Launch Slideshow

Serving It Up

Serving It Up

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  • Vance Dover

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  • Brian Miller

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  • Debra Smith

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    Debra Smith

The rankings for customer service are in, and here, the top five reveal their secrets.

As in past years, Pool & Spa News partnered with Atlanta-based GuildQuality to conduct customer-service surveys for every Top 50 entrant who chose to participate.

Former clients of builders were asked for their opinions of the company from the initial contact through project completion.

Those with the highest scores in customer service seem to have a few things in common: exceptional communication, rigorous follow-up on any problems, and insistence on keeping all promises made to a homeowner.

Here, the five companies that scored highest in GuildQuality’s customer-service survey share how they achieved the honor.

Debra Smith, president, Pulliam Aquatech Pools, Fort Worth, Texas

You have to manage the expectations of the customers from the beginning. When we meet them we are upfront: “We are going to destroy your yard and you’re going to think it’s terrible, but that’s part of construction.” I equate it to giving birth. You’re getting a pool and it’s like finding out you’re pregnant. You start planning the design, you’re all excited, then you’re pregnant and your feet are swollen and you feel like crap and that’s the construction mess. And just when you’ve had enough, it all comes together and it’s beautiful and you have this baby and you forget all of what came before. We use that analogy and it helps a lot.

In addition, we go over everything very carefully. We say, “Here is the fine print. We don’t want you to skim over it, this is the down and dirty.” When we excavate the pool we go over everything again and have them sign again that they understand and approve what we’re doing.

Also, during the construction process, my scheduler will call them and say, “This is what’s going on.” Texas finally got some rain, and so every was customer was called and we said, “This is going to delay your pool for three more days because, if your backyard is muddy, it’s better to let it dry out.” We communicate with people.

Before we dig a pool, I send the customer a letter from me that says, “Here’s what you need to look out for.” If they happen to be getting a wrought iron fence and they do any welding, it will destroy the plaster. If you put in fertilizer and it gets in the floor, it will destroy your plaster. Watch for insects around your equipment, they love electricity. Ants can eat it up. So, here’s a checklist.

Then, when the pool is done, we send a questionnaire. If there were any questions that were not answered or something not covered, we call them immediately and make sure it’s taken care of.

We try to anticipate what they will need so that we can take care of it before they even have to ask.

We’ve been in business for 98 years and have pools that we’re building for the grandkids of our original customers. We’ve also had some customers for three or four pools as they move up in their careers or get a bigger house.

One of the blessings of being a company that’s been around for so long is that many of our employees have been with us for [decades] and the service is ingrained in them. It’s a habit. We’re not perfect, but we just try to make sure the customer’s experience makes them happy and if it wasn’t perfect they will still refer us because we will take care of whatever we can.

Vance Dover, owner, Georgia Classic Pool, Canton, Ga.

One of the biggest things we do — and this probably sounds clichéd — is really over communicate. We try to make sure the customer is aware of all the steps going through the process.

The second thing is we don’t set unreal expectations. If we have a job we think is going to take 90 days, we let the people know it’s 90 days. We don’t try to say, “Oh yeah, we can do it in 60.”

We try to make sure that the customers always know what’s next in the process … what’s going to occur this week. We don’t really give them daily updates because we feel that’s too much, but we definitely utilize texting and email.

We get excited about the jobs. He [brother, Joe Dover] and I, we aren’t just salesmen, we also manage the job and are both out almost every day. We’re probably as excited as the homeowner about how a project ends up. We try to treat every job as if it was our own pool, and we’ll tell people that.

Also, we don’t nickel and dime customers. We might make a pool a little larger or a wall a little longer. We may do things with a bar and grill that cost us a little bit, but we don’t go out there, trying to get the additional revenue. I’d say every pool project we do ends up looking better than the original plan.

Sometimes we’ll absorb some of the cost if we know it’s going to look better. Now, if a homeowner comes out and specifically adds something, obviously they’re going to pay for that, but if it’s a case where we think, “Wow, we could do this or do that,” and it might add a little bit of cost, a lot of times, we’ll just absorb it.

Over 50 percent of our business comes from referrals, so that means we’re keeping people happy long after the job is done.

Tony Caciolo, president, Monogram Custom Pools, Coopersburg, Pa.

