Rick Hjelm knows that taking care of his high-end clients translates to repeat clients and referrals. “You want to reach the level where people come to you because they want only you to work on their project,” he says.

To communicate the importance of customer service and to build a strong reputation for his staff of eight, as well as subcontractors, the president of Phase II General Contractors in Lakewood, Wash., instituted a simple reward system. When an employee or sub goes above and beyond the call of duty, Hjelm presents them with a “kudos card,” a gift card from a restaurant or coffee shop. The cards range in value from $5 to $25. Hjelm says the IRS allows unreported gifts up to $25.

“It can be for something as small as getting their timecards in on time,” Hjelm says. “Doing that helps our office run more efficiently.” If a subcontractor takes care of an issue with a client, he sends them a card. “It's a simple thanks so they know you appreciate what they do. Then when you ask them again for help, they will be there,” he says.

Hjelm also tries to create an atmosphere in which his employees feel valuable and empowered. If they make a mistake, he tells them, “don't call me with a problem, call me with a solution.” He visits jobsites every other day and asks his crew for updates. “I give them an opportunity to tell me what they have done,” he says.

At every Monday morning meeting, Hjelm includes safety information and other types of training. He also shares the profit numbers on every job. “Employees are our greatest asset,” he says. “We must create an environment to make them feel they're part of the team.”