Customer service is essential to our success as custom integrators. This includes responding to a client within one hour of a voicemail or email, 24-hour turnaround on service calls, and being “available” at all hours. It is what we do to ensure the success of our business and continued strong referrals from clients and professional partners such as architects and designers. It’s why many people purchase a Mercedes or Lexus instead of a Chevy or Toyota—not just for the car but for the service at the dealership and experience that comes along with it.
Similarly, I expect great service from the subcontractors that we use. When expectations are set clearly and are reinforced by repeating it and correcting behavior that we won’t tolerate, we are able to exceed our client’s expectations again and again. As a small business, we can’t always have every discipline on staff, so we rely on experts in a variety of fields to provide either all of our needs in a category or to spot-fill when we need additional capacity. The key categories where we use third-parties is in programming, networking, shade installation, and security.
So what are the keys to a successful subcontractor experience? The key is to be specific. What are your expectations? Not just for the finished product, but for the whole process. What are the work hours? What are the milestones along the way that need to be met? Who cleans up at the end of the day? Who is patching and painting, etc.?
I’m sure there is much more than what I have here, but following are the four major topics we cover with any sub with whom we work.
1) No Upselling. We do not want our subcontractors to make our clients uncomfortable by trying to sell additional work under their own umbrella while on the job or for a specified time afterwards. It is essentially a non-compete; the subcontractor cannot enter into any agreements or do work directly for the client for three to six months after completing their work with us.
2) Punctuality. Be on time. Don’t make us wait on the job site for you to show up or worse, make the client wait to have something we committed to them. This means on a day-to-day basis, but also on the project deliverables. Don’t be late with the network, which then pushes us back on testing and finalizing the system and, in turn, delays the client from enjoying their home again.
3) Availability. We have had several third parties that we no longer work with because they weren’t available when we needed then. We’d be on the job site at the scheduled time and couldn’t get in touch with the programmer to finish up the project and we were stuck at the client’s home trying to wrap things up. Having a provider who double books is the kiss of death. We have worked almost exclusively with Rich Fregosa of Fregosa Designs for all of our third-party programming needs. Rich is always there and available for us, no matter what time we call or text. I don’t know how he does it, but it has made me extremely loyal.
4) Cleanliness. Everyone needs to treat the client’s home better than they treat their own. That means booties on all the time; furniture and floors protected by moving blankets, Masonite, or contractor paper; cleaning up after themselves, not just at the end of the day but as we go if the client is home—we don’t want to them to ever see a cluttered mess. No eating in the client’s home while on the jobsite, unless it is a construction site.
5) Be Consistent. If you are an electrician, don’t give me a price for installing a dimmer on one project and have it be different for another. I need to be able to feel comfortable giving clients rough pricing on the spot, and if a sub contractor’s price is fluctuating it can make me look bad when my estimate is way off and has to be adjusted
Essentially I am hiring third parties to make my life easier. We don’t install shades and often don’t have the man-hours to do all the programming or networking work we have. I can’t babysit subs, so I need them to be professionals and treat me like I am their client, which I actually am. Making my life easier makes the project go better and makes the client happier, which means more work for them in the future.