Credit: Illustration: Kyle T. Webster

Chris Kamis started his Cleveland-area roofing business after a stint as an apprentice chimney sweep. He had worked for other people; now he wanted to work for himself. So he sat down at the dining room table and drew up a business plan.

That was in 1987. Last year his company, Absolute Roofing & Construction, did more than $5 million in sales. Ongoing growth at the company is something Kamis attributes, at least in part, to his philosophy of "110%," that is, his goal of exceeding customer expectations so that they are 110% satisfied.

Dog on the Loose

Here's an example. Not long ago an Absolute Roofing crew was on the roof of a house when the client's dog slipped its leash and ran. The crew members came down off the roof and jumped in their vehicles. They found the dog 45 minutes later.

On another job, the crew tore into the roof and soffit to discover damaged electrical wiring. The clients, an elderly couple, couldn't afford the cost of replacing the wiring. "We contacted our electrician," Kamis says. Absolute Roofing ate the cost. The important thing, Kamis says, is to be up-front with clients about problems or potential problems.

Kamis is just now getting around to marketing the idea of 110% customer service. For the last two years it has been a concept that sales reps present when selling a job. Of course, the promise is only meaningful if clients know you'll back it up. So for the last eight years Absolute Roofing & Construction has required job foremen to have customers fill out a simple 10-question customer satisfaction survey known as the "110 form."

Spread the Enthusiasm

Responses to the 110 forms are entered into a spreadsheet and become part of a monthly report shared with personnel at separate meetings of salespeople, installers, and administrative employees. It's important to let employees know when customers weren't happy and why, Kamis says, but even more important to recognize and reward staff for outstanding work that garnered client praise. "When the customer says: 'Your people did an excellent job,' that builds morale," he points out. "When it comes to selling and marketing, we not only market our company and services, we market that we're part of the community and we will help out."