Jim and Mary Finlay believe in more than just delivering a high-quality project for their customers. Their business philosophy is driven by personal values, and they’re compensated in ways that can’t be measured in just dollars and cents. For the past 18 years, Archadeck of Suburban Boston has earned a loyal following of repeat customers, and this is a case study of how they’ve done it.

About ten years ago, the Finlays built a pressure-treated deck for Sarah. After completion, Sarah gushed  in praise of the workmanship, causing Jim no small amount of embarrassment. When it came time to replace her old curved-glass bump-out off the kitchen with a stick-built room–but save the existing blue tile floor – she had Archadeck of Suburban Boston do the work. And she was just as thrilled with that project.

A couple of years later, Sarah’s boyfriend Frank moved in with her. They decided to build a large addition with a great room, basement, garage, workshop area, and office. They wanted the addition to match the home’s contemporary roof lines, with 4” x 14” exposed fir beams and structural insulated panels. It was a substantial project, and Sarah’s loyalty to the Finlays resulted in a no-bid contract.

Archadeck had a construction manager who was self-sufficient and able to solve problems without any direction. He was also a good carpenter and able to jump in and work if needed, so there was no hesitation on Jim’s part to delegate this size of project to this employee. What Jim did not know at the time, though, was that the construction manager occasionally let his personal feelings affect his work–if he didn’t like a customer, he wouldn’t go out of his way to please them.

About three-fourths of the way through the job, Jim and the customers had a progress meeting, and Frank asked Jim to take over project management. He complained a little about the construction manager’s attitude, and there were some timing issues with the subcontractors, but Jim didn’t hear the complaint as an ultimatum. And since he was overwhelmed with other obligations at the time, Jim politely explained why he couldn’t comply with the request.

Toward the end of the project they had an early walk-through, where Sarah and Frank had a lengthy punch list. While reviewing it, Jim came to learn that Frank was paying for the project as a way to earn equity in the house. And when Jim thought about it, he realized that Sarah had given Archadeck her unqualified endorsement; yet they hadn’t lived up to those expectations, which might have caused some friction between the couple. It wasn’t until then that Jim recognized the depth of the problem Frank had addressed in the earlier meeting. At the end of the walk-through Frank looked at Jim and said, “You know how much we’ve been inconvenienced. What are you going to do to make this up to us?” Jim said “Let me think about that.” And he did.

He returned for the last meeting to close out the paperwork and resolve the final payment. Jim had recognized that simply giving a cash rebate would have a minor immediate effect, but wouldn’t change the negative emotions that had accrued during the job. So he said, “You asked me what I’m going to do.  Here are brochures for three upscale resorts.  We’re paying for you to spend a weekend together at the one of your choice.” The idea was to repay them for their inconvenience, apprehension and stress. They were delighted and Sarah chose one she had always wanted to go to but could never afford. Flowers were waiting in their room when they arrived.

Later, Jim and Mary learned that on that weekend Frank had proposed to Sarah. Goodwill that the company lost during the job was regained in a way that established a unique, unforgettable connection to their customer. Jim says, “Money is probably the least effective form of apology. I wanted a way to relieve the stress we’d created. But it’s not just that-what’s just as important is the satisfaction I feel in being able to do that. I almost lost a friendship, but was able to save it.”

Rick Provost has over 20 years experience helping to build the country’s largest franchise network specializing in design/build exterior home improvement.  Formerly the President and CEO of Archadeck®, Rick is now a principal in SMI Safety, a safety consulting and staffing business that specializes in industrial construction.  Rick also consults with emerging franchise companies to help them develop growth strategies and business systems.  He can be reached at [email protected].