Delivering Customer Service

Norb Slowikowski

September 2008

How well are you serving your customers? This question pertains to both internal and external customers. The internal customers are the people inside your company with which you work and interact. For example, the foreman’s internal customer is the superintendent, the project manager, office staff personnel such as the payroll administrator and the crew. Everyone has one or more internal customers, and the key for internal customers is to interact positively with them and satisfy their needs. The same would be true of external customers, such as the general contractor’s superintendent, the architect, the owner, and the other trades on the job.

A key concept of customer satisfaction is this: The level of service an employee brings to a customer is a reflection of how well that employee feels served, or how his needs are being met by the organization. You can only serve the external customer satisfactorily to the extent that internal customers serve each other (developing an internal needs orientation). To the extent that internal customers feel supported, encouraged, nurtured and served, they will then help their external customers.

What Is a Customer?

C Someone who has concerns and needs to be communicated with.
U Someone who requires understanding.
S Someone who expects top-notch service.
T Someone who wants tangible results.
O Someone who wants an organizational commitment that his needs will be satisfied.
M Someone who wants his deadlines met.
E Someone who expects high energy and enthusiasm from those with whom he does business.
R Someone who expects reliability and responsiveness.

To provide a high level of customer satisfaction, you must meet the following requirements:

Create W.O.W. "Work on Winning.” Establish win/win relationships. Be action-oriented. By giving the customer what he wants first, you will probably get what you want. Have a genuine customer focus.

Act as if you are the company. No matter who you are or what you do, the behavior you transmit to the customer creates a perception that leads to an evaluation of the total company. If the foreman is argumentative and surly with the GC’s superintendent, and gets into the blame game with him, then the superintendent will generalize and tell the people in his company that your company is nothing but trouble and refuses to satisfy the needs of the GC. This is a good way to get removed from the bid list.

Be competent and care. This requires people who know what they are talking about and know how to solve problems, meet schedules and produce quality results. They are proactive rather than reactive. They also project a "whole job” focus. They also care about the GC’s problems and help to solve them.

Honesty is the only policy. When there is a problem or an obstacle that prevents you from being effective and efficiently, you present your case to the GC without emotion and offer a solution to the problems or remove the obstacle. Be candid without attacking the person, but have the facts and display a willingness to help.

Listen. It creates trust and respect. Hear people out. Let them finish what they are saying. Don’t interrupt them while they are talking—gain an understanding of the issue, problem or need, and let them know you are there to move forward and make things better.

Provide exceptional service. Impress your customers. Do more than what is expected. Go that "extra mile.” Provide value, which is in the eyes of the beholder. Find out what is really important to your customer, and then deliver it.

Be a fantastic fixer. There is a solution for every problem. Let the customer know that you will do whatever it takes to solve the problem. Even if you don’t have the answer, you will go to other people in your company who have the knowledge and expertise to solve the customer’s problems. Utilize a team concept; you don’t have all the answers, so find and use those who do.

Master the art of calm. Always control your emotions. Yelling, screaming and letting your emotions take over communicates immaturity and ends up with a lot of arguing and animosity. It creates problems instead of solving them. By controlling your emotions and expressing dissatisfaction in a straightforward, assertive way opens the door to mutual respect and problem resolution.

So far we have presented the definition of a customer, along with some requirements for providing a high level of customer service. Now we will focus on some action the foreman can take on the job site to create a higher level of customer satisfaction with the GC’s superintendent.

In short, the foreman needs to adopt the principles of the R-A-T-E-R Concept and deliver that concept through day-to-day action.

Here is what the R-A-T-E-R Concept is all about:

R = Reliability • Consistency of action. Perform within authorized boundaries.
• Meet the schedule and deliver the scope.
• Follow through and do what you say you will do.
• Be visible and accessible.
• Lead the crew and maintain work flow.
• Demonstrate personal accountability.
• Satisfy the GC’s needs and expectations in a positive, effective manner.

A = Assurance
• Become the expert in your job.
• Understand and help the GC’s superintendent to meet his goals.
• Know the strengths of your crew.
• Display a "service attitude.” Show you care about the total job.
• Be capable and confident in what you do.
• Meet the quality standards.
• Do everything you can to keep the work in sequence.
• Have a track record of achieving positive results.
• Planning and organizing must be ongoing.

T = Tangible Results
• Meet the schedule and time frames for each phase.
• Deliver quality work on time with sound safety practices in a positive work climate.
• Forecast needs, then plan for and deliver them.
• Keep striving for perfection.
• Only promise what you can deliver. Specify exactly how you will get there, then do it!

E = Empathy
• Clearly understand the GC’s position. Have a "big picture” focus.
• Display concern for the GC’s superintendent’s problems. Help solve them.
• Keep ongoing contact with the GC’s superintendent. Let him know you are there to provide service.
• Speak up at weekly jobsite progress meetings. When you have suggested solutions to problems, be willing to execute the solution.
• Be respectful of the GC’s superintendent.
• Understand before you react.

R = Responsiveness
• Respond to and resolve problems quickly; don’t procrastinate. Do not put critical issues on the back burner.
• Display a sense of urgency.
• Adapt to changing situations.
• Get the GC out of a jam when you can.
• Always have a target date for getting something done. Start right away.

These are the keys to maximizing customer satisfaction. Before you implement these keys, take some time to answer the following questions and then develop your Action Plan for delivering a high level of customer satisfaction:

• What do your customers really want from you?
• Do you have the necessary resources (expertise, people, equipment, ideas, information) to give your customers what they really want?
• Customers buy value. Do you know what your customers value?
• Do you know what quality is in the eyes of the customer?
• What obstacles prevent you from delivering a high level of customer satisfaction?

When answering these questions, keep in mind the following directive: Have a restless dissatisfaction with the status quo.

With a commitment to constant improvement, the values you implement will deliver for the customer.

Norb Slowikowski is president of Slowikowski & Associates, Inc., Darien, Ill.