A builder friend of mine likes to tell a story about the cable TV technician who came to his Colorado home five or so years ago to hook up his TVs. The guy seemed like he’d rather be anywhere else but at work, barely spoke to my friend, and performed the task so poorly that my buddy had to call the cable company and request that a different tech come out and finish the job.

A few years later, when this friend moved, the cable company sent the same tech to his new house. But this time, that same guy wanted to know exactly what my friend needed, made sure everything worked before he left the house and treated him like the most important customer he’d ever had. On his way out the door, he mentioned that the cable company would be sending my friend a survey so he could evaluate the tech’s work.

What a difference a survey makes.

Between the time of their first meeting and their second, my pal’s cable company had started asking every customer to fill out a customer service survey after every job. One result: the employees stepped up their customer service efforts so clients would not write anything negative on those surveys.

You might have noticed this last time you bought or rented a car or had one serviced. The big players in the automotive industry—from Honda to GEICO to Enterprise—are tying performance reviews and sometimes bonus money to the results of customer service surveys, and their employers are going out of their way to make sure their clients give them high marks.

Your employees will do that, too, if you make those survey results count when it comes to raises, bonuses and promotions.

Better customer service is just one of the ways surveys can benefit even a small contracting company.  At Jeb Design/Build, we rely on our surveys—conducted by a third-party survey company called GuildQuality—to let us know:

--How satisfied our customers are with us. Our results teeter at around 91 percent, and our goal is 100 percent. The most important question on the survey: How likely are you to recommend us to someone else? Our goal is that every client will be willing to recommend us.

--If a client has any lingering complaints. Because we get survey results back quickly, we can immediately resolve any unfinished business a customer has with us. For some reason, some clients don’t tell us face-to-face when they’re unhappy. Learning it while we can still do something about it is far better than hearing later that a homeowner bad-mouthed us to potential clients or wrote a negative review about us online.

--What we need to change. Surveys can reveal trends. If more than one client says the subs left dirty footprints on the new carpet, for instance, I know I need to insist that they cover their work boots with fabric “booties” before they walk on anyone else’s carpet. If customers complain about foul language or stray sandwich wrappers or smoking in the house, I know how to put a stop to that, too.

--What management might not otherwise know. Customers who fill out surveys aren’t shy about reporting on the behavior of your crews—good and bad. An owner or manager can use this information to teach, discipline, praise or promote.
Breithaupt, B. Arch., MBA, is a third-generation builder, designer, and remodeler, and the owner of JEB Design/Build in Shreveport, La.