Building strong client relationships

Welcome to “The Better Way: A podcast by Buildertrend.” Here you’ll learn to simplify and establish processes that will make meaningful changes to your company and help you achieve your goals. Because there’s a better way. The Buildertrend way. Tune in this season as Zach Wojtowicz, Pro Services education coordinator, chats with Nick Schiffer of NS Builders about how to boost collaboration.

On today’s episode, Zach and Nick chat about the popular subject of creating great client relationships with transparent communication.

DOES BUILDERTREND HELP YOU WIN JOBS?

“I was talking to a client about their project. They were considering other builders. She had asked how we communicate – communication is really important. I walked her through Buildertrend, I actually had our iPad, and I brought up another job, and I walked her through. I was like, ‘We do a daily log every single day, so you get to see exactly what’s going on. Here’s your budget. You’re able to log in and see what the budget is. You want to see my Home Depot receipts? No problem. Flip over to this tab you can see every receipt that is attributed to the job. Then click over here, and you can see the schedule. That schedule is broken out. We can turn it into different views, so you can just see a three-week look ahead. If you want to be more granular, we can share the whole thing.’ We tend not to just because it tends to be a little overwhelming and overly analytical sometimes, but it ultimately won us that job.” – Nick Schiffer

HAS BUILDERTREND SAVED YOU FROM UNNECESSARY PHONE CALLS AND MEETINGS?

“Oh yeah. I think the fact that they’re able to log in and see what’s going on. They’re answering a lot of their own questions. It’s awesome. I’ve been in positions where it’s we get a client that calls, and I’m like, ‘Have you looked at the daily log today?’ ‘No, I haven’t.’ I’m like, ‘All right, there’s actually a photo in there that answers that question but yes, no problem, we got that taken care of.’ We’ve had the other as well. It’s like we had one recently where he logged in, he was like, ‘Hey, I saw on Buildertrend you guys did this detail. I don’t remember necessarily approving that, and I feel like it’s more expensive than what I had approved.’ We were like, ‘Hey, good eye. Not more expensive. We actually internally decided that that was going to be a better detail. As long as you like it, we’re good, there’s no additional cost to that.’” – Nick Schiffer

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Nick Schiffer | NS Builders

Intro:

Welcome to season three of “The Better Way,” a podcast by Buildertrend. Here you’ll learn to simplify and establish processes that will help you achieve your goals. There’s a better way to run your construction business, the Buildertrend way. Tune in this season as Zach Wojtowicz from Buildertrend’s Training team chats with Nick Schiffer, owner of NS Builders in Boston, about boosting collaboration with Buildertrend. On today’s episode Zach and Nick are chatting about the popular subject of fostering secure client relationships.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Welcome to episode five of “The Better Way,” the last episode of season three. Nick Schiffer’s been with me. It’s been quite a journey. We’ve made it to the end, and we have one of the best topics to talk about last, which is client relations. Nick I know you’re a bit of a pioneer in this area of Buildertrend and …

Nick Schiffer:

Pioneer?

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. I wanted to give a big title, someone who is …

Nick Schiffer:

Okay.

Zach Wojtowicz:

… out there pushing the market forward. Because I’ll tell you, in my experience, people are terrified to let their clients use Buildertrend.

Nick Schiffer:

Really?

Zach Wojtowicz:

Terrified.

Nick Schiffer:

Oh, that’s funny. I’m going to add that to my LinkedIn profile now, pioneer …

Zach Wojtowicz:

Pioneer, yeah …

Nick Schiffer:

… of client relationships.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Now, keep in mind who gave you that title, just some guy at Buildertrend, so.

Nick Schiffer:

Yeah, yeah, some guy.

Zach Wojtowicz:

But what do you think? Did you …

Nick Schiffer:

Well, let me start here, I sat in a meeting, and I was talking to a client about their project. They were considering other builders. She had asked how we communicate, communication is really important. I walked her through Buildertrend I actually had our iPad, and I brought up another job, and I walked her through. I was like, “We do a daily log every single day, so you get to see exactly what’s going on. Here’s your budget. You’re able to log in and see what the budget is. You want to see my Home Depot receipts? No problem. Flip over to this tab you can see every receipt that is attributed to the job. Then click over here, and you can see the schedule. That schedule is broken out. We can turn it into different views, so you can just see a three-week look ahead. If you want to be more granular, we can share the whole thing.” We tend not to just because it tends to be a little overwhelming and overly analytical sometimes, but it ultimately won us that job.

That was something that … That was probably the time in which I realized how important this tool was, from a client standpoint. It was from that point forward that every daily log … Because I think it’s automatic that it doesn’t share with the client.

