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How To Solve Labor Shortage in Building Materials

The harsh reality of the labor shortage is that professionals are overwhelmed and overworked. Product manufacturers have a growing opportunity to help builders and installers, many of whom are learning to install products on the fly. It’s a challenge that all of us in the industry, especially manufacturers, have to overcome

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Photo of Beth PopNikolov
by Zach Williams and Beth PopNikolov
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More About This Episode

Smarter Building Materials Marketing podcast helps industry professionals find better ways to grow leads, sales and outperform the competition. It’s designed to give insights on how to create a results-driven digital marketing strategy for companies of any size.

On this episode, we bring on Nate Henderson, Founder and CEO of BILT Incorporated, who shares insights into how manufacturers can better support and educate their customers, and how that can pay off big in today’s labor-strapped construction industry.

Supporting the Installation Process

Nate Henderson is the founder and CEO of BILT Incorporated, a software company that supports and streamlines efficiency in the building materials industry with its technology. “In the software world, we refer to it as in the ‘customer experience space,’ meaning we specialize in a very specific customer experience,” says Henderson.

BILT has helped building materials brands with reaching and supporting their customers, all through a free mobile app. “We revolutionize that experience people have with products that require instructions for installation, assembly, setup, repair, maintenance, whether it's for automobiles, construction equipment, construction materials, all the way down to even DIY products,” explains Henderson.

BILT is used in 172 countries in 10 different languages, and the app is free for users, whether you’re a pro, technician or DIYer. BILT offers 3D interactive instructions for product installation. “We do that now with hundreds of brands. We've had about five million people in the United States use BILT just in the last year, not to mention our global presence,” says Henderson.

Henderson’s background is in enterprise software but started BILT because he recognized a growing need in manufacturing: the lack of installation support for products. It’s too often that products that require assembly only come with paper instructions. “Or worse, that I go to YouTube, and it's the wild, wild west. There [are] 20 different opinions as to how to do something. Can't we do it in a better way? And that's really how this started,” explains Henderson.

Removing Friction From the User Experience

BILT

Many of BILT’s app users are DIYers and professional installers. “And there tends to be a big mix. But some of our biggest customers are the United States Air Force and United States Navy,” says Henderson.

BILT is free for users and paid for by the product manufacturers and brands whose products are installed. The app has helped these brands track how easily their products are installed.

“One of the things that we are tracking, in an anonymous way, is the average amount of time people spend in each step,” he explains. “And so, as you go through BILT, you'll see that every step there is segmented with it. So you can interact, it will guide you through each step, but you can hop back and forth between different steps.”

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That segmented information helps manufacturers understand what the customer experience is actually like, at a granular level. “We will aggregate that information and via some analytics dashboards, we bring that back to the manufacturers basically in a context of saying, ‘Understand your customer experience. And with this data, take steps to improve it,’” explains Henderson.

The BILT app also collects other information for manufacturing brands. “We have room for actual reviews that people put in because we want to deliver back to the manufacturer,” explains Henderson. This data allows brands to create a better experience (and product) for customers and also gives manufacturers up-to-date information on how quickly and easily their products are installed.

“We actually go through the installation ourselves just to make sure it's right. But if there's still some friction remaining in it, we can push out an update to your smartphone instantaneously so you never have to worry about whether your instructions are out of date with it,” Henderson says.

This means the professionals who use BILT can rest assured that they’re getting accurate guidance on their installation. “We're continually improving it. And so, as a construction worker, you know that you have the very, very best tool in your hands to make you successful,” says Henderson.

For manufacturing brands, BILT offers solutions for improvement, as well. “Focus on a quality experience, a quality install. And then, you have fewer callbacks and so forth with it,” says Henderson.

How to Address the Labor Issue

Part of the reason we’re excited about BILT is that it addresses our industry’s labor issues head-on. “It really is in response to the fact that we have a huge labor problem,” says Henderson. “And it's not just in the United States.”

