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The 3 Percent

Reviews

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has worked in or with the remodeling industry that we live and die based on case studies, testimonials…and, of course, reviews.

All of which have served STRITE design + remodeling well over our 40-year history. Very well, indeed. So much so, that when asked how we differentiate ourselves from our competitors, we typically defer to our clients’ experiences. It is not hyperbole to observe that those experiences are stated far more eloquently than anything we say about ourselves (at least publicly). They are, in fact, representative of what we like to call “the STRITE experience.”

Such is the ubiquity of that experience that of the many reviews posted on the industry association website, Guild Quality, 97 percent stated that they would refer us to a friend or family member. Of the 3 percent that would not, it’s worth noting that none of their reviews were based on a failure to fulfill our contractual obligations. Instead, they were based on a negative experience of the fulfillment process.

To think of our “approval rating” more colloquially, image being in a room of 100 people, all of whom have done business with you. Now, imagine that 97 of those people would unhesitatingly recommend doing business with you to a loved one. With that amount of collective endorsement, you might wonder how the other three could have had such a conflicting experience. It would be easy to dismiss this minority as some dubious anomaly — or an affirmation of the conventionally accepted truth that you can’t be all things to all people.

Instead, we find the 3% to be the exception that proves the rule: the rule being that you deviate from proven processes at your own peril. When you do, you risk something more important than falling short of your clients’ expectations. You fall short of your own.

The most recent case in point is a review we received on the residential construction and remodeling website Houzz. There amidst all the five-star reviews is a scathing one-star criticism that is, hands down, the worst thing a client has ever said about us. It hurts…but there it is…and it’s hard not to get defensive about it. But a client’s experience is their experience — and when that experience fails to reach the five-star level we base our brand on, we have to look hard at when and how the disconnect took place.

At the heart of any client experience — good or bad — is communication. How well we keep our clients engaged in the remodel process is critical to their experience of it. In the case of those experiences that fall short of our goal, we typically find a disconnect between how we communicated with a client and that client’s communication style. In the case of our one-star review, our project manager provided the client with twice daily project updates by phone, at her request, rather than generate written reports following each communication. In retrospect, it would have been far better, when it came to resolving subsequent disputes, if we had maintained a more rigorous “paper trail.” Memories of what is said in verbal conversation can, after all, be faulty on all sides of the exchange.

The repairs referred to in the Houzz review had to do with dust that infiltrated the client’s wardrobe — for which we were presented with a nearly $4,000 dry cleaning estimate. We should here state for the record that we were not given the opportunity to assess this damage first hand. Although mitigation of demolition and construction impacts on a home throughout the remodel process is something on which we pride ourselves — and despite having isolated the construction area from the rest of the home — we took the client at her word and credited the amount requested in full.

One of our takeaways from this experience was a re-evaluation of our dust protection methods. Tools and techniques change over the years, and part of our job as an industry leader is to constantly improve on how we do what we do. In the case of our techniques for dust protection, we came away from this one-star project with a mitigation scheme that is far more rigorous — which only goes to show that people who cause you to do better work are to be appreciated, regardless of what they may say about you.

And this brings us to a final reflection on the other 3%. Yes, you can’t please all the people all the time — but as long as you make that your aim rather than dismiss it as a unrealistic objective, you’re more likely to end up with 97 out of 100 people who would refer you to a friend or family member. In the end, it’s what we learn from the three percent of folks who weren’t completely satisfied about working with us that makes the other 97% happy they did.

Frequently Asked Questions

Inside Strite

Remodeling your home, whether we’re talking about updating the look of a guest bathroom or a second story addition, is a big decision…and quite possibly one of the biggest lifestyle investments you’ll make outside of the original purchase of your home.  We naturally expect that our clients will have a lot of questions during the decision making process, and throughout the remodel.

We’ve dedicated this blog to publishing a running list of the most frequent, and most thought provoking, questions that we hear from our clients.

Q: What is a “trades party?”

