Officially, Splash Pools & Spas in Daphne, Ala., is closed on Sundays. But that doesn’t prevent husband-and-wife team Jack and Debbie Willard from making service calls on their day off. One Sunday evening last month, Debbie Willard drove 25 miles to a customer’s home just to retest the pool water she had treated for high stabilizer and phosphate levels a few days earlier.

The client, who was in town to help his daughter move, wanted to make sure the water levels were back to normal before he returned home to Florida.

“I came back up on Sunday, retested the water, and sold him what he needed,” Willard says. “He was just thrilled.”

In today’s market, mom-and-pop operations such as Splash Pools & Spas stay competitive by going above and beyond for their customers. Big-box chains may boast rock-bottom prices, but they usually offer next to nothing in customer support.

For independent retailers, extreme service measures can go a long way toward building a loyal clientele.

Ideally, great service translates directly to higher profits. In the case of Willard’s house call, for example, the firm made a $120 sale. But even when extra effort does not result in a direct boost to the bottom line, it still can help win repeat business and word-of-mouth recommendations from clients.

To keep your clients coming back for more, consider the following tips:

  • Be available after-hours. During the busy season, the Willards keep their store open late to accommodate clients coming home from work. They also print their cell-phone numbers on their business cards and encourage clients to call anytime with questions or concerns, even after the store has closed for the day. “When we’re out to dinner on a Friday night, I might get a call from a customer who’s afraid their pump may go out because it’s going to freeze — and I’ll talk them through it,” Willard says. “But that’s all a part of it. They’re calling us because we’re the ones with the knowledge.”
  • Work around the client’s schedule. Customers often are tempted to schedule hot-tub parties as close to the delivery date of their spas as possible. When Henry Pine, president of Accent Spas & Pools in Spring, Texas, learns about a client’s party plans, he and his team work double-time to make sure the spa is up and running before the big day. “We do pretty much whatever we have to — including coming in on Saturdays — so they’ll be able to have their party,” Pine says. “And they really, really appreciate that.”
  • Double-check what you’re told. While installing a solar reel at a residence, Jay Carswell, owner of Flamingo Pool Supply in Frederick, Md., learned that his customer was planning to have the plumbing in her pool redone. After taking a look for himself, he found that he could fix the problem with an O-ring for her pump. “This $2 O-ring saved her a couple thousand dollars,” Carswell says. “So, that is a customer for life.”
  • Help find rare parts. When customers request hard-to-find parts, Willard tirelessly tracks them down. She e-mails photographs of the parts to all of her manufacturing contacts, and she usually has an answer within 36 hours. While the time investment may be hard to justify for a 50-cent part, Jack Willard notes that it could potentially pay off down the road. “We lose a lot of money on the sale — but we have a customer who’s thrilled,” he says. “So, maybe they’ll tell somebody else and they’ll buy a pool — and it’ll pay off.”
  • Take it back. When a customer wants to return a product, Carswell recommends making the transaction, as long as it’s within reason. “The customer is not always right, but you try to balance the relationship vs. a $6 item,” he says. “When you’re willing to go the extra mile and take something back that other retailers wouldn’t, that’s good customer service.”
  • Find the right fit. Debbie Willard encourages customers to try out products before purchasing them. She even offers free water testing at first to determine their needs. “I do not sell them anything unless they need it,” she says. “It’s not just selling a product — it’s also knowing why they have to use that product, how is that going to help, and how is it going to keep their pools stabilized.”
  • Part with spare parts. Often, walk-ins who have inherited a used spa come to Pine for refurbishing tips, and he always takes the time to answer their questions — even if they are not paying customers. He even gives them spare parts that he’s saved for precisely this purpose. “You’re spending a lot of time with them for nothing — and it’s just part of it,” Pine says. “But quite often over the years, these customers have gotten in better financial shape, and have eventually come back to buy a new spa.”
  • Donate your services. When a customer has a medical emergency or a death in the family, the Willards step in to service the pool free of charge. “We don’t do that to toot our horn, but to truly try to help people through a time when they don’t need to be thinking about a swimming pool,” Jack says.
  • Own up to mistakes. Be honest with your customers when you’ve made an error. “Phony excuses don’t make the customer any happier,” Pine says. “But often the truth startles them, and they appreciate that so much, they will forgive our mistake easier.” Work to remedy the error right away, and be sure to update the customer regularly as you work to resolve the issue.
  • Educate your customers. Though it could take Debbie Willard less than 15 minutes to perform a water test and make a product recommendation, she is careful to educate each customer about their options. “I want to make sure that we give good service, which means giving time to the customer,” she says. “They put a lot of money into that pool, and they want it to last for a while.”