Seattleís Best

Rob Carlisle (left) and Alex Adolfi of Carlisle Classic Homes, in Seattle, are keenly aware that “the customer is always right.”
Christopher Nelson Seattleís Best Rob Carlisle (left) and Alex Adolfi of Carlisle Classic Homes, in Seattle, are keenly aware that “the customer is always right.”

Clients can sometimes drive you crazy, raise your blood pressure, and cause you no end of sleepless nights. Yes, they have their moments, but it’s still up to you to make sure that once the tools are put away and the sawdust is swept up, your customer bids you farewell with a smile on his face … and a referral in your pocket.

It’s all about customer satisfaction. REMODELING went to the best in the business for tips you can use to help you deal with your clients. The pros we talked to were all certified and recognized as customer service leaders by GuildQuality, the leading provider of customer satisfaction surveys for the construction industry. “The remodelers and replacement contractors that were recognized were largely cream-of-the-crop–level businesses,” says Geoff Graham, president of GuildQuality. “The average recommendation rate in the remodeling profession is about 72% to 73% but among these candidates was on average 95%.” With such a high recommendation rate, these professionals obviously have something beneficial to share.

What makes these surveys so valuable is the high response rate from customers. Around 70% of all customers respond to the surveys administered by mail, e-mail, and telephone. The surveys include a rating system as well as a host of comments thus providing both qualitative and quantitative feedback. GuildQuality attracts remodelers and other building professionals who feel that their reputation is their greatest asset. “Whether they do a great job or whether they’re coming to us because they want to do a great job, they recognize the importance of service and its relationship to the strength of the company,” Graham says. “All the people who sign up with us are passionate about delivering a great customer experience. A by-product of that is we have become a gold standard of sorts.”

Here are the Top 9 Customer Satisfaction Tips from some of the 2011 GuildQuality Award winners who were recognized specifically for how happy they make their customers.

1. Clean up Your Act

Three Amigos

Craig Huseby, Dan Boultan, and Steve Walker of Huseby Homes, in Nashville, Tenn., have literally paid their dues for their 100% referral rate.
Reed Brown Three Amigos Craig Huseby, Dan Boultan, and Steve Walker of Huseby Homes, in Nashville, Tenn., have literally paid their dues for their 100% referral rate.

If after a demolition project a client says that she came home to “white glove service,” then you know you’re doing something right. Rob Carlisle, owner and president of Carlisle Classic Homes, in Seattle, says that keeping a jobsite clean is integral because that’s what clients will definitely notice. “People can’t tell if a wall is plumbed or a floor is level but they sure notice if their home is a mess,” he says. “It’s simple, but instead of sweeping up, vacuum. It only takes five minutes but it’s the most important five minutes of every workday.”

2. Zero-Defects Policy

Twin Cities Siding Professionals, in St. Paul, Minn., has exacting standards for every crew member, says CEO Terry Stamman. “In order to attain 100% customer satisfaction, we must do everything right,” he says. “We have to be better than our competition at everything.” Stamman explains that today homeowners do an inordinate amount of research online and vet companies thoroughly before making that call. To make sure there are no bad reviews online or anywhere else, Stamman instituted a zero-defects policy. “If something is not installed correctly, we replace it,” he says. “Our field supervisors do quality audits on a daily basis. We have a 35-point check system for siding only. We are helping our customers achieve their goal of protection: protection from bad workmanship that ends up costing them money years into the future and protection from contractors who cut corners in order to maximize profits.”

3. Underpromise & Overdeliver

Mark Franzoso, president of Fanzoso Contracting, in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., says that managing expectations is the first step to ensure that a customer has a great experience. “We set the bar at a reasonable level before the job even starts,” he says. “Our method works extremely well and that’s why we’ve had a 70% referral rate for years and years.” He adds that his employees are the best in the business so exceeding a customer’s expectations are a given.

4. Customer ICU

Phone Tag

Nick Cogliani (left) and his son, Anthony, of Newpro, in Woburn, Mass., make sure that every customer knows how to get in touch with them, night or day.
Newpro Phone Tag Nick Cogliani (left) and his son, Anthony, of Newpro, in Woburn, Mass., make sure that every customer knows how to get in touch with them, night or day.

