Gregory A. Miedema, CGR, president of Dakota Builders Inc. (Tucson, Ariz.), is adamant that customer satisfaction comes before anything else. In fact, he calls it the top priority of his $800,000, full-service company. "Without customer satisfaction, what do we have to grow on? I can’t afford to go out every day and find all new customers; I want to keep the customers I have. That’s the smartest, most effective marketing I can do."
For the past three years, Miedema has used a quality survey to gauge how well the company has met clients’ expectations. The survey is part of a packet that goes out to all but the smallest-job customers - about 60 packets annually - as soon as final payment is received.
Also included are a thank-you note and a self-addressed, stamped envelope. The addition of that envelope has made a remarkable difference in the number of returned surveys, increasing the response rate from less than 30% to almost 100%. "It’s amazing the difference 34 cents can make," Miedema says. "That extra little push is all it took."
Miedema started the survey to get the most candid responses possible while making it as easy as possible for customers to respond. "If I were to ask everyone personally, the responses might be sugarcoated," he says. "The survey is a little more formal and is quantitative."
He developed the survey himself after researching such studies in trade and business magazines. The quality survey covers 10 topics: production-related issues such as scheduling, cleanliness and subcontractor work and attitude-related issues such as DBI employees’ courtesy and timely response. It asks the customer to rate each on a scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent).
Miedema reports that the company averages between 4 and 5 in each category. He considers more than two scores below that unacceptable and immediately contacts the client - to make things right.
"If there’s a problem, we want to know about it," he says. "If the client is happy, we want other people to know."
For that reason, the survey also asks clients if they would be willing to write a letter of reference or provide their phone numbers to serious prospects. Letter writers can also opt to have their notes posted on Dakota Builders’ Web site (www.dakotabuildersinc.com), where anyone can click on the writer’s signature to read the entire letter. They may also choose to have photos of their projects posted on the Web site or used in marketing materials.
The quest for delighted customers starts even before prospects become clients. Several weeks after Miedema makes a sales presentation, he follows up with a brief survey to find out if the prospects have decided which remodeling company they will use. He also asks about their perception of the presentation. Did DBI accurately assess their needs? Did it present creative solutions? Was the proposal clear and complete? The survey touches on several other factors in decision-making and asks for an overall assessment of DBI’s presentation.
This survey is less quantitative than the quality questionnaire, with only six of the 17 questions using numerical scores. The return rate is not as high - a little more than half are returned - but considering no long-term relationship has been established, Miedema is pleased with that percentage.
He observes that when respondents indicate that they chose another remodeler based on a lower price, the other scores tend to be lower, too. "That way," he guesses, "they don’t have to admit that they were just looking for the lowest price."
Miedema makes sure his commitment to customer service permeates the entire company. DBI’s mission statement focuses on bringing "quality processes produced at a value comparable to their cost." It also tells employees that "in all communications and relationships, to conduct ourselves with honesty, dignity and moral conscience."
The statement is posted in plain view for employees, along with several topics to consider regularly:
"I want the customer to feel that everyone here cares as much about the project as I did when I made the first sales call," Miedema says.
Despite his emphasis on customer satisfaction, he does not subscribe to the philosophy that the customer is always right. What he does believe is that the customer should always be listened to and educated. After all, clients pay Miedema for his experience and expertise.
"The customer doesn’t always want to be right," he says. "If you just agree with them, why should they hire you?"
If you have questions about how to get started with quality management and improving customer satisfaction, call the NAHB Research Center’s ToolBase Hotline at 800/898-2842 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.