A: A “trades party” is an important step in the process of creating a description of work (DOW) and a fixed price agreement for our remodel projects.  At a trades party we invite our construction partners to the job site (i.e. your home) to review the project with our design and production staff and provide their input.  By giving them the opportunity to share their expertise and experience at the onset of a remodel we not only identify potential challenges, but also potential savings.  We also ensure that they fully share in the knowledge we have of the project plan, and can safely and profitably fulfill their part in its completion on time, within budget, and to the expectations of the homeowner.

For more information, read our blog post, Party Time!

Q: What is STRITE’s warranty policy?

A: Another, and more relevant, way of posing this question is to ask, “Does STRITE stand behind its work?”  The immediate answer is a resounding, “yes!” — but the heart of this question gets down to the difference between “explicit” and “implicit.”  Explicitly, all STRITE remodel agreements include a one year labor warranty, with materials and products subject to the warranties of their respective manufacturers and suppliers.  Having said this, however, we should add that in nearly four decades of doing business, warranties have never been an issue for our company.  The reason for this is not simply that we stand behind the quality of our work, but more importantly because we believe that, “once a STRITE customer, always a STRITE customer.”  To better appreciate the “implicit” side of our warranty policy, read our blog post on the subject.

Q: Why does experience matter?

A: For most of us, it goes without saying that the more experience we have with doing something, the better we get at doing it. While this may be true for individuals, however, it isn’t necessarily the case with organizations — especially in an industry where every job is a “custom build.”  Where the rubber meets the road is in how an organization builds “repeatability” into its processes — and how it in turn inculcates those processes (think “standard operating procedures,” if you will) in its staff and associates.  For STRITE, this “repeatability” resides in our project database — a rich information source for how we approached a project, the costs associated with that approach, the challenges that arose, and most important, how we managed those challenges.  For more insight into how repeatability benefits our customers, read our blog post “Why Experience Matters.”

Q: What does integrity mean in our business?

A: This is a frequently asked question that we can answer in six words: keeping our end of the agreement — which is, of course, another way of saying “doing the things we said we were going to do.”  As an integral part of the STRITE culture, this value goes beyond the notion of contractual obligation.  Sure, our contracts require us to produce what we’ve agreed to on paper, but our interpretation of “integrity” is more about truly having the best interests of our customers in mind throughout a project and beyond.

Q: What does “value” mean?

A: For us, the concept of value starts with how we see our business, which is to provide a high quality service and product.  If you think about a “higher calling” associated with any business, ours is to fulfill a community need — and after all, improving peoples‘ homes is certainly an investment in the quality of a community.  Focusing on this aspect of our business model, rather than on simply making money, forms the basis of how we look at value.  To this, we add integrity (doing what we do honestly and professionally), talent, and experience.  For more about how we define value, read our companion blog.

Q: What does it mean when we say we know our numbers?

A: “Knowing our numbers” is more than just a point of professional pride at STRITE — it is part of the value we bring to our clients when we undertake a remodel project.  Knowing what things cost, based on years of experience with a wide variety of remodel situations, comes from tracking every cost for every project we’ve ever completed.  This knowledge benefits our clients in two very tangible ways: it makes for an accurate estimate at the outset of a job (which translates into a fixed-price contract), and it ensures the absence of “change orders” through the life of the project.  For a better understanding of what this means to our clients, read our blog, Knowing Our Numbers.

Q: What kind of relationship do we have with our local trades people?

A: Mutual respect, when it comes to our treatment of our trades partners as well as our clients, has been an indelible part of the STRITE culture for as long as we’ve been doing business.  While this respect cuts both ways, there are other reasons that our trades partners tend to make our priorities their priorities. It’s good business. Our trades partners know that when they attend a “trades party” to preview an upcoming STRITE project, they are virtually assured of getting the job. They know that when they show up at a STRITE job site, it will be ready for them to get to work. Finally, they know that we pay when we say we’re going to pay, and that once they’ve met our qualification standards (which include being insured, bonded, and reliable), they can count on a consistent stream of jobs. All of these things contribute to the profitability of our trades partners, and benefit our clients by ensuring that the folks who work with us fit our schedules into theirs, rather than the other way around.  For more on this subject, read our blog, Don’t Call Them “Subs”!.

Q: How long will my remodel take to complete?

