Demolishing the competition

How Terrain Earthworks and Demolition built transparency and strengthened communication to win better work.

6 minute read

How might we win more work when our price is higher than our competitors? That was the crux of the challenge at Terrain Earthworks and Demolition. In an industry where the cheapest offer generally wins, Terrain were looking for a way to become a better demolition business, not a cheaper one. Through Journey Mapping and two smart interventions, we turned demolition from an act of destruction to an act of preparation for something new. We built trust by becoming more transparent, communicating more broadly and started winning better work.

The Client

Terrain Earthworks and Demolition demolish structures and perform earthmoving mostly in preparation to build something new.

Terrain’s founder and director, Matt Hawke, enjoys a wonderful reputation as a competent and helpful service provider. Much of Terrain’s success to date can be attributed to this client focus and the word of mouth recommendations that result.

With the acquisition of larger machinery in 2019, Matt and his team of five positioned themselves to take on more projects. The projects were there, Matt was quoting them, but they didn’t seem to be winning them.

The Challenge

Matt approached me to help them work on a few problems that they had identified. We began by discussing their observations and formulating these as a series of “how might we…” questions:

  • How might we free up some of Matt’s time so he can win more jobs?
  • How might we capitalise on Matt’s excellent service reputation?
  • How might we offer additional value compared to our competitors?

We identified a few side-effects that we wanted to avoid:

  • staff growth; the team was already the size they could manage
  • overcommitting themselves
  • not being able to deliver on their promises

The Project

To put some structure around this project we agreed to work together over a period of six months at a fixed price per month. This allowed us to build our understanding of what was going on and design responses to those situations. It also allowed me to coach Matt on various aspects of great services.

Journey Mapping

To build our common understanding of the customer journey, we mapped it out. We immediately learned a few things about Terrain’s clients:

  1. demolition is often the first step towards building a dream home
  2. it’s sometimes sad as the clients may have been living in the house for a number of years
  3. demolition causes them stress
  4. the demolition process is poorly understood
  5. demolition causes tension between Terrain’s clients and their neighbours

We also learned that:

  1. there are many competitors who mainly compete on price
  2. lower prices mean cutting corners, not operating within guidelines and standards and not completing the job satisfactorily
  3. lower prices also mean poor communication with the client and their neighbours

Perhaps the most important insights were related to two parts of the customer journey that are the most stressful:

  • the period of time between the initial site consultation and the actual demolition
  • the actual demolition


During the period of time between the initial site consultation and the start of the demolition, Matt was spending a lot of time answering emails about what would happen before and during the demolition. There was a lot of stress, uncertainty and waiting at this stage. This presented a great opportunity for us to formalise that information and provide it to prospective clients without them needing to ask for it.

We created an FAQ document that provided answers to all of the questions that Matt knew clients would ask him. We agreed that this document would be handed to clients during the initial site consultation. Its purpose was to reduce their stress level, increase confidence in Matt and Terrain and to serve as a reminder of Matt’s consultation.

Neighbour Notifications

By law, Matt’s client is required to notify all neighbours, within a certain distance of their demolition site, of upcoming demolition work. Of course, it’s difficult for the client to know that and Matt realised this was a stress he could easily take away from the client.

In addition, there had been instances where unhappy neighbours had brought projects to a grinding halt by lodging complaints with Safe Work Australia or the local council. In these cases, work ceased immediately until investigators had given the all clear to proceed.

After considerable consideration, we decided that Matt needed to be more present and available to the neighbours around demolition sites. We developed a simple postcard and webpage that Terrain uses to inform neighbours of upcoming work and providing them with access to detailed information about what will happen before and during the demolition period.

In addition, we increased the ease with which they could contact Matt to discuss and resolve any concerns without the need to involve government authorities.

In stark contrast to Terrain’s competitors, Matt attempts to deliver these postcards in-person to neighbours. By introducing himself and having a short, reassuring talk with neighbours, he successfully de-escalates most of the concerns that neighbours might have. This avoids potential conflict between Terrain’s clients and their neighbours.

Service Coaching

Demolition is a small step towards the beginning of a much larger journey; building a dream home. Matt and I worked together to change the way he thought about his business.

I coached Matt, in a two hour call each month, on the phases of a service, consistency, transparency and predictability.

We moved Terrain from being a business that knocks things down, to one that paves the way for a dream to come true with less stress, better communication and trust.

Testimonials, language and ease of contact

In addition to the FAQs and Neighbour Notifications, we successfully implemented a testimonial gathering form and procedure. We collected nine high quality testimonials within just two weeks.

We simplified language and standardised vocabulary across the website and all written documentation. By using a less formal style of writing, and capturing a bit of Matt’s humour, we reduced client stress and improved the relationship between Matt, his clients and their neighbours.

To build trust, we made it easier for clients and their neighbours to contact Matt with their concerns. By providing answers to their questions actively, instead of when asked, we successfully reduced work stoppages.

The results

How might we free up some of Matt’s time so he can win more jobs?

By actively informing clients and their neighbours about what would happen before and during demolition, using the FAQs brochure and Neighbour Notification cards, we significantly reduced the amount of time and effort Matt spends on responding to questions via email.

How might we capitalise on Matt’s excellent service reputation?

By capturing testimonials and these to provide social proof of Matt’s reputation. By getting Matt in front of more prospective clients and their neighbours at site consultations and during demolition. By capturing Matt’s way of speaking and translating that into written content.

How might we offer additional value compared to our competitors?

By being more communicative, transparent and available to answer any concerns, Matt clearly positioned himself well apart from his competitors. Terrain has become a service provider based on integrity, trust and confidence rather than one of speed, cutting corners and low cost.

When does this make sense?

In an industry where the cheapest offer generally wins, Terrain were looking for a way to become a better demolition business, not a cheaper one. That is a common theme for many service providers. If you are losing work to your competitors, you might consider trying to find out how you might be able to deliver a better, more valuable service than they are.

Mapping your customer journey, making observations about what is going on and better understanding where your service sits within a bigger service system makes sense if you have a feeling that things might not be going all that well. This applies to any organisation delivering a service.

Methods Used

Problem Definition - Website Review - Observations - Journey Mapping - Touchpoint Design - Information Architecture - Copywriting - Service Design Coaching

Work with standing man
“What made Terrain Earthworks and Demolition stand out was communication and honesty. The fact that Matt made the effort to spend the time to talk to me about the process and explain his prices/methods made it easy to understand and relatable..”a Terrain Earthworks and Demolition client
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