The best way to find out what your clients think of your company is to ask. By Joseph F. Schuler Jr.

When BOWA Builders wants to know what clients think of its work and processes, the solution is simple: Ask them.

"We ask exactly what we're looking for," says marketing director Stefani Eckenroad of the questionnaires her company mails to clients. "We don't pull punches."

BOWA sends clients three surveys -- one after the design phase, one when the project is finished, and the last when the one-year warranty ends. (The company also has a survey for dead-end leads.) Here are a few of the 40 questions asked:

* Was the design process timely? Efficient?

* Were the specs accurate? Understandable?

* Did the design team listen to you?

* Was the craftsmanship what you expected?

* Were change orders and invoices timely? Understandable?

* Was the final cost within the range of the budget?

* Were questions or concerns handled properly by the staff?

* Was the response to all warranty requests timely?

* Did the project meet your expectations?

* Were you treated fairly on items not covered by the warranty?

* After thinking about the overall process, do you have suggestions to improve service?

The completed surveys are forwarded to the job's salesperson, who determines how to resolve any problems. Eckenroad says most survey complaints have to do with billings and costs.

The company mails 600 surveys annually. About 100 come back completed. The surveys are dispatched over the nine-month span of BOWA's typical job. "We don't think it's overkill because enough time has elapsed. It's one page, and it's fairly painless," Eckenroad says. "These are all important things to know. The only way to know is to ask."