help paint pros understand the customer perspective, we interviewed managers and directors connected to residential painting projects, a painting job for a nonprofit, and commercial projects. Their insight into what determines success is revealing and enlightening.

TRUST, VALUES, ACCOUNTABILITY MATTER

To Nick Bryant, who purchases single-family homes as investments or to renovate with a group of like-minded investors in the Akron, OH area, the most important indicator that a painting project will be completed as anticipated is the trust factor between the person doing the hiring and the painting professional.

Bryant, a private wealth financial consultant for a large brokerage firm, found the paint pro he currently uses through his church. “His reputation kind of preceded him,” Bryant said, “so I didn’t have to research his history.” Bryant said the pro delivers work on time and economically. “He has worked with us on 20 to 25 residential projects in the past five years.”

Part of the mutual trust between Bryant and his paint pro is accountability. It’s important, he said, for a pro to recognize when he hasn’t done a job right and to say, “I’m going to fix it.”

A true pro should anticipate that the customer will want to know your policy if you break something, damage something, or choose the wrong paint. “Eric (the paint pro) is so reputable and accountable that I no longer even have to point out a problem,” Bryant said. “He’ll see it and just fix it.”

HOW CUSTOMERS FIND YOU, AND YOU FIND THEM

Not all paint pros can count on a religious or social connection with prospective customers. And they don’t necessarily have to be a part of or manage a large operation, either, to be able to find work. “We maintain a large database of contractors we work with, including painters,” said Menno Huiser, a project manager with J.H. Findorff & Son Inc., a general contractor in Madison and Milwaukee, WI that’s been in business for 126 years. Although Findorff is a large company, painting for some of its projects may be readily completed by a smaller painting operation.

Sometimes Findorff issues an RFP and sometimes— typically with private, non-government jobs—the company hires based on previous experiences with a paint pro. “We know how certain painters perform and we may lean toward one contractor or painter than another depending on past performance,” Huiser said. “The decision may be price-driven, because cost is obviously a factor. I haven’t found an owner yet who’s not interested in minimizing costs. We look at what the paint pro is providing for that money and what their value is. With a hard-bid project, the only thing that matters is the lowest cost, and that doesn’t necessarily ensure the best result.”

One of Findorff’s recent projects was the renovation of a building tapped to be the new headquarters of the nonprofit Literacy Network in Madison. The 12,000-sq.-ft. building was previously a medical clinic, and Findorff (along with his customer) wanted to find a paint contractor who understood that the right colors could transform the setting from sterile and clinical to a supportive, engaging and educational setting.

The company hired Madison-based Livesey Painting, a mid-sized painting contractor, because Livesey “had an availability of manpower and a willingness to ask for discounts from their suppliers because our customer is a nonprofit,” Huiser said. “Livesey knows their suppliers well and they were able to provide discounts to us.” Livesey has a long-standing relationship with Findorff, Huiser said.

“I’d rather work with a contractor I’ve worked with in the past,” he said. “That relationship is key to me.”

If you, as a paint contractor, are new in your business, what can you do to establish a relationship with a general contractor? Huiser recommends joining iSqFt.com, an industry-leading provider of online preconstruction management services. “There are a lot of projects that we advertise on that site,” he said. “You must be a member to be able to see posted jobs, but it’s definitely a worthwhile avenue to pursue.” He also recommends watching for general contractor signage on ongoing renovation and remodeling projects and on new-construction projects. “Sometimes a painter has not been selected yet for the project, so you may benefit by calling the main office of the contractor and asking for the estimating department to learn the process of submitting a bid.”

FINDING PROS AND THE VALUE OF REFERRALS

Word of mouth can be critical, says Brandye Coley, a real estate manager with commercial real estate giant CBRE’s Phoenix office. She begins her search for a paint contractor by asking a building owner “if they have any specific company in mind or supplier preference they want included in the RFP. Then, I contact other property managers and get current referrals for someone who had a successful job completed in the last 24 months. A successful job is due in large part to the specific crew that will be on-site at your property. I also ask for information on anyone who had challenges on a painting job. You can learn a lot based on how the contractor handled any issues or complaints that came up.”

COMMUNICATION IS KEY

Jen Davie, the development director for Literacy Network, says good communication is key to a successful painting project. “If the painters noticed anything concerning, they told me right away,” Davie said. In one instance, she explained, everyone originally thought one part of the space included two adjoining walls, but it turned out there was only one wall. The lead painter on the job asked her which of the two colors originally selected she would prefer for the single wall. The crew took the time to notice that the original specs were not part of the project “and to double-check with me so that no one had to change their mind down the road, long after the painting had been completed.”

The crew also helped Davie choose the paint colors that would look the best in each space and made sure that no more than one accent color was chosen for each separate space, which totaled 15 different spaces on the first floor plus two classrooms, four offices, and one very large open office space upstairs.

MAKING THE CUT THROUGH CUSTOMER SERVICE

“If there is a vendor in our RFP system that I am not familiar with,” Coley said, “I reach out to them and ask for their marketing materials and referral list. If both are positive, I include them in an RFP. I try to include at least six vendors in all RFPs.

If she’s considering hiring a company she’s never used before, Coley asks for jobs currently in progress so she can show up unannounced and get an idea of how the crew and work is being handled. “While you are there, you can chat with any tenants or security—the people being impacted by the work—and get an idea of how the experience is going and what they have witnessed.”

“A major consideration for me in the future would be whether a painting contractor can offer the customer service I need,” Davie said. “Will they consider my time frame in the end?”

“Be flexible and do what’s necessary to make sure a project is done right,” Bryant advises