Kevin O’Brien
Agape Construction
Kirkwood, Mo.
Big50 2007

Here’s a partial list of what we do to accomplish this:

Modeling: We talk about behaviors and attitudes at our monthly company meetings. We’ll cite hypothetical situations and sometimes will have volunteers act out the situation. The last time we did this, it was before a company barbecue, which we knew some customers would attend. We had one of the carpenters and one of the female office staff pretend to be Mr. and Mrs. Schmidt walking into the warehouse. Other employees acted out poor customer service and then proper customer service. It was a fun way to get the point across.

Praising: We solicit customer comments, and whenever the customer commends someone, I make sure that person gets praised and recognized before his or her peers. We also have employee-of-the-month awards where good behavior is recognized and praised before the rest of the company. It is much more effective to reward the good than to rebuke the bad.

Finally, we all “walk the talk.”

Steven Whitlock
Hubert Whitlock Builders
Charlotte, N.C.
Big50 1993

Much of our customer service training comes from informal coaching and on-the-job experiences. Daily and in many encounters, we encourage employees and trade partners to do the right thing.

In hiring, we use DISC profiling to help us understand a prospective employee’s communication style. It can show us how an individual might act under stress. By understanding communication styles, we communicate more effectively with clients and with one another.

New employees quickly encounter numerous examples of mutual respect in the way we treat one another in the office — practicing good manners, rejoicing in each other’s good news, and expressing support when there is bad news. These expressions extend to our clients and trade associates.

To reinforce customer service, we use Guild Quality to survey our clients so we can focus improvement efforts. These surveys are important input for our “lessons learned” process. Guild Quality and lessons learned are culminating steps in our project-management methodology. They create the feedback loop to continually improve customer service.

As for trade partners, we have implemented a Master Trade Contractor Agreement that clearly communicates our expectations and provides accountability.

Along with this basic understanding in writing, we teach our staff that our excellent results are a team effort guided by close supervision of trades in an attitude of teamwork.

Martin Conneely
Conneely Contracting
Arlington, Mass.
Big50 2008

Construction projects can be quite invasive, and we want to make sure that clients are comfortable with everyone who walks through their door. I pass this along to employees and trade partners in these ways:

Start at the top: My office staff sees firsthand that my clients are important to me by the way I treat them at office meetings or on the phone. I take the time to explain to staff that, for many clients, this project is the first they have been through; we need to take the time to communicate properly, update clients regularly, and make our systems easy for a homeowner to follow.

Know your subcontractors: I do not shop around looking for a better deal or for the guy who can show up tomorrow. I have long-term relationships with the owners of subcontracting companies I use. Their employees are taught the same customer service lessons I teach in my own company.

Hire like-minded people: If I do not feel comfortable with an employee or trade partner, I know my clients will not either. My clients trust me to make the right decisions, and they know that I demand high standards in all areas of my company.

Yes, issues do arise, which is why we often do midproject and post-construction surveys that allow a client to communicate any ill feelings. It might be as simple as leaving a window ajar at the end of the workday, but we still want to know about it and inform the person responsible. My subcontractors welcome the feedback, and I know that any and all issues will be dealt with.

When employees see up close that I have that respect and the positive response that comes with it they are much more receptive to the demanding customer care skills I require.