Henderson believes an underlying issue with attracting the right people to the labor force is how we educate them. “For the past century, we've tended to bring people in for classroom training to teach them how to do stuff. And then, you give them two or three stacks of binders as to how to work,” he says.

Learning about products and installation in a traditional classroom setting like this isn’t appealing to professionals who work with their hands — and training professional installers and builders can be costly for employers.

So most professionals aren’t being “officially” trained to install products at all and are using other tools to learn about them while on the job site. “You ask them where they get their help: YouTube. They usually get it from YouTube,” explains Henderson. “In the end, we just forego the training and just hope and pray that they'll kind of figure it out.”

So what does success look like? It’s a matter of investment — not just paying installers and builders more, but spending on educating and retaining them. “It's this process of recognizing, okay, you've gotten them in one way or another. The faster you can make them more valuable, the more you can afford to pay them and the more likely they are to stay in the industry,” says Henderson. “The reason that they leave is because someone's giving them $2 an hour more.”

How we educate installers and builders needs to evolve because building materials have also evolved. “Products today are more complex than ever in our history. It used to be that faucets just required you just kind of screw it in here, stick this in here,” says Henderson. Faucet technology today sometimes uses Wifi, which requires another skill set to install.

“So the breadth of knowledge now that's required is increasing, right? The consequences of a bad install is rapidly increasing,” Henderson explains.

But manufacturers have a huge opportunity to help and impress builders by providing installation support like videos and guides. Because, quite often, they’re learning on the job. “And so, rather than kind of push that away and ignore it, my point is: Hey, embrace it.”

BILT makes it easier for installers to learn about and work with (sometimes new) products. The software also takes into account that not everyone learns in the same way. “Some people like to see the overview first. And then, they go to individual steps. Others like to just hop to the step that they need, right? We all learn in different ways,” says Henderson.

BILT allows users to find the specific product they’re installing and breaks down each step of installation with visual support. “And so, what you do in that process is you've made them more confident in what they're doing. They're now worth being paid more because they have fewer callbacks, right? They're faster at doing their jobs,” explains Henderson.

Ensuring Smoother User Experiences

Improving the customer's experience of your product is key — that's how they're engaging most closely with your brand, after all.

We talk quite a bit on the podcast about how to effectively engage with your customers. There’s always the potential for us to improve the experience that our customers have with our products, so we asked Henderson for a few more tips.

  • Learn (and embrace) their pain points: “First off: Where there's friction in that customer experience, you got to embrace it. [You] absolutely have to embrace it,” says Henderson. “If people are using your products out in the hot Arizona sun, you need to be feeling that. You need to know that pain. You need to feel that pain. And you need to focus your teams on really looking at the installer or whoever that is and ask yourself the question, ‘What is it going to take for us to enrich that person's life?’”
  • Respect your best salesperson: “If you're in the construction industry, your greatest sales channel is the construction workers. The people that actually install and work with your product. Homeowners builders, they're always asking their opinion. ‘Hey, what's a good product? What's easy to work with?’”
  • Invest in the product experience: “Focusing on that feedback from the customer and then focusing on how they can improve it [is important]. And it's just, I mean, the financial results speak for themselves,” says Henderson.

Want Even More Insight?

It’s easy for manufacturers to forget that customers, especially contractors, have much more at risk than you do when they choose your product.

“When you turn a home over to somebody, they're not calling Moen,” says Henderson. “They're calling the GC back.” But manufacturers have the opportunity to help reduce callbacks and improve customer experiences — all steps toward building a better relationship with customers, better products and a brighter future in the construction industry.

“You've got 20 minutes or an hour or three hours with this product, right, that your brand is on it. You should enrich that experience so wonderfully that when they walk away, they're a promoter of your brand,” says Henderson.

Listen to the full interview with Henderson here for more, or contact BILT at [email protected]. Download BILT for free to check it out today!

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