Zach Wojtowicz:

It’s a setting, you can choose if it does or not.

Nick Schiffer:

Yeah. We changed that, where we always share with the client. I’ve talked about it a couple times here now, but we want the client to see what’s going on. Yes, we … I don’t want to say it’s filtered but in a way it’s positive. We’re not sharing if there’s anything negative going on. We want to table that and handle that internally or put a plan together to communicate it to the client, if necessary, but have an answer or a plan as to how we’re going to correct that. So, the daily log is really about what got done, not what didn’t get done, what was the issue, what got done today. Who was on site? Share some photos. Be proud of your work.

I think that’s really important, too, the photos. Don’t just take crappy photos. Be proud of what you did. You scribed some fillers in for kitchen cabinetry and you made them super tight, dude take some photos of how tight those scribes are and talk about it. We want the clients to value what we’re doing and by … Most of them are coming to us because they’ve seen the way we promote ourself on social media, so they want to see that, too. They want to see us take pride in our work. Even on the backend, that isn’t necessarily in the lime light through social, it’s in the daily log.

To be frank, I think the clients have really appreciated it, to the point where it’s like if we miss a daily log I’m going to harp on my guys, but my client’s also going to be like, “Hey, did we not work yesterday? We logged in last night to check the daily log and nothing happened.” I was like, “No, so and so, they had forgot or they had to run to pick up their kids,” or something like that. “We’ll get that uploaded. Sorry about that.” But they like it and they … A lot of our clients don’t live in these homes or are displaced. That ability to see what’s going on without having to make the physical trip over there eases their mind. And oftentimes answers a lot of questions.

And contrary to that maybe it catches problems sooner. Where it’s, they’re not going to be driving to the job site every day. And painters on site, and we post the daily log saying, “Painters started painting guest bedroom number one.” The client logs in that night and says, “Oh my gosh, they’re painting that room gray. That was supposed to be … We changed that to blue last week.” It’s the same thing, it’s they’re able to get a peek at what’s going on and being able to react to it in real time without having the unnecessary need to meet on site every single day and micromanage. Because at the end of the day that room probably shouldn’t have been painted gray. That’s us as a good contractor to make sure that didn’t get missed but mistakes happen. There’s that ability where you get to have a couple different people looking at what’s going on and following along, and being able to communicate across that platform has been great.

Zach Wojtowicz:

When we think about feedback, I mean, you’re getting your feedback even before they sign a contract with you because …

Nick Schiffer:

Yeah. I mean, it’s really part of our sales process. It’s in our proposal document. So, in our proposal document for when we’re being considered for a project I’m talking about Buildertrend, I’m talking about what it’s used for, how we’re using it to communicate, how we’re using it to cost track, how we’re using it to schedule jobs and communicate with our trades. It’s how it’s a platform that really allows us to carefully manage our projects internally, but also, share a lot of what’s going on with the client, through a filtered down or a diluted version of what we’re doing, to give the client enough, feeling as though they’re not totally removed.

The nice thing is it’s also not in your face. Most of our clients want the ability to check in, but they don’t need to be notified. They don’t need to be like, “Hey, new daily log today.” It’s like, “I know there’s a new daily log. I don’t need you to tell me that. I also don’t need you to tell me that you requested payment right this second. I’m using this as a tool to refer back to when I want.” It’s giving them the opportunity to just have a pulse on it but not be overwhelmed with the amount of information that we’re processing.

Zach Wojtowicz:

I’m curious in the sales process. Do you have a demo account that you stage to show them what it’s going to look like or how do you …

Nick Schiffer:

No, but that’s a great idea.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Well, I’m just full of them.

Nick Schiffer:

Yeah, seriously. I have, multiple times, printed out … Man, that’s such a good idea.

Zach Wojtowicz:

A little tip out there for people, just create a … Call it a staged-out demo job, set it up as a real one. You can show it to them.

Nick Schiffer:

Dude.

Zach Wojtowicz:

I can’t take credit. This is a common practice on the floor.

Nick Schiffer:

But how did not think of that? I typically do these screen grabs, and I … Or, no, you know what I typically do? Last time I did this I created a screen recorded video. I went in, and I deleted all of the homeowner’s information. I just wrote like, “Do not replace homeowner information, currently videoing this.”

Zach Wojtowicz:

I love it.

