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Building and maintaining successful relationships with customers is an essential aspect of managing a construction business. Good relationships lead to repeat business, and it's cheaper and easier to maintain a client than it is to get a new one.

In a competitive industry, positive relationships with customers often makes the difference between a client hiring the same firm for a new project versus looking to a new company that might have an edge, like a lower bid or a faster estimated completion time. When top-of-chain parties (property owners and general contractors) are hiring subcontractors, materials suppliers and other companies for a project, a history of positive interactions, reliability and trust are frequently the most important factors in making a decision.

It’s important to note that CRM software is not the only way to manage customer relationships through technology. There are hundreds of free and low-cost tools that small construction companies can use as part of their CRM strategy. With a few minutes per day, a business owner or office manager can implement systems that make it easy to maintain communication and positive relationships with customers.

Make Document Exchanges Smooth and Easy

Dozens of important documents are routinely exchanged at all stages of construction projects, including contracts, preliminary notices, lien waivers and punch lists. The following free tools make it easy to quickly exchange important documents electronically, eliminating the messy, cumbersome processes of emailing, printing, scanning, faxing and mailing documents.

The Waiver Exchange by zlien is a free tool that project stakeholders, ranging from subcontractors and materials suppliers to property owners and lenders, can use to create, exchange and sign lien waivers electronically. Exchanging lien waivers is an important element of maintaining business relationships. Customers commonly require lien waivers prior to making payment, so proactively sending a conditional lien waiver is a great way to prioritize invoices and build trust with customers.

Closeout Punch List Management is a free mobile app by Brigit Inc. that lets contractors, consultants, design professionals, property owners and more collaborate to manage incomplete work, deficiencies and deferred work to turn over projects on time.

Sending preliminary notice is a great way to communicate with customers and build stronger relationships. While there are subscription-based preliminary notice softwares that make it easy to send unlimited notices, it is also possible to download free notice templates to send. To learn more about how sending notice benefits customer relationships, read “Why You Should Send Preliminary Notice Even If It’s Not Required.”

HelloSign is an eSignature tool that makes it easy for small businesses to sign documents and request signatures online. Track document status and share and archive documents electronically. HelloSign’s base plan is free and users can add more features for a low monthly subscription.

Schedule and Automate Actions with Free Tools

Proactively communicating and following up with customers is an excellent way to maintain positive relationships and stay top-of-mind when they are hiring for other projects. But dedicating the time and mental energy to keep up with customers can be tough. Fortunately, there are dozens of tools to help schedule and automate reminders and communications. Following are few examples of apps and online tools that can save time and make these actions easier.

IFTTT (If This Then That) is a great free tool that construction companies can use to connect and automate different actions. IFTTT syncs with hundreds of different apps and programs, including various email clients, online calendars, social media networks and reminder apps. Explore their extensive “recipes” list to see how to set up apps to work together automatically.

Boomerang is an extension that can be added to Gmail to make it easy to schedule emails. It’s much easier to write a follow-up email immediately and schedule it to be sent later than it is to try to remember to draft and send an email at some future point. Scheduling emails is a great way to check in with customers to see if they have upcoming projects or to mark an important date, such as six months after the first project the companies collaborated on.

Dozens of free tools make it easy to set and automate reminders. Taking some time to sit down and schedule reminders is much more successful and efficient than trying to remember as time goes on. To name a few, Google Calendar is a great free tool that easily syncs with Gmail. iPhones, Androids and other smartphones have built-in reminder and calendar applications. Want to branch out? A simple Google search will bring up dozens of requests for free reminder and calendar applications for any mobile device or desktop operating system. They key with these applications is setting aside the time to make use of them and determining what reminders make the most sense for a business. Consider personal touches, such as checking in on birthdays, congratulating a customer on the completion of a project even if the company’s contributions ended weeks before or scheduling a follow-up to see if there are new projects on the horizon.

When it comes to implementing technology to assist in customer relationship management, the challenge is not finding tools but rather determining which will best fit with company needs. There are hundreds of applications, web browser plugins and free software tools, so it is worth exploring to discover the ones that can help the business easily maintain positive relationships with customers.

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