Customer relations play a key part in the business of electrical construction. A wise electrical contractor once said the main purpose of a business is to make a profit, and the main function of a business is to create and maintain satisfied customers. There are many reasons for an electrical contractor to be in business, but chief among them is making a profit. However, profit is the actual outcome of a successful company, not what the company produces or does. If the focus is on serving customers, the company will have a better chance at success, which should result in profitability. Likewise, focusing only on profit maximization could be detrimental to customer relations. Unfortunately, many companies will do practically anything to increase profit a little bit, and in so doing, they offend the customer so that future business and the associated profits are lost. Focus on taking care of the customer, and let the profit follow.

Construction, to a great extent, deals in commodities. Since others can provide the same products and services you provide, it is a commodity. It is great to find a niche market that has little or no competition, but in electrical construction, that is the exception, not the rule. There are many electrical contractors that successfully can complete any given job, and most are technically well qualified. So the way to compete successfully is to provide the same quality product as the competition but with a much higher level of customer service.

The way in which construction is delivered defines the company’s reputation and separates the company from the competition. Customer satisfaction is extremely important. It is vital for electrical contractors to take care of their customers, as it is far easier to maintain existing customers than to recruit new ones.

W. Edwards Deming, an internationally known management consultant and statistician, said, “Instead of worrying about a competitor, worry about better service to customers. Don’t be guided by the competitor. Make your own future.”

Ten years ago, the Electrical Contracting Foundation (now known as ELECTRI International) funded a project that looked at customer satisfaction among electrical contractors. Some of the responses supported the fact that communication is one of four key factors in customer satisfaction.

Field personnel have the most impact of any company employee on the customer’s perception of the company and the quality of its work. The supervisor’s role is to establish a positive customer service attitude. Bear in mind that service is an attitude, not a company policy. A company policy for service without a service attitude does more harm than good, since the policy sets an expectation that will result in disappointment if not fulfilled. Service means exceeding, not just meeting, the customer’s needs and expectations. Customer service is not accidental or coincidental. It is the result of a customer service attitude, a plan and execution of that plan.

To develop your customer service plan, identify a customer. Determine what value this customer brings to your project and your company. Enumerate opportunities to interact with this customer. Determine how these interactions can be facilitated or improved. Develop an action plan to improve the relationship with this customer. Then, do it!

The next column will complete this series by looking at the 10 commandments of customer service.

ROUNDS is the AGC endowed chair and professor of civil engineering at the University of New Mexico. E-mail him at jlrounds@unm.edu. SEGNER is a professor of construction science at Texas A&M University. Contact him at rsegner@archmail.tamu.edu.