Nick Schiffer:

And ran through it. So, all of their stuff was there, but they didn’t know who it was attributed to. I think the demo is a great idea because it is, you want to give them the inside look of what this would look like on all fronts. What they get to see. “What do you mean I get to see my budget? What’s new expected mean? What does this mean when something’s paid verse what it cost?” You can get to walk them through that demo. Then, “Well what’s a daily log look like? Okay, well what if I have a question?” “There’s a comments section. You can actually comment right here, and we’ll get notified that you commented right on this.” It’s nice to be able to walk through that.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah, that level of transparency is something that I think, it’s worth pointing out, a lot of that’s optional. That’s where the fear comes from. People are afraid they’re going to show them their books, or their whole information. You don’t have to. That’s, in fact …

Nick Schiffer:

Well, the nice thing is, is if you ever are curious at what the homeowner sees, you have …

Zach Wojtowicz:

You can view it.

Nick Schiffer:

… that little button, and you click the home, and it kicks you over to the homeowner portal. So, when you are uploading things, and you’re curious at what the homeowner can see you’re able to log in as if you were them. It’s nice because you can also cater what the homeowner site looks like with pictures and the home screen. So, you can do a lot to make it look a lot nicer for what the client sees when they log in, on top of being able to make sure that you’re not putting something there that you don’t want them to see.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. You use the comments feature? You kind of draw your clients’ attentions to use that when they have a question or is that more informal for you guys?

Nick Schiffer:

I would say the clients aren’t using it as much. Clients typically are pretty locked into email or text. I use the comments, whether it’s, “Guys this looks awesome. Great job today,” or, “Hey guys, I saw that you sheathed the side of the wall, just make sure that we get tight backs on that. It’s requiring a fire-rated sheathing.” We’re talking about client relation, but that’s what I really like about the daily log for me, too, is that I’m able to log in and catch things just a like a client is. It’s like maybe they told me that they wanted that room blue instead of gray, and I forgot to communicate that. I log in, and I see that they painted that room gray, I’m like, “Oh no! I forgot to tell them that this was supposed to be blue.” And I get to catch it.

So, it’s the same thing, it’s really a great tool for those that don’t get to be part of the day to day on site. So, the day to day guys are really filling in the information for everyone else that’s involved with this project, architects included, to be able to feel as though they can get a pulse on what’s going on.

Zach Wojtowicz:

How do you let the architects use it? I’m just curious. Do you have them log in?

Nick Schiffer:

They’re set up … We created an internal user profile for them.

Zach Wojtowicz:

I love that.

Nick Schiffer:

So, we have some architects that have financial freedom or financial viewing, so they represent the client, and a client might have questions on change orders, or cost, so they’re able to see what’s going on from a financial standpoint. Then we have other architects or interior designers that don’t have that financial side, they get to see you schedule selections, daily logs and the communication tools.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Mm-hmm. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. We push people to do that because the homeowner portal it really is like what you’re willing to give them access to versus the other side, on an architect profile or a selections coordinator, they need a little bit more. You can still lock down their permissions but give them more than what the homeowner portal even has.

Nick Schiffer:

Absolutely.

Zach Wojtowicz:

With your homeowners, when you were rolling it out, do you remember the first client that you tried it with?

Nick Schiffer:

No.

Zach Wojtowicz:

One thing I’ve always told people is find a guinea pig and …

Nick Schiffer:

Oh no …

Zach Wojtowicz:

You just went all in?

Nick Schiffer:

Yeah. I bought like 10 guinea pigs.

Zach Wojtowicz:

All right. What was that experience like?

Nick Schiffer:

Yeah, I was just …

Zach Wojtowicz:

That’s why you can’t remember. You’re like, “I just let everybody have it and just took the punches.”

Nick Schiffer:

Yeah. But that’s how I am. I was actually just joking with my wife that one of her friends was giving her advice, and that’s because they’re conservative. You married a very aggressive individual.

Zach Wojtowicz:

You just go all in.

Nick Schiffer:

Yeah. Zach it’s very funny because after I said that I sent her a GIF of a guy sliding his poker chips saying, “I’m all in.”

Zach Wojtowicz:

I love it.

Nick Schiffer:

I’m glad we’re on the same page. But that’s the way I look at it, is, “All right, I believe in this. I’m getting my team to believe in this.” I’m not going to then say, “Hey client, do you want to try this out? I’m thinking about” … It’s like, “Hey, we have this system in place.” They’re like, “Oh you do?” I was like, “Yup. This is our” … It’s just automatic, like, “You’re going to see what we’re working on.” Because I didn’t want it to be this overwhelming test. Like, “We’re just going to throw it at it and do everything we can to make it supported as if we had been running this for the last couple years.” Just so it was … We weren’t involving the client. We were taking feedback and when things didn’t work we were hearing that out. For all they know we were doing it wrong for multiple years, when the fact of the matter is that we were probably … That was the first time we were doing it.

