Bowa Builders

Unlike most remodeling companies, Bowa Builders has a department dedicated solely to customer service.

August 31, 2003


Unlike most remodeling companies, Bowa Builders has a department dedicated solely to customer service. The five-person department serves dual functions: It takes over jobs once they near closing and is responsible for the final walk-through and introducing the warranty phase to the client, and it also assists past clients, serving as a specialty maintenance arm for their small projects (within warranty coverages and beyond).

"We felt like having the department was a necessity in order to take care of our clients well, so it couldn't be an afterthought," says Doug Horgan, Bowa's customer service manager. "It's a different level of hand holding. Warranty and service can often be the evil stepchild of our industry, and we wanted to debunk that and devote resources to it."


Bowa Builders Inc. (McLean, Va.)

NRS Index: 92.0

Type of company: full-service remodeler and custom builder

Years in business: 15

Number of employees: 66

2002 remodeling sales: $16.6 million

2002 job volume: 48 remodels, 3 custom homes

Average job size: $60,000-$70,000

Customer profile: affluent, short on time, risk-averse; expects high level of customer service

Referral/repeat business: 65% referral, 29% repeat

Mission statement (from Bowa's core ideology): "Heroic customer service (to ensure client satisfaction and 100% accountability)"

At Nordstrom, employees are bound to one simple rule: Use good judgment in all situations. Similarly at Bowa, employees are expected to be 100% accountable for their work and should go to whatever lengths necessary to make the customer happy. For their daily internal reports, superintendents have to answer, "What have you done today to help the client be happier?" They're also required to ask clients how the process can be made easier, and all employees participate in daily huddles within their department to communicate important issues, go over policies and get advice on how to serve customers better.

"When people hire us, it's with the idea that we're accountable for everything, and that's part of our culture," says Josh Baker, co-founder and president of Bowa Builders. "That means there's no finger pointing. No matter what it is, it has to get done. We expect that of our staff, subcontractors and material suppliers, and we attack it as a team. In the end, we're going to do whatever it takes to get it done. There have been countless times when we end up fixing things that are ambiguous or we know for certain aren't related to anything we have done. But in the long run, it's good business because we make the problems go away, and the clients refer us."

Nothing illustrates this idea better than the Don Davis Carpet Story, a part of Bowa folklore. According to co-founder and CEO Larry Weinberg, a botched order by a subcontractor was going to keep the client's carpet from arriving until two weeks after it should have been installed. Bowa circumvented the schedule break by reordering the carpet and having an employee fly to the manufacturer to pick it up and then drive the carpet back to the project, all in less than 48 hours. Weinberg estimates the company has gotten $10 million to $12 million in referral business from that project, and he contends that such stories help build culture among employees and typify the company's commitment to "heroic" customer service.

Much like Nordstrom, Bowa has seen a positive correlation between growth (since 1999, revenue has grown 15% to 82% annually) and commitment to customer service. Careful growth planning and strategy - much of it influenced by data the company gets from its three client surveys, administered at the end of the design process, after closing and one year after closing - have allowed customer service to maintain its primacy within the company.

"We have more resources, and we've been able to institute more systems to make sure we're getting things done faster and better," Baker says. "We understand that customer service is the lifeblood of our work."


Where Bowa stands out from the pack

1. Number of walk-through items identified for correction

All larger jobs have an on-site superintendent, who must file weekly reports and in doing so often catches items that otherwise might have been overlooked.

2. Availability/courtesy

Before work begins, clients and their immediate neighbors receive a laminated card with all contact information for the site superintendent.

3. Adherence to production schedule

Whenever a change order will affect the schedule by five or more days, more time is added to account for the scope of work. Also, every Monday, superintendents must produce a detailed schedule for the next two weeks.

4. Quality of workmanship

All carpentry is done in-house. Craftsmanship awards are given regularly.

5. Communication of progress

Customers receive a written weekly client update (mainly via e-mail) throughout the process, from design to construction. They also have on-site weekly meetings with the entire team assigned to handle the project, including production and sales staff.

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