A: The easiest answer to this question is that things take what they take — and not all remodel projects are created equal. There are, however, a couple of key factors to getting a project completed as quickly as possible. The first is organization…which in turn is a function of experience. Having done thousands of remodel projects over nearly 40 years, we know how the necessary sequence of tasks mesh, and how to condense them down to a schedule that lets us hit the ground running while avoiding the inefficiencies and errors that occur when people are trying to work on top of one another. There is, however, another factor that ultimately trumps experience when it comes to the timely completion of a remodel project: the willingness of your trade partners to make your priorities theirs. For more insight into this frequently asked question, read our blog How Long is it Going To Take?.

Q: How do we treat our clients?

A: For STRITE, customer relations is as necessary a cost of doing business as meeting our payroll.  One of the legacies of our company’s founder, Jim Strite, was to make customer care not simply a rigorous discipline, but the subject of on going study.  Rather than handing out reading assignments on new construction techniques, which our project managers were already inclined to learn as a matter of perfecting their craft, the STRITE team was asked to study books like “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”  As a result, STRITE’s weekly production meetings typically focus as much on the emotional states of our remodel customers as they do on construction details. To better understand STRITE’s approach to client relations, read an interview on the subject with vice president Brad Milspaugh.

Q: What is a DOW?

A: Try to imagine filming a blockbuster movie without the benefit of a script, and you have some idea of how integral a “description of work” (DOW) is to the successful completion of a remodel project.  In essence, the function of the DOW is to take everything we’ve learned from our clients in discussing their project goals, everything our trades partners have told us about those aspects of the project they will contribute to, and all the costs and lead times for materials, appliances, fixtures, and finishes involved in the final outcome, and then compile this information into a “narrative” of how the remodel will proceed from beginning to end.  For our clients, the DOW serves as a way of confirming that their expectations will be met, while giving them a way to gauge the project process.  The DOW also provides the broader context for scheduling the work of our trades partners and for the creation of the project calendars we provide our clients.  To better understand the role that the DOW plays in the overall remodel process, click here for an overview.

Q: How do we deal with mistakes?

A: Nobody is perfect — least of all builders.  In any endeavor with as many details and complexities as a remodel, errors are bound to occur.  Our goal is to minimize their frequency and impact through detailed planning and an in-depth knowledge of the construction process, and then take ownership of our mistakes if and when we make them.  This, of course, begs the question of when something is a mistake versus an unforeseen situation that arises in the course of a project.  Because STRITE routinely generates a “description of work” (DOW), we never try to hide behind a “change order” as a thinly disguised mistake — which is why we don’t use that term in our business.  Between the DOW and our ongoing communications with our clients, there is never any doubt as to the difference between an outright error and a mere “complication.”  The truth is, neither matters when it comes to our obligation to do the right thing, on time and within budget.

Why Experience Matters

Inside Strite

For most of us, it goes without saying that the more experience we have with doing something, the better we get at doing it. While this may be true for individuals, however, it isn’t necessarily the case with organizations — especially in an industry where every job is a “custom build.”  Where the rubber meets the road is in how an organization builds “repeatability” into its processes — and how it in turn inculcates those processes (think “standard operating procedures,” if you will) in its staff and associates.

For STRITE, this “repeatability” resides in large part in our project database — a rich data history of how we approached a project, the costs associated with that approach, the challenges that arose, and most important, how we managed those challenges.  The benefit of capturing the experience that comes with having done nearly 400 kitchen remodels, for example, is the ability to predict problems before they arise in our next kitchen remodel, and to offer options that add value and/or reduce costs (knowing that a truss can be successfully used in place of a beam, for example, can save a thousand dollars alone).  Although our clients sometimes perceive this ability as some form of “x-ray vision” on our part, the apparent magic of seeing beyond what is in front of you comes from the hindsight of having seen something similar before — many, many times before — from the perspectives of both design and production.

Beyond the ability of our systems to replicate success, however, there is a more fundamental level of experience that our staff brings to every project. STRITE’s president, Bob Mundy, has spent 50 years in the construction business in both residential and commercial markets, while our founder, Jim Strite (now retired), travels the country helping other remodeling businesses improve their practices by sharing the knowledge we’ve gained over nearly four decades.  After all, experience counts for little if it can’t be shared.