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Five ways to build return business

Return business is good for your bottom line and is therefore important to you. It costs five to twenty-five times as much to bring in new customers as it does to retain existing clients and this churn rate, the percentage of customer retention, not only impacts your financial margins, but your reputation. For consultants, contractors, sub-contractors and other service providers in the building industry, your reputation for quality work – or not – has incredible influence on your ability to acquire new orders and contracts, and keep existing work.

Strategic investment and intentionality in building return business is key to your success. Use this list to give your operations a check-up and highlight any areas that need to be adjusted, or where you have room to grow and excel.

01 | Accurate estimating

Budgets matter. Your clients’ ability to stay on budget affects their schedule, profitability and ultimately, their success – which translates to your success, or not, depending on how well you’ve helped or hindered them toward their goals. This isn’t about drawing in business with cut-rate prices, but rather about giving accurate, reliable estimates.

While the needs of projects may shift throughout their lifecycles, your ability to quickly and accurately provide estimates that your customer knows they can rely on raises your value to them, and differentiates you from the competition. Customers want to work with suppliers and service providers who they know they can trust and who support their success. They don’t want to have to make last-minute changes or be hit with unexpected costs because your estimate was out of date or didn’t take something into account. In addition, before you even bid on and win a project, you need the confidence in your estimate to know you can make money on it.

Providing accurate estimates at any given time can be a lot of work if you’re using dated manual systems – which is why it’s an excellent way to differentiate yourself from the competition. Rather than stumbling through endless spreadsheets with clunky formatting, broken links and out of date figures, today’s estimating software is accessible, efficient and intelligent, cutting down risk while boosting your reliability and value to your customers. Integrated solutions even interface with 2D plans and 3D models to provide accurate estimating to you and your clients, improving your experience during a project, and your long-term reputation and profitability.

02 | Meeting deadlines

Closely tied to the value of accurate estimating is the high priority your customers place on meeting their deadlines and your role in helping them meet their targets. Missed deadlines mean expensive changes, whether that’s in the form of rescheduled teams, increasing supply costs, or pushed-back inspections, turnover and occupancy dates. With the complexity of large project teams, your customers most likely have their own clients depending on them to meet deadlines, and therefore rely on each of their suppliers, service providers and consultants to stay on target and on schedule.

Supply or staffing errors can cause a project to fall behind, but you don’t want to carry the unnecessary burden of over-staffing or having excess stock on hand. Weigh the advantage of increased customer satisfaction and retention, as well as the competitive marketplace advantage of being known for always meeting or beating deadlines, against the cost of effective solutions. Good practice is to keep track of past performance and current resources, in order to set yourself up for success on each project. Best practice includes scheduling solutions that not only help you keep your records up to date, but identify opportunities to streamline the process and find efficiencies in the construction to create savings for both you and your customers.

03 | Excellence in communication

A large part of success is managing customer expectations. You don’t ever want to over-promise and under-deliver… and it’s all too easy for crossed wires and mixed messages to emerge if communication isn’t handled effectively. You can provide great service, accurate estimates and on time or even ahead-of-schedule delivery, but if your client thinks they were promised something other than what you delivered, your good work isn’t going to bring you the result you hoped for.

Apart from the bidding process, your creditability, profitability and reputation can suffer significantly if messages are getting lost during the project, updated plans and orders aren’t transmitted reliably, or correct procedure and authorization isn’t followed for purchase orders and changes. Set yourself up for success with best practices like dedicated customer contacts by project or phase and strict file naming conventions, document protocols and file management practices.

Invest in your customer communication outcomes by not only ensuring accuracy, but cultivating collaboration. Shared virtual workspaces, digitally managed documents and integrated toolkits can help you find efficiencies and increase relevancy.

04 | Be adaptable and responsive to change

To build return business, you need to stay relevant and continue to provide value to your customers. Don’t let competitors lure away your clients by innovating and evolving ahead of you. If you can take advantage of new solutions to increase your reliability, accuracy and the quality of your service to clients, it will not only improve your appeal with prospective customers but also keep existing ones happy and committed to using your services.

Increasingly, contracts and bid documents may stipulate the use of technologies and design or collaborative processes that will exclude your firm if you haven’t already established familiarity with those technologies and processes. Tools and systems can give you an edge, but more important than just implementing them is the practice of creative problem solving and flexible thinking.

A habit of healthy change, challenging yourself to grow and come up with responsive solutions will increase your value to clients, open your eyes to opportunities for efficiency and excellence, and benefit your bottom line. Consider the areas that are challenging currently, or that have room to grow, and investigate solutions to make a difference, whether that’s improving collaboration through digital tools, automating estimating, scheduling or electrical design software, or improving capacity with hardware and VDC services.

Finally, exacting accuracy matters, especially on complex and large-scale projects. While you can set staff to calculating meticulous plans, both the human error and costs in manpower can prove prohibitive, preventing you from even putting in competitive bids on such jobs unless you’re skilled in using technology to your advantage.

05 | Extend excellence

Focus on excellence and you’ll often find that your responsive, adaptable thinking and quality estimating, scheduling and communication have not only won you loyal customers, but also higher margins and a much stronger reputation than your competitors. Never cut corners; any initial savings will be eaten up in correction and reputation costs, and aim for adding value by targeting a higher standard than the client asked for or expects.

This practice has several trickle-down benefits; it builds margin into your estimates and schedule by keeping you always ahead of the expected target, makes you stand out from the crowd, and aids in innovation and the ability to spot efficiencies as you go along.