The thing that we learned 20 years ago, when I started as a home builder, was that people generally ended up strongly disliking their builder. And the things that they disliked were the extras: the change orders and surprises they had throughout construction.

So we wanted to eliminate the things that people hated the most about that process and we opened up our pool division with the same philosophy: We branded something called the Hassle-free Pool. “Hassle-free” relates to two [things]. One is the building process — there are no surprises for the customers. We don’t go to them throughout construction and say, “Oh, now you have to pay for your electrician.” Our price is a true, no surprises price. The second part of Hassle-free is the way we spec out the pools. They don’t have to adjust their own pH. They don’t have to add chlorine. They don’t have to add shock. They don’t have to vacuum. They don’t have to clean their filter. All of the things people hate about owning a pool are taken away. Just about every pool is iPhone-controlled with an automatic chemical maintenance system. And just about every pool is remotely monitored by us here at the office. We do that for free. We monitor our customers’ pools — their salt level goes low, they’ll get an email alerting them to put some salt in the pool.

Combining the hassle-free construction process with the hassle-free pool ownership experience has gotten us some raving fans. I do no advertising in my area and about 95 percent of my business is referral-based.

It all stems down to one philosophy we have at the company, which is: The customer’s perception is our reality. We’ve said that since day one. If a customer believes something isn’t right, whether it’s right or not is irrelevant. We’ve found that it’s easier to change the reality than it is to change their perception. So if they think something isn’t right, we’re going to do whatever we have to do to change it and make sure they’re happy with the outcome.

Jennifer Satterwhite, owner, Puryear Custom Pools, Fort Worth, Texas

Communication is one of the biggest things that we do. A lot of our process and procedures are streamlined. We designed our own program that our builders use on the fly with iPads and our service department can use as well. And it uploads, so anybody at the office who has access to it can see exactly what’s going on.

I do a final phone call to every pool that we build and send out a survey as well. I like to thank them for their business and ask how their process went. If they have an issue, I get somebody on it quickly.

We have five superintendents who oversee all of our jobs. And, in house, we have two lovely young ladies who, for lack of a better term, we call our concierge. They help the guys keep in contact with our customers and give them up-to-date information because sometimes a builder can’t answer the phone or return a call within 10 minutes. We try to call every day and let our customers know what’s going on, and those two ladies also will communicate with the customers who need a lot of hand-holding.

I think there are a lot of companies out there that claim to be family owned and operated, but the owner isn’t hands on. Jason and I are here every day. We started this company from scratch and, by starting a business and cultivating it into what you want it to be, you have a high standard for your employees. We have 110-plus employees right now, and we want to make sure that they are carrying out our vision.

We’ve been surveying our customers for a very long time. I do the final phone call because I want to make sure I am, as the owner, the last one in their mind saying, “I care,” and “Thank you,” and “I want you to tell me what your criticisms are, as well as your compliments.” Criticisms are more important because that’s the only way we know how to fix anything that’s broken.

Brian Miller, owner, Hilltop Pools and Spas Inc., Jonesboro, Ga.

We have a mission statement that we’ve had since 1976 because customer service must be governed by some sort of objective policy within the company.

But while we have the same mission statement, the message delivery system has improved dramatically. For example, we send customers what we call a start letter that outlines the construction phases. We also try to educate the consumer as to anything that might impede the time frame of the build. In the past, we would mail the start letter and hope they would read it. Today, we still might mail it but we also use email so there can be no question that we have tried to educate the customer as to the process.

We’re very emphatic about customers having been contacted [and apprised of any changes]. If we have inclement weather, we send a letter saying that we’re sorry, but Mother Nature is not cooperating and that has put us behind.

We’re also very careful about not overselling our production capabilities. We are one of the largest pool builders in Atlanta and if we grew further it would have an impact on our ability to complete the pools in a timely manner. So we make certain that we don’t disappoint customers regarding the speed under which a pool is constructed. We have performance objectives for our crews and contractors on communication, job site cleanliness and anything else we can do to put the customer at ease.

We have top notch employees that adhere to the mission statement and to our objective of making everyone happy. If something goes wrong, or a customer is disappointed, we take corrective action internally, and also send flowers or do something nice to show that we care and we’re very sorry this happened.

My standard line after 38 years is that perfection still eludes us, but we’re getting really, really close! I’m very proud of our staff for what they do to make sure they keep the customers happy.