The Key to Client Communication: 7 Tips for General Contractors, Home Builders, and Remodelers

Being a general contractor involves managing countless moving parts—both literally and figuratively. You’re the hub connecting everything and everyone involved in making a project successful. That’s why effective communication strategies are so crucial to your success. Even the most straightforward renovation involves a steady stream of details that need to be detailed, reviewed and rehashed, approved and sometimes re-approved. When communication flow is poor, this can lead to delays, costly mistakes and an unhappy client who won’t recommend or re-hire you in the future.

To pave the way for smooth and direct communication, start with a contract that clearly details designs, specifications, estimates, materials and schedules. And don’t just have your client sign it; walk through it together and take the time to ask whether there are any questions or concerns. This ensures that everyone’s on the same page before the project begins. Here are some ways to keep the communication process clear and efficient from that point forward.

Agree on a schedule for project updates.

In your contract, include a schedule for when you’ll give your client project updates. For a homeowner’s  first-time renovation, they might want you to touch base daily, while a seasoned real-estate investor many only want a biweekly report. Agreeing upon these expectations upfront will ensure that your client never feels left in the dark.

Establish a point person.

Walking onto the job site, your client could encounter anyone from the plumber to the framer to a supplier and decide to raise important questions or requests. That’s why it’s important to establish a point person—whether that’s yourself or someone else at your company—that all of these communications should go through. Not only does this help ensure that things are addressed in a timely and appropriate fashion, it keeps the communication process (and in turn the overall project) from feeling chaotic for everyone involved, including your subs. There should also be an internal chain of command that those working for you can use in order to redirect client concerns or ensure that their own questions or suggestions are heard and addressed.

Let people know how and when to reach you.

Choose a single contact method as your preferred one for clients to use, be that leaving a message with at the office, calling or texting your cell, or sending an email. Let them know during what hours you are reachable for urgent issues, and how long you generally take to respond to less-urgent questions. This way, they won’t expect that you’ll be accessible 24/7 but can feel confident that they’ll always receive a timely response.

Use technology to your advantage.

Cloud-based project management software is a game-changer when it comes to streamlining the communications process, whether you want to coordinate messages among numerous parties (your client, the architect, subcontractors, employees at your firm) or just between you and your clients. Each party can access the software via an app on a computer, tablet or smartphone to view the most updated versions of floorplans, spec sheets and selection schedules, or to send messages (the resulting conversation log can be helpful to reference if you run into misunderstandings down the line). Another way technology can improve communication: 3D and interactive models are an excellent way to ensure everyone has the same vision for a project.

Keep conversations clear and concise.

Whether you’re having a conversation in person or exchanging texts or emails, keep project-related discussions as clear, direct and specific as possible. Avoid over-explaining things or using technical terms that your clients may not be familiar with. You want them to fully understand what you’re trying to convey, not glaze over details only to call them into question on install day.

Always be upfront.

When unexpected costs or delays happen, it’s best to make your client aware so they aren’t blindsided by any surprises later on. It’s also best to communicate such developments in person, not via email. Doing this demonstrates your transparency and willingness to be upfront, plus eliminates any risk of an important update being overlooked. If possible, present some potential solutions or alternatives that could be explored, framing the conversation around these to help clients come away feeling confident that you’re working hard to meet expectations despite an unforeseen challenge.

Keep track of what’s being said.

Whether it’s in an app on your phone or in a notebook, jot down some quick notes after each in-person conversation you have with your client about a project, including key topics, the date and the time. This can prove invaluable should you later need to untangle any confusion or disputes about when and how decisions were made. After important conversations, you can also send a summary to all the parties after the fact, as a way to recap as well as create a more formal record of what was discussed. Include these emails in a file for the current project, along with any other emails between you and your client.