A company’s greatest asset is its customers. While that’s hardly an astonishing observation, it’s a fundamental truism that successful business people never forget.

As in past years, as part of our Top 50 program, Pool & Spa News commissioned Atlanta-based GuildQuality, a third party company, to conduct customer-service surveys for all entrants who chose to participate. Former clients of builders who opted in were given the opportunity to share their opinions of the company’s expertise, professionalism and customer service, from initial sales through completion of the project.

For companies that achieve a place in the Top 50 program, overall business excellence is basically a given. What seems to differentiate those who achieve high scores in customer service is attention to what might be considered “soft” aspects of the construction industry: highly effective communication, rigorous follow-up on any problems, and strict adherence to budgets and schedules.

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

Ray Holt
Baker Pool Construction
Chesterfield, Mo.

Our approach to customer service lies in finding the right employees. That means a strong staff who want to make things right by the customer.

We’ve found our best employees by meeting with them several times and getting a feel for them and a sense of their integrity. It’s finding people who [will] offer our customers the same service we would.

We’re pretty cautious about having them interact with customers when they first start. They’re going to observe quite a bit before they’re actually on the front line, so they can see the level of service that’s required.

Communication is a tremendous part of how you gain success on the whole customer service side. We let the customer decide how often and how they want to be communicated with on an ongoing basis.

Matt, our project manager, sends out a letter the week the pool is sold, introducing himself and providing contact information. He then meets with the homeowners to do their color selections and look through the project’s details. At that time, he’ll establish when and how they want to communicate. That’s also when you get a feel for the type of personality you’re dealing with. Certain people may say they only want to be communicated with this often, but Matt’s good at inferring if the customers are a little more demanding, so he’s probably going to communicate with them a little more.

We’ve put quite a bit into our website over in the past several years and are starting to dig deeper into social media. But the key to our success has been grassroots marketing for the last 45 years. If you keep customers happy, they are going to tell other people that you did a great job. In my mind, you can’t buy enough advertising to equal really satisfied customers.

Chris Polito and Tom Rozell
Pool Environments
Plano, Texas

We target the high-end market. It’s more challenging and you really have to stay on your toes, but our thought process is that we can service 60 or 70 clients a year better than we can service 300 or 400.

A few years ago we started providing customers with an emergency call number. We’ll get a couple of calls a weekend, and clients love that if it’s 5 p.m. on Friday and they have a problem, they don’t have to wait until Monday. We’ll call them back Friday night and if we can’t fix it on the phone, we’ll try to have someone there Saturday morning. After-hours calls go through to our service manager [and] clients love that, too.

Recently, we hired a company to do customer satisfaction surveys that are sent to homeowners after we finish a job. There are over 20 questions, and they rank us 1 to 4. Any time we get a 3, I gather the troops. We were getting a lot of 3’s [at one point], and I think it’s because people weren’t kept in the loop on the schedule; they would get an email occasionally, but an email should be a follow-up to a phone call. A phone call is so much better than email.

We meet every Thursday and go over every job under construction. Approximately eight sales and new-construction people gather to review everything — what to do next week, materials choices, anything [the crew] needs to know.

Our scheduler spends Fridays putting the schedule together and contacting customers. Some people like emails; some like phone calls. Some clients are happy getting called once a week, [while] others want a more personal approach, including daily communication. We listen to individual needs and respond accordingly.

Brian Miller, Matt Miller and Kelly Miller Erjavec
Hilltop Pools & Spas
Jonesboro, Ga.

Our approach to customer service is reflected in our mission statement, which has governed our operations since 1976. It’s hanging in our front lobby. It’s all over our website. It’s on our letterhead.

“To have a positive impact on all the people who come in contact with our company by providing the finest products, the best service, and an attitude of honesty, integrity, optimism, and appreciation for their interest and business.”

There are a number of ways we implement this mission. First, we’ve made sure there are enough team members to address customers’ needs. For example, we increased our office staff and made sure it is highly organized so it can assist customers efficiently. We also have a construction coordinator that communicates with the clients daily. And our project manager is out on the job site for the major phases of construction. We always want to have someone present to address questions or and put customers at ease during the process.

Another way we make our customers feel they are a priority is by not overbooking ourselves. We will not oversell our capabilities.

Perhaps the biggest change is our emphasis on technology and using social media. By having a strong online presence, we’ve made it so clients who are using the Internet to research before purchasing a pool find us on online review sites. Prospective clients like reading about satisfied customers and current pool owners enjoy sharing photos of their pools, from construction to completion, on our Facebook page. They even tag photos of their kids in their pool, so it’s a very interactive experience for them that they enjoy.

Vance Dover
Georgia Classic Pool
Canton, Ga.

[In dealing with customers] we don’t set expectations too high, so that rarely do we have a situation where we’re not meeting them. When we project a timeframe, we set the completion date out a little further because we have to compensate for weather. Ninety-five percent of the time we complete the job before the deadline.

Materials selections is another area where we make sure customers know exactly what they’re getting. We have a great website, so they can look at different selections. Also, we can almost always get them out to another job within a 5-mile radius. We usually let them go on their own so they can talk freely with the former client.

Either my brother or I are on every job every day, so face-to-face communication is a regular thing. We definitely use email and texting. We’re easy for our customers to find.

We use a third party company to survey every customer when we complete a job. I tell customers that we appreciate even less flattering comments. It helps us to refocus in those areas. I’m the owner. I want the facts. I’ll tell homeowners that I love great comments, but if there are issues, I really want to hear about them because that’s how we get better. We’re OK if we get a bad comment. We don’t really get that many, but occasionally we do.

Robert Guarino
South Shore Gunite Pools & Spas
Chelmsford, Mass.

Providing good customer service begins with having a knowledgeable and reliable staff. To achieve this, I give employees real world pay grades so they can have a nice car, own a home and send their kids to college. I pay commission on every single item that they sell. If they take a 10 cent screw off a truck, they get commission. And I pay overtime.

Another part of this philosophy is to only service what we sell. If I take on customers that we don’t know, I’m setting myself up for [problems]. The reason is because the techs are assigned to specific pools and only handle those pools, so they become familiar with the customers’ product and needs, and the clients know what to expect from the tech.

My trucks go out with more than $15,000 of inventory, and 99.9 percent of the time the tech will have the part on the truck. Having equipment gets the customer back on track faster, so of course they are happy.

Training is another key piece of the puzzle. We have a teaching room and every year we bring in manufacturers and do seminars for a week for all my people. I’ve got guys who’ve been in that class ten different times. They’re always learning something new. Then, when my people go out to a job, they fix the problem, so my call backs are very low.

Because I invest in my team and training, we have the most expensive rates for pool openings, closings, and weekly service routes. Yet last year we closed 1,200 pools. There’s a cost associated with this kind of overhead, but it’s well worth it.