Using a Change Model to Better Gauge Customer Readiness for Change

If you’re an architect or a high-performance builder, you may not think that you have much in common with behavioral health professionals, but in certain cases you’re doing the same work that we do: getting people to change their behavior.  If you’re one of the lucky architect/builders who only gets clients who are 100% motivated to build energy-efficient homes, this isn’t the article for you.  If you find yourself frustrated and unsure why a client who seemed really motivated just disappeared, this article might be worth a read.

Therapists have long wrestled with what needs to happen to get individuals to intentionally change their behavior.   One theory, The Trans-theoretical (TTM) Model of Change (Proschaska & DiClemente) purports that people move through five (or six) stages when they change.  For therapists, behaviors  we’re dealing with are are things like quitting drinking or smoking, losing weight, etc.   While it may seem “obvious” to therapists why doing these things are positive, the key to helping clients achieve their goal is to understand where a client is in the process to match our strategies with where they are in the process.

For those who have “drunk the Kool-Aid” of high-performance building, it seems natural that everyone should get why high-performance homes are (obviously) the best choice (goal). It can be hard to remember that there was a time when we didn’t know why it was better to have tight envelopes, vapor-permeable barriers and fuel-efficient mechanicals.   Being able to identify where customers (and potential customers) are in the change process can help you use strategies specific to a customer’s stage of change and help you avoid unnecessary effort. 

Change Stage 1: Pre-Contemplation (or the  “What”) Stage Customers:

This is the stage of customer you may not see come through your doors, or may see by accident.  A friend told them about this architect who “built this beautiful home” but the desire to build an energy-efficient home isn’t there.   They may be hoping that you will build them the McMansion of their dreams. 

Strategies for Stage 1 Customers: Validate the desire to own something beautiful while encouraging the customer to consider how building a more energy-efficient home could be healthier for their family and the world.  In this stage you are just “planting the seed” that there can actually be a different way to build (or retrofit) a home.

Change Stage 2: Contemplation (or the “Why) Stage Customers:

This is the stage where most new customers come in.  They think they might like to build a healthier, more efficient home but they’re not sure they want to do it or how to build a healthier home if they want one. 

Strategies for Stage 2 Customers:

Validate that this is a big step and that the choice is theirs.  Encourage them to identify what the pros and cons of building a higher-efficiency home.   Listen carefully to the reasons they give so you can better understand their motivation. Help them identify positive things that will occur in their life as a result of their building choice. 

Change Stage 3: Preparation (or the “How”) Stage Customers

In this stage, the customer is starting to move toward a commitment to change – they are taking active steps to learn more about the new type of home they will build (or retrofit).

Strategies for Stage 3 Customers:

Encourage them to visit homes that are similar to the one they want to build.  Help them connect to other homeowners who have built highly efficient homes.  Encourage the customer have realistic expectations about the building process and ensure rapport with your customer is good.  The hardest (and best) stage is just ahead.

Stage 4: Action (or the Building) Stage Customers

This is when it happens.  The commitment is made and the house is being built.  With even the best planning, there are bound to be things that happen that can be upsetting: delays, cost increases, etc. 

Strategies for Stage 4 Customers:

When upsetting things occur, it can be helpful to try a two-step strategy.  First, empathize with the customer about the issue (most likely there is a really good reason to be upset) and second, refer back to the reasons the customer identified in Stage 2 about why they wanted to build an energy-efficient home.   By reminding them of the reasons why they made their choice, you are using their own words to remind them of their commitment.

Stage 5: Maintenance

It’s happened!  Your customer has moved into their house.  The pictures are on the wall and the barbecue is on the deck.  Other than making sure the check doesn’t bounce, there are still a couple more things you can do to help your customer in this strange new energy-efficient landscape.

Strategies for Stage 5 Customers:

During the euphoria of “finally moving in”, many customers aren’t focused on the mechanics of their new home.  Make an appointment two to three weeks after move in to go over the mechanical systems and other home features that may be new to the customer.  If there is an HRV or ERV, go over how the system runs, changing filters, etc.  Make sure your customer knows how to use all the equipment in their new home.  Help them identify any stumbling blocks that may make it difficult for them to keep their home performing well.   This will make it easier for them to avoid the sixth stage of change, “Relapse.”

Stage 6: Relapse

Hopefully none of your customers end up here, but it can happen.  Your customer turns off their HRV and can’t figure out why the house “doesn’t seem right” or drills holes in the ceiling to put in some fancy canned lighting, only to ruin your airtight building plan.   

Strategies for Stage 6 Customers

The first thing to do, of course, is to help the customer fix the problem.  Then, have a conversation about what triggered the issue (“I didn’t think I had to have the HRV on all the time” or “No one said I couldn’t make changes to the lighting”) or where misunderstandings may have occurred.  Help the client problem-solve how to avoid the issue in the future.  

There you have it, a little primer about stages of change!   For more information on creating your own change, check out:  “Changing for Good”: by James O. Prochaska and John C. Norcross.