Communication Breakdowns

Keeping customers in the loop during every step of a build

When a customer dreams up the perfect backyard oasis, supply shortages, delays and communication breakdowns usually aren’t part of the fantasy. But with the state of the pool building industry over the past year and a half, that can often be the reality.

When lines of communication are broken with customers, they lose confidence in your company, impacting customer reviews and potential future revenue.

An anonymous pool industry professional who had a pool installed this year felt this stress firsthand. Her main point of contact with her builder quit, leaving many emails and calls ignored — and resulting in about a month of no communication.

“I could not believe he left the organization and no one told me,” she says.

Without proper communication from the builder, the customer struggled to get answers as to why progress on her pool stalled from the end of March through early May.

Dave Penton, president of Fluid Dynamics Pool and Spa in Fullerton, California, says his company lost a customer service representative who was the clients’ primary contact. However, with a plan already in place for customers to contact their office manager if the customer service rep was unavailable, the transition was fairly seamless.

“We had two ways for everybody to communicate,” he says. “Everybody was accustomed to dealing with [our office manager] when everybody else was too busy.”

Penton also got rid of voicemail and uses delayed call forwarding or busy transfer, which is when calls are forwarded to another line when there is no answer on a line dialed. When Penton doesn’t answer, his calls go to the office manager so his voicemail box doesn’t fill up, which could result in a customer not getting a call back.

Kelly Skelton, director of marketing at SSG Pools in North Billerica, Massachusetts, and co-founder and head of content for Backyard Assist, says there’s a big difference between a client being kept in the loop and not feeling happy with how their build is going, versus someone who has been kept in the dark.

“You need to have someone in your office who is dedicated to customer success,” he says.

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SSG Pools has representatives for new customers, renovation, service and maintenance. This ensures there’s always “somebody there to pick up the phone and immediately respond or escalate emails as they come in,” Skelton says.

Penton says having multiple points of contact for every client helps prevent communication breakdowns. In addition to rerouting unanswered calls, the company recently hired a field services manager to help ease some of the burden for other staff.

“We brought Richard on a couple of months ago to handle some of the breakdowns [in the field],” Penton says. “I would see some of my key foremen spending so much time on the phone that they were having a hard time managing the field crews.”

There’s also software available to help contractors easily keep in touch with customers, like Buildertrend. It’s meant for the builder to keep the jobs organized, but it also allows for communication with the consumer. A customer can log into a dashboard and see notes on what’s happening, eliminating having to call or email the builder to get information.

Managing client expectations is another key point in preventing communication issues, especially when some customers are unrealistic. Skelton says being clear on timelines with customers from the start is important, but SSG Pools has also beefed up its website content to provide potential pool owners with information before they even reach out.

“The expectation is provided upfront so if somebody is browsing, they understand how long the pool takes to build, how much it costs, how much maintenance,” he says.

Even with the best plans in place, communication breakdowns happen. When a customer is unhappy, Penton says ownership should get involved, which is not the client’s usual point of contact.

“Clients are generally pretty understanding,” he says, “and they just want to hear from [their builders].”

At the end of the day, customers are going to tell everyone they know if they have a bad experience. Setting up the right communication structure from the start can help prevent negative reviews on websites and social media before they happen.

As the anonymous industry professional says, “The people you are in touch with can make or break your entire experience.”

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