Your integrity is a bottom-line issue

THE MOST STARTLING statement that I heard during a trip in June to a convention in Las Vegas was this: In the next 10 years or so, contractors will be at the top of the list of companies that rate high on integrity. The clear implication was that customers dont rank contractors nearly that high today. Now, dont get me wrong. Ive been this magazines chief editor for 8 years. During my time here, Ive

THE MOST STARTLING statement that I heard during a trip in June to a convention in Las Vegas was this:

In the next 10 years or so, contractors will be at the top of the list of companies that rate high on integrity.

The clear implication was that customers don’t rank contractors nearly that high today.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve been this magazine’s chief editor for 8½ years. During my time here, I’ve met any number of contractors that I’d rank at the top of the integrity scale. Today, without the 10-year wait.

The fact is, though, that I’ve been one of your customers much longer than I’ve been the editor of CONTRACTOR. That’s why the remark in Las Vegas surprised me. While nothing would make me happier than a public opinion survey that rates contractors high on the list of companies that customers trust the most, neither contractors nor customers are there yet.

The man who made the comment in Las Vegas, consultant Randy Tuminello, admits that some contractors still have a long way to go. I called him after his workshop on building trust June 5 at the Mid-Year Educational Conference of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America, and he told me that he still sees a “high level of cynicism” among many customers toward contractors.

Not all contractors, of course. Specialty mechanical contractors who work on sophisticated systems have less of a problem than plumbing-heating-cooling contractors who deal face-to-face with the public in a low-bid environment, he says.

About 20% of Tuminello’s clients are contractors who are making a “real dogged, determined effort to work on the perception that existed in the past,” he says. He refers to contractors’ efforts to create trust and loyalty as the “soft side” of the business, but his clients are finding a direct link between profitability and trust.

Not only are you going to get repeat business from a loyal customer base, Tuminello says, you’re going to save money too. Acquiring new customers costs four to six times more than getting new business from existing customers, he says.

While Tuminello’s prediction of where contractors will rank on the integrity scale may have been startling, the notion of contractors working to build trust among their customers is a concept we have advocated for a long time. The effort spent on improving communication and making the contact with the customer a positive experience can pay dividends.

And, why shouldn’t your firm rank at the top of the list of companies that rank high on integrity? At a time when customers are discovering that it’s increasingly tough to trust many other companies, contractors have a great opportunity to move up the integrity scale.

Readers of CONTRACTOR – and just about everyone else – are familiar with the troubles of corporations such as Enron and Tyco that have or had operations within our industry. Reports of financial improprieties by other huge corporations occur on almost a daily basis with WorldCom and Xerox being the latest as we go to press.

Contractors, however, can’t expect to move up the integrity scale just because other companies are sliding down it. Gaining customers’ trust will require that you make the dogged, determined effort.

What makes the task doubly difficult is that a handful of bad contractors can tarnish the image of everyone. Also, the public’s perception of the industry isn’t helped when most of the plumbing inspectors in two of our largest cities – Philadelphia and New York – are charged with taking bribes from contractors, as we’ve reported in recent issues.

Nevertheless, we believe your ranking on the integrity scale is important for you to protect and build upon. It should be important to you, too, because having your customers’ trust is good business.