How well do your project managers, foremen and service techs score on repeats and referrals? I hope you have an enticing reward system to encourage effective customer relations. If you analyze the profit potential of these repeats and referrals, you will surely realize why you should not only keep score, you should teach every foreman and service tech how to create and nurture those long-lasting relationships.

We cannot cover all of the dos and don'ts in this short article, but we will first point out some of the most critical aspects of good customer relations:

  • The customer is always right! We know that this is what we hope for but, unfortunately, it is not always true. You need to instruct every one on your management team that when your customer is not right, go up the chain of command and tell you, but never tell the customer.

  • Your customer has many options. Your techs need to concentrate on getting repeats and referrals, and assure customers that your company is the best.

  • Customers talk! They have relatives, friends, neighbors and business associates interested in procuring similar services for themselves.
With that in mind, let's look at critical dos and don'ts:

1. Answer your phone! Whether it's an emergency or a normal business call, don't you love hearing a recording telling you which buttons to push? What's even worse are those broken recorded promises. “I'm either on another line or away from my desk. Leave your name, number and a short message and I will return your call as soon as possible.” Don't hold your breath! Along with being courteous, your receptionist should have understanding and compassion for each caller's problems and predicaments. Keeping a maintenance file on every customer's premises assures your interest and concern.

2. Your word is your bond; keep your promises. When you tell your customer you will be there at 8 a.m., be there or give him a call explaining your predicament. Likewise with being finished on time.

3. Maintain a proud and professional image. Emphasize these practices:

  • Safety training program for all employees including 10-hour OSHA, first aid and CPR;
  • Clean office and/or shop, trucks and uniforms with company logo;
  • Highway courtesy training for all drivers; and
  • Red Carpet treatment at customers' premises:
      A. No smoking on job.
      B. Nonmarking heels and soles.
      C. Caution and concern for small children and pets.
      D. Leave job cleaner than you found it.
      E. Always do a survey of the customer's system to report to your dispatcher for future reference.
Discuss any potential problems with the customer and repair minor “no charge” items when feasible. Give them something to brag about!

Naturally, your best bet for repeats is to negotiate and sell maintenance contracts. Your service techs can easily show your customers the advantages of properly maintaining their mechanical systems.

Getting Those R&Rs

But service work is only one concern when we are promoting, measuring and scoring “repeats and referrals.” Your jobsite foremen, superintendents and project managers need to realize that everything they say or do with your customer can create profit-producing repeats and referrals or, sadly, destroy all hope of future work or positive references.

Repeats and referrals (or R&Rs) are so valuable to any company that you should consider proper recognition as well as financial rewards to encourage extra concern and effort. Your entire management team should be constantly thinking about that next job.

Keeping in mind that old adage that the customer is always right, let's look first at the positives for producing future R&Rs:

1. Value engineering. When you provide expertise that will benefit that project, including the operation and efficiency of your installation, your customer will appreciate and brag about your concern.

2. Negotiate a fair contract and define all of the work included and the work not included to assure prompt payment and eliminate any misunderstandings, claims or litigation. Include an arbitration clause to settle any disputes.

3. Attend every jobsite coordination meeting, monitor agreed-upon schedules, resolve problems and change orders. Carefully review meeting minutes to eliminate any misunderstandings.

When possible, your jobsite foreman should attend these meetings to confirm coordination and cooperation with all trades. Above all, he or she must be aware of any promises or commitments to assure they are fulfilled.

4. Produce a quality product on schedule. When you and your workmen are proud of their installation, your customer also will be pleased.

5. Maintain a clean and safe worksite at all times.

6. Give prompt attention to punch-list clean up and warranty repairs or maintenance items.

7. Always be a problem-solver rather than a problem.

You can revert back to that old golden rule and “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” As you read my recommendation, don't you agree that is how you would like to be treated when you are the customer buying services?

However, all of these favorable customer relations will be totally wasted and forgotten if you end up with frustrating battles over change orders and extra work invoices. Many of these battles result in arbitration or litigation with attorneys representing both parties and continue for years. In addition to lost profits, you can rest assured this will not provide any repeats or referrals.

The odds are very high that there will be changes, additional work order errors and omissions, delays and controversial problems on every project. You can definitely minimize lost time and money with these common-sense customer relation basics:

  • Get it on paper. You need documentation to substantiate what you said, what you heard, what you agreed upon and what you did. This is extremely important with those “work included” and “work not included” clauses in your contract. Make certain your jobsite foreman is fully aware of your defined scope of work.

    Your foreman also needs to get extra work orders signed and sent to your office for immediate billing and collection.

    Your foreman's job log should be monitored to assure ample documentation to resolve any issue, preferably before it requires litigation.

  • For extra work or change orders, you should agree on a contract price or establish a cost-plus formula. You need to always get your extra labor and material slips signed daily to eliminate future disagreements.

  • Do it now! Whenever a problem or misunderstanding arises, insist on a meeting with the powers that be to decide and resolve the issue. Insist on immediate payment.

  • If you cannot come to an amicable agreement, you need to analyze what your options will cost you in time, money and future relationships. In most cases, you will be better off to take your licking now and move on. When your customer is totally unreasonable or unscrupulous, you should finish the job as quickly as possible, get out and do not ever return!

    These repeats and referrals are so critical to your profitable success and growth, you can see why your entire management team needs Customer Relations 101 training and a scorecard to assure compliance and equitable rewards.