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Installments: Sweat the small stuff

February 2/9, 2015; Volume 28/Number 16

By Christopher Capobianco

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 3.23.02 PMI began working in this business in 1971 as an installer’s helper and since then have seen several sides of the floor covering process as a retailer, a manufacturer’s rep and an inspector. On the other hand, I have been a homeowner for almost 30 years so I have also been on the customer side of home improvements.

In recent years I have hired contractors for projects and the results have been mixed. My willingness to do business with contractors again or recommend them is not usually about the quality of the work, but about the details, as I learned from several recent experiences that inspired this column.

A multi-thousand-dollar roofing project was ruined for me because the trim came out badly, and a contractor on a siding project let me down because he left a mess at the end of every day. Floor covering installers often make the same mistakes. Small details stay with a customer even if she loves the floor covering and the installation is otherwise perfect. This kind of dissatisfaction will prevent her from recommending you to her friends.

Assuming that the customer knows what’s coming when she signs the contract for a floor covering project is mistake No. 1. What is common sense to those of us in the trade may not be so common to someone who has never had a flooring job done before. If the job starts with an angry customer saying, “I wasn’t told I’d have to move my furniture,” your company may never win that customer back, even if the installation is perfect and she loves her new flooring. Customers are often surprised when they hear that they have to stay off floors until the glue dries; don’t assume your customer knows how the process works. The same holds true for the question of how long an installation will take. Try to be realistic and honest with the customer, or you will risk being in a difficult situation and having to meet deadlines that can’t possibly be met.

The specifics of the actual installation are also important to review. It is common for a customer to say, “I didn’t know I would have a seam,” or “The salesperson said I wouldn’t see the seam.” These claims put enormous pressure on the installer and on the product to deliver on these promises.

The solution to these communication breakdowns is to be honest about what the product will do and to be sure the customer knows what’s going to happen when the installers arrive and after they leave. I’ve known installers and dealers that call a day ahead to confirm the time of arrival and review details. If material is delivered a day or two ahead of time, not only will the product acclimate to site conditions, but also the installation team can see what the scope of work is while reviewing details with the customer so she knows what to expect.

When the job is complete, double checking all the finishing touches is also important, be it a frayed edge of carpet in a doorway, a gap in a seam or the trim and molding work. It’s often rushed so installers can get out the door.

The point is that these finishing touches are very visible. Even if a customer complains and you come back to fix it, the negative impression is still there. A lot of times she has a busy schedule or other reasons that prevent her from calling back the installer, so she just “lives with it.” But it still bothers her and her impression of the entire job will be negative forever.