Much of Teakwood Builders' work involves renovating second homes. Customers often are not living in the homes when the work is being done. So you'd probably assume one of two things: Either the company doesn't have to focus on customer service as much because there is no standard, face-to-face interaction with the client, or it has to work doubly hard to manage and update clients on a process they're not even witnessing. Teakwood takes the latter approach.
Without the customer present to ask questions and voice concerns, Teakwood employees look to each other to be sounding boards for ensuring that projects are produced with the highest level of customer service possible. "We share everything companywide," project manager Chris Lamica says. "Whenever someone has a challenge, we have our own network of people to troubleshoot and fix it."
Out-of-town clients are kept abreast of their project's progress via e-mail, along with, at minimum, a weekly telephone conference with the production manager. Clients actually living in the home can expect to speak with their project manager daily.
"We build a trust with our clients," project manager Todd Desnoyers says. "We promise them we're going to deliver something, and we do it. The process is based solely on honesty."
Surveys that clients submit at the end of their project are shared across the company - all employees get a copy to learn what customers like and dislike about the remodeling process. Employees have learned that customers appreciate the care with which Teakwood employees treat their homes. They also appreciate the flexibility they're given, especially when it comes to change orders. Lucky enough to service clientele for whom money is not really an issue, Teakwood president Jim Sasko says his employees are attentive to, yet unruffled by, customers' requests for changes, and they treat them as commonplace occurrences in the remodeling process, not as hindrances to production.
"Remodeling naturally lends itself to a lot of interaction, and we're great at giving customers the space to change their mind and not feel threatened by us pinning them down to schedules and financials," Sasko says. "We don't get sloppy to the point where we're losing money or time, but we're lenient. Not everyone can visualize off of a set of plans or a written description."
Flexibility also is encouraged in employees. Sasko says the most important quality he looks for in his staff is innovation, "employees who can handle situations on their own, make their own mistakes and fix them." He also believes that being energetic, possessing good verbal skills and having a people personality are imperative. As the company experiences growing pains, hiring new crews and having project managers handle more dollar volume, Sasko is continuing to be selective in hiring and looking for individuals who want a career versus simply a job. But he's also looking at being more selective when qualifying customers, as he's determined not to lose track of the main thing his company does so well: personalizing the process. He wants to continue serving customers who appreciate the care his company gives their homes.
"I like to joke and say that we're excellent at disrupting people's lives," says Sasko. "We struggle with people tending to think we're too expensive, and often we have to deal with the 'sticker shock' because they've talked to an architect who's given them an inaccurate price. It's hard to get them to understand that our price is right, and we know because we're the ones who do the work. But once we're going through the process, they understand the value of the process, and the service they get is worth it. I need to hear them say they understand the value in the cost - you don't want to scare them away with numbers. Throughout the process, I want them to understand the company they've hired and what they're getting."