But we also only turned on certain things in the beginning. Like we rolled out the daily logs and didn’t turn on the budget. We didn’t have the schedule updated. We incrementally grew into sharing the entire platform.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. I think I love that approach because it holds you accountable, too. If you’re going to sell it and say, “We’re using this,” then you better do it.

Nick Schiffer:

Totally.

Zach Wojtowicz:

But you don’t have to use the whole thing to have that philosophy either. You can still incrementally learn it, master it. And I doubt you were turning on the budget with your first 10 clients.

Nick Schiffer:

No, definitely not.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. There’s nothing wrong with that. You’re still getting value, and it still provides that transparency that most contractors are a little bit fearful of, in my experience, because they … “I don’t want them to see something that I” … It’s like there’s nothing to hide, it’s their house, you’re building it. You’re trying to all get to the same place.

Nick Schiffer:

Exactly. We’ve always chose to be transparent. If you’re going to preach transparency this is an awesome opportunity to give that depth of transparency. Again, you can throttle that on or off as much as you want, based on the information that you’re sharing. But when they feel as though they’re in tune with what’s going on, and I think daily logs is a great first step there, just seeing progress every day. You hear it all the time, it’s like, “Guys haven’t been on my job site for days now.” It’s like there’s no hiding that. You’re going to see what’s going on, on that job, every day because we’re uploading that information.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Looking back now, before you had any sort of software to go to clients, we kind of talked about with the sub-episode, what were you doing before Buildertrend with clients?

Nick Schiffer:

More informal, whether it was weekly meetings or email recaps. Nothing structured. It was very informal. Almost on an as-needed basis. Probably, when it was two steps beyond when we should have met. Kind of, “Hey, something’s on fire. Can you come over here and help me put it out?”

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. Then think about an experience. Like, “The only time I talk to my builder is when something’s going wrong.”

Nick Schiffer:

Right.

Zach Wojtowicz:

I’d rather have 10 great interactions to build that trust and rapport. Then if something does they know you got your back because you’re not trying to hide anything.

Nick Schiffer:

Yeah. I mean, if the bad is fire and the good is water, and you’re just throwing water every day, and then something lights on fire it’s like, “Well I got all this water to cool it down.”

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. We got a lot of analogies on “The Better Way” this season.

Nick Schiffer:

I’m trying. You can pull these out as little clips. Like, “He’s talking about fire, water. He’s talking about drowning in the ocean.”

Zach Wojtowicz:

Well, what I’m also kind of getting at, with just what you’re doing, do you think Buildertrend has saved you phone calls and saved you meetings?

Nick Schiffer:

Oh yeah. I think the fact that they’re able to log in and see what’s going on. They’re answering a lot of their own questions.

Zach Wojtowicz:

That’s how I would be. If I had no reason to call the builder because I can see it all I wouldn’t. I’m not just like …

Nick Schiffer:

Right because …

Zach Wojtowicz:

… “Hey, how you doing Nick? You want to hang out?” No, it’s a business relationship.

Nick Schiffer:

It’s awesome. I’ve been in positions where it’s we get a client that calls, and I’m like, “Have you looked at the daily log today?” “No, I haven’t.” I’m like, “All right, there’s actually a …”

Zach Wojtowicz:

Oh, I love that.

Nick Schiffer:

Yeah. “There’s actually a photo in there that answers that question but yes, no problem, we got that taken care of.”

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah, I could totally see where you’re like, “Hey, check Buildertrend, leave me alone.”

Nick Schiffer:

Right. Oh yeah. No. We’ve had the other as well. It’s like we had one recently where he logged in, he was like, “Hey, I saw on Buildertrend you guys did this detail. I don’t remember necessarily approving that, and I feel like it’s more expensive than what I had approved.” We were like, “Hey, good eye. Not more expensive. We actually internally decided that that was going to be a better detail. As long as you like it, we’re good, there’s no additional cost to that.”

Zach Wojtowicz:

Do you handle change orders through Buildertrend?

Nick Schiffer:

We do, yeah.

Zach Wojtowicz:

What was that transition like?

Nick Schiffer:

I mean, that’s wildly better.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah, it was a …

Nick Schiffer:

We had a conversation this morning …

Zach Wojtowicz:

… leading question.

Nick Schiffer:

Well, I think that’s … The change order thing is just, it’s one of those things where you either don’t end up getting the change order because you don’t put the information in soon enough, and the client never approves it, or you choose to send them a big change order at the end of the job and then you basically sour the relationship at the very end. Where it’s like here’s an opportunity where it’s you can be on top of this. So, any time there’s a change we’re going to make sure that we capture it immediately.