When any of the salespeople at Southwest Exteriors, in San Antonio, recognize a high-maintenance client, they note on the paperwork, “Potential ICU” and the client is “admitted” into a program where they are closely monitored … just like patients in a hospital’s intensive care unit.

“We started educating the sales team on what to look for and start to recognize people who could be potential ICU clients,” says company owner Scott Barr. “Obviously, if they’re crazy we stay away from them, but if we recognize a high-maintenance kind of personality then we get a heads-up that we’ve got something out of the ordinary coming down the production pipeline.”

Barr explains if something goes sideways during the production cycle, then the project is reviewed daily by the project and installation managers. “When you can please a difficult person, their referral carries a lot more weight,” he says. “Their friends say that if you can please [that difficult person], you can please anybody!”

5. Constant Communication

Don Darragh, vice president at Energy Swing Windows, in Murrysville, Pa., says that the root of his customers’ happiness stems from two things: communication and communication. “We educate our sales, administrative, and production employees individually with regard to each customer and their unique situation, and reinforce over and over at weekly meetings the importance of treating our customers the way we would like to be treated ourselves,” he says. “That’s the core.” That core principal has resulted in 75% of the company’s business from either referrals or repeat customers. “We over-communicate, thus creating a very strong relationship that fertilizes our referral business. It has obviously paid enormous dividends for us and me personally.”

6. Taking a Bullet for the Team

No Minor Issues

DreamMaker Bath & Kitchenís Jennifer and Bob Ender and Brenda and Lee Willwerth train their teams to always respond to a clientís problem immediately.
Linda Hamlin No Minor Issues DreamMaker Bath & Kitchenís Jennifer and Bob Ender and Brenda and Lee Willwerth train their teams to always respond to a clientís problem immediately.

As stated in the beginning of this article, a good customer satisfaction rate is in the 95th percentile but Huseby Homes, in Nashville, Tenn., has actually improved on that with a 100% customer satisfaction rate. That’s right, every single customer Huseby has worked for would recommend the company. “I’m not happy leaving a job unless that client is satisfied,” says company founder and president, Craig Huseby. As an example, Huseby tells the story of a client who misread the line items and mistakenly thought the exterior trim was included with the interior trim costs. But it was actually an additional $7,500 and the client was distraught over the added expense. Huseby sincerely believed that it was an honest mistake, so rather than giving the client a discount, he covered the entire cost of the exterior trim. “That client has referred me four or five other clients,” he says. “That was the best $7,500 I ever spent!”

7. Quick Response

Empathy is one reason why Bob Ender encourages his employees at DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen, in Ann Arbor, Mich., to respond to clients as quickly as possible. “These people don’t do [what we do] every day,” he says of his customers. “What may seem like a minor issue to you is a major issue to them. No matter what a client asks, we train our guys to stop and address that question immediately.”

Ender says the quick response is implemented from the first contact (“Strike while the iron is hot!”) all the way through to the end of the project … and then some. “We have a very robust warranty system in place,” he says. “We have a 24-hour response time when a customer calls with an issue, and we’re usually there within three days to address it. And we know it works because our referrals come in and say they know we’re not the cheapest, but they know we stand behind our work.”

8. Listen & Learn

Energy Swing Windows
Energy Swing Windows

From the moment a customer signs on with Newpro, in Woburn, Mass., they are enveloped with communications from company president Anthony Cogliani. “Our customers have put their trust in us to deliver exceptional quality product and service and that starts from the top down,” he says.

Cogliani’s phone number and e-mail address are given to every customer so that they can get in touch with him throughout the process. This assures the customer that their wants and needs are Newpro’s top priority. Cogliani makes a point to talk to all customers, especially those who had a less-than-stellar experience. “Listening and learning are two actions that are first and foremost when it comes to our customers,” he says.

9. Settle in for a Long-Term Relationship

When System Pavers commits to a project, the company commits for the long run. That doesn’t mean days, or weeks, or even months, System Pavers commits for decades.

The Santa Ana, Calif.–based company has a 25-year warranty on its jobs that not only covers the materials but also the workmanship, according to CEO Larry Green. “When everybody in the company knows that’s what you’re going to represent — along with a money-back guarantee — nobody wants to be the person who says ‘because of me, we had to give back the money,’” he says. “We want to have a 25-year relationship with the customer so that they will come back to us again and again.”

—Mark A. Newman, senior editor, REMODELING.