No one knows the importance of customer service more than Scott Colley. It’s what drove his retail/building/service firm to form a Customer Advisory Board in 2009. The 10- to 12-person board meets once a year to discuss new products and ways to improve company operations.

“We’ve received invaluable information from these customers,” Colley said.

The co-owner of Colley’s Pools & Spas credits the firm’s customer-first attitude to helping his business not only make it through the worst of the Great Recession, but come back strong and take more market share.

Based in Hamburg, N.Y., the nearly 50-year-old firm is owned by Scott and his sister, Jeanine Colley. In the 1980s, they joined the business started by their parents, Bruce and Marie. Now, along with their locations in Fredonia, N.Y., and Erie, Pa., Colley’s Pools & Spas serves a 16-county area. Knowing what the families in that large area want and need is key to the company’s continued success.

When setting up the first advisory board, Colley didn’t want to play it safe — he wanted to hear from customers who weren’t happy with the company’s services. “The staff was incredulous. ‘You want that guy?’ they asked,” Colley recalled. “Yes, and he said he now thinks better of us for contacting him.”

Always mindful of its clientele, Colley’s has implemented other programs, too, such as Customer Appreciation Day, free pool schools and $200 gift certificates for referrals. The service technicians even ask customers to display a Colley’s sign in their yards after visits, in return for $10 gift certificates — and people do call in after seeing the yard signs.

“We try to take care of our customers over and beyond what we need to do,” Colley said.

Appreciation doesn’t stop with the clients. The company also inspires loyalty among the staff of 110 (in season). Several employees have been on board for 20 or more years, and one superintendent has reached the four-decade mark. The firm established a hall of fame in their honor, and Colley said customers are impressed when they view the photos, with labels showing the years each veteran has served.

This enthusiasm bubbles over to the younger generation, too. Colley’s 7-year-old son once gave a friend a business card, and the classmate’s mother called Colley to check it out, then said, “Your son’s quite a salesman.” Indeed, a $90,000 pool sale was the final result.