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The supervisor typically is the desinated point of contact between the company and outside entities, such as the general contractor, the designer, the owner, other contractors on the site or the contractor’s subcontractors and suppliers. Because of that interaction, the supervisor has a unique opportunity to influence relationships with the customer.
Who is the customer? According to one dictionary, a customer is a person with whom a merchant or business person must deal. Another definition of customer is one for whom another provides goods or services. We say a customer is one with whom we have a business relationship. These are broad definitions, but it is important to cast a wide net when considering the customer concept because of how important it is to business.
Certainly, the customer brings the project to the table and ultimately pays us. We provide goods and services to the project owner in the form of a completed, effectively operating electrical installation. We want to provide a product with quality consistent with what the owner has purchased. Basically, the customer gets what the customer pays for, and it’s our job to fulfill this transaction with the highest-quality product for the price. We offer value and exceptional service. Of course, the door to a customer relationship swings both ways.
If your company is operating in a subcontracting position, the prime contractor is clearly the customer. If operating in a prime contracting position, there is probably a construction manager who replaces the general contractor. We provide the electrical component of the overall project for the prime contractor or the construction manager. Meanwhile, the prime contractor or construction manager provides planning and coordination of work, communication links with other project entities, and also is in the approval chain for changes and payments. We want to keep this customer happy.
Of course, there is the designer to consider. The contractor’s job is to take the drawings and specifications created by a designer and produce a quality product consistent with that design. The designer provides the design, responds to questions, approves changes and pay applications, and often accepts the final product on behalf of the owner. This is clearly an important customer relationship to maintain.
In another light, there also are many customer relationships within a company, as well. As a supervisor, you share a customer relationship with those who work for you. You provide them direction, information and resources, and they provide you with quality work. The project manager is your customer, as well. The project manager ensures that your job has the information and resources it needs, and you ensure the work is efficiently installed with high quality in a safe environment.
We also enjoy a customer relationship with other contractors on the job. Though we have no contractual relationship, we share resources, such as time and space. We provide installed work upon which they then add their work or vice versa. It is critical that all entities on the job maintain good customer relations through a respectful service attitude, regardless of contractual obligation.
Even more overlooked, however, is the end-user. The end-user may not be the owner but is a customer regardless. For example, a university owns the buildings the student body uses. As users of the facilities, the students benefit from the service the contractors provide. Especially in a college environment, one of these end-users may be a future customer.
In this vein, much of the work contractors do is in highly visible areas. The way in which our workers interact with the public during the project creates a positive or negative image. The quality of the work the craftspeople leave behind affects the contractor’s reputation for many years. It is the supervisor’s responsibility to ensure a positive impression of his or her company. A future customer/owner may observe the caliber of your company at any time.
It is critical that the supervisor understands that each person or entity with which he or she interacts is a customer and that a vital supervisory responsibility is to maintain good customer relations. Next month, this column will discuss the communication link with the customer; how that communication link can break down; and ways to avoid, mitigate and repair those breakdowns.
ROUNDS is the AGC endowed chair and professor of civil engineering at the University of New Mexico. E-mail him at [email protected]. SEGNER is a professor of construction science at Texas A&M University. Contact him at [email protected].