The mantra at Plekkenpol Builders is that customer service means each customer feels like he or she is the most important customer. To this end, the company insists that employees communicate with clients daily and are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to meet their needs.
"Remodeling and home improvement can be intimidating to a lot of people, and often they've had a bad experience in the past," says Jim Kuzzy, Plekkenpol's project manager and construction estimator. "We try to make the process easy for them. We don't mind it. It's part of our jobs."
The company places great importance on learning what customers think of the process. To gather that information at the end of the process, it sends clients unformatted comment cards requesting feedback, recommendations and permission to add them to the Plekkenpol referral list. Responses from the comment cards are printed in an internal newsletter that comes out every two weeks and is distributed to every employee.
"If a customer has something to say about this company, it goes from top to bottom at about the speed of lightning," says Dave Goodlund, sales team and project manager. "Every employee can't be on every job, so the comment cards are a good way to find out what our workers are doing in the field for our clients, the little things we don't always hear or know about."
Currently, the company's Web site (www.plekkenpolbuilders.com) features 15 pages of testimonials (and the section is being increased by 20 pages), and its database includes more than 1,500 past clients who can serve as references. Plekkenpol maintains contact with these customers by sending annual holiday cards and newsletters. For the first year after closing, the company buys the client a gift subscription to a home improvement and design magazine.
Internally, the company emphasizes training and devotes the majority of its new hire orientation to relaying expectations for customer service. Human resources/office manager Beth Peterson spends a great deal of time challenging new hires to respond to common customer scenarios and bringing them up to speed on a company culture that promotes multi-tasking and collaboration across departments and job functions.
"Each person in the company has more than one title, and we all have overlapping job descriptions and duties," says owner and president Craig Plekkenpol. "That's done intentionally, based on our belief in customer service. The customer needs to deal with the people in the company - they don't like meeting a person and then being shifted to another person. In this company, whomever the customer makes contact with, that's their contact for life. It fosters teamwork, and teams can always produce better than individuals." He adds that the way duties overlap also ensures that when an employee is tied up on a project or takes a vacation, production isn't halted or slowed.
Acknowledging and rewarding staff might explain why the company enjoys significant employee retention. Many workers have been with the company more than 15 years. That longevity helps Plekkenpol support a robust employee referral program that pays if current employees recruit good workers who stay with the company for a predetermined amount of time.
"A lot of our testimonials come from people who've had previous experience with on-the-fly home improvement contractors who exist one day and not the next," chief financial officer Judy Plekkenpol says. "I think our being in business for 33 years, the fact that we have some employees who have been here that whole time and that we don't get all of our customer contacts by advertising sends the message that we're about satisfying the customer completely."