I actually just met with one of my project managers today, and we were talking about change orders, and how a change order needs to be all inclusive, in the sense that it’s a change of scope. Not just one thing or these micro changes. It’s, “All right, if they want to make a change” … Like in this case they want to change a ceiling from a coffered ceiling to a flush ceiling and it’s going to require us to change one of the beams that we just installed, but also reduce some interior trim.

Well, you don’t want to write that as a change order like, “All right, you have to … Here’s a change order to change the beam that we just installed.” Because that just looks negative. Where it’s like instead, “Here’s a change order to remove the coffered ceiling, so you’re going to get a credit. We’re also going to change that beam to a beam that will allow the ceiling to be flush, there is an additional cost here.” But at the end of the day, it’s actually an overall positive looking change order because it’s a credit back to them based on the work that they’ve asked for.

For me, change orders need to be really descriptive and outline exactly what is necessary. But a big tip for any time that there’s a change order, even if you don’t think it’s going to add time, we added a custom field in our change order saying how many days is this going to add to the schedule. So, it’s required for us to fill in. Any time there’s a change here’s your opportunity to add the fluff to the schedule because they’re adding something. So, at the end of the day the client is seeing that every time they … When they sign that change order it says, “Yeah, just so you know, this change order adds five days to the schedule.” At the end of the job if we’re a month behind or something it’s you can’t … Say you aren’t updating the schedule accordingly there is that recourse like, “No, no. We added a month’s worth of work. Here are the change orders to back it up.”

The better way to do it is to make sure you’re communicating it through that but then also bringing that into the schedule and then communicating on a weekly basis, “Hey, thank you for approving that change order. As you saw it added five days to the schedule, so we bumped the schedule up five days.” That’s really where … A change order isn’t just about cost. It really should be about the cost, the scope and the time that’s required to execute.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. I think it’s not that you’re throwing it back in the client’s face or anything. It’s just …

Nick Schiffer:

No, it’s just having it there to … Ultimately, you might not add any time and now you look like a hero, but it’s something to go back to if necessary.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah, that’s an interesting concept. We could do a whole episode on how to look like a hero by perception and reality of kind of like what we were talking about on the sub episode. Like, “Lie to me.” Like, “Well I don’t want to lie to you either because I know I want to set my expectation and then beat that timeline or on the change order.” That’s really interesting.

One last thing on client relations and the way that you use it in your business. Has it led to any challenges for your employees, the fact that you share information with the clients or has it helped them? What’s that relationship like? Does it matter?

Nick Schiffer:

No, if anything it’s helped. I think it’s the same thing, the client has the information that they’re looking for, and it’s solidifying the role in which our employees take with these projects, especially as a project manager they’re uploading these daily logs, and they’re seeing what’s happening on site. They know that that’s their point person. That they’re there advocating for their best interest in the entire project.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Well, Nick one final question, to anyone who is still hesitant about letting their customers use Buildertrend, what would you say?

Nick Schiffer:

There’s no reason to be.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Stop.

Nick Schiffer:

Yeah. Just there’s no reason to be. I think it’s a great tool that’s going to really open up the communication, and transparency, between the builder and homeowner. If you’re ever feeling as though you’re being too open and honest, like I said, you can always throttle that back. But I think as your systems are more and more refined, you’ll realize that sharing more, and more, gives you the opportunity to reduce the unnecessary headaches and questions that might come up that could impact the overall quality of life, really, around the job.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Absolutely. Well, this was a great season of “The Better Way.” It was a lot of fun. Nick, thanks for joining me.

Nick Schiffer:

Yeah, thanks so much, man. I appreciate it.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Nick Schiffer, NS Builders. I want to give you an opportunity to let the people know out there where they can learn more about your company. I know you have your own podcast. Where can we find more information from you?

Nick Schiffer:

Sure. So, our website NSBuilders.com, you can find us on YouTube. You can also find “NS Builders’” podcast on any of your podcast apps. Also, a co-host of “The Modern Craftsman” podcast. But yeah, check out YouTube, we’ve got a couple weekly series that we do behind the scenes of our projects, our cabinet shop and then some behind the scenes of how we run our business.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Awesome. Thanks, Nick.

Nick Schiffer:

Thank you.

Zach Wojtowicz:

For all listeners out there join us next season. More coming your way. Have a good rest of your day.

Outro:

Thanks for listening to “The Better Way.” If you’re a Buildertrend customer schedule a training to learn more. All listeners be sure to rate, review, and subscribe to “The Better Way” wherever you get your podcasts. Also, visit buildertrend.com/podcast to sign up for the email notifications, so you’ll be the first to know when season four drops and explore our other podcast “The Building Code.”


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