If customers get home late on a Sunday night and want to know the status of their sunroom project with Winrepco, in Winchester, Va., they simply log onto www.sunroomprogress.com.
The Web site “is a communications tool,” says Joe Henley, the company's president. “When we sell a job, we give the customer the Web site address and a password and they can look online at all the specific information for their job, including photos, drawings, contracts, payment schedules, and a chronology of notes we've made.”
For instance, if the project manager checks measurements, he'll note on the Web site when he did that and what he found, Henley says. If he orders drawings, he'll note that, too. The customer can also make notes. “The homeowner might say, ‘I looked at the drawings, and I want the door moved to the other side of the room. Is that possible?' We can answer that right on the site,” Henley says.
MULTIPLE PROJECTS Winrepco launched the Web site in 2005 but Henley says the company has “refined” it since then. At any given time, there's information about 10 to 15 projects on the site, and the information stays online for at least six months after the project is completed.
“Once we had the concept, it didn't take long to create the site,” Henley notes. After defining what they wanted, Winrepco staff created the site using an off-the-shelf Web-site-building software program, which retails for about $200. And Henley estimates the ongoing costs of hosting the site to be less than $100 per month.
In addition to those tangible costs, Henley says there's also a soft cost of about 15 to 20 minutes of staff time each day to review and upload data to the site. “Before information is posted, it's checked to ensure nothing is misspelled, derogatory, or detrimental to the company,” he says.
TIME SAVINGS Having the site available to customers day and night has reduced the number of incoming calls from customers asking about job status. But the Web site doesn't replace all communication with customers. “We have to be careful,” Henley says. “Not everybody goes to the Web site, so we still use some old-fashioned ways to communicate.”
What do customers think? Though Henley says the site is helpful in differentiating his company from the pack, it hasn't wowed today's customers because, in the age of the Internet, their expectations for Web sites are high. “It's expected they'd have the use of such a tool.” —G.M. Filisko is a freelance writer based in Chicago.