Iris Harrell was starting to see a common thread in the referrals she was gettingfor her business. Customers were coming to her after positive recommendationsfor her company, Harrell Remodeling in Mountain View, Calif., appearedon Angie's List (, an Internet-based business referralservice where clients grade companies based on performance.

“We got a couple of leads from Angie's List, so I thought: We better goonline and see what people are saying about us,” says Harrell, ownerand CEO. “Fortunately, they were all ‘A' and ‘B' ratings.”

But the fact that her company showed up on Angie's List struck a chord. “Irealized that in this business today, you're operating in a fishbowl,” Harrellsays. “Everything you say or do is looked at because you'reworking in somebody's home.”

People Are Talking Internet-based referral services such as Angie's List are a relatively recentphenomenon. The fact is, customers will always rate the experience they havewith your company, whether it's on paper or not, and whether you ask fortheir opinion or not. “People love to talk, and sometimes they liketo talk about what went wrong more than what went right,” says KeithBailey, a customer service expert and co-author of the book, Customer Service for Dummies. “If they're happy with what you do, they tell nine to 12 people. Ifthey're not, they tell between 12 and 20.”

That's why it's critical to gauge customer satisfaction, even in an industrythat isn't traditionally viewed as generating a lot of repeat business. Althougha given client might need just one deck built during the lifetime ofhis home, if he's satisfied with your work he could generate five more leadsfor your business. If he's not, he could kill every potential job in theneighborhood, and possibly, thanks to the Internet, a lot more than that.

“What we've learned is that today, after you finish the job, customersare going to go on Angie's List or other Web sites and publish their views,” Harrellsays. “The companies that don't know what their customersare saying about them are going to be blindsided and lose business.”

In addition to knowing what people are saying, getting feedback makes it easierto ask for another job or a referral. “If you're putting in somebody'snew windows, don't you want to do their roof and siding, too?” asksTodd Polifka, co-owner of Vision Remodeling in Brooklyn Park, Minn. VisionRemodeling surveys each of its customers by phone after it completesa job. “There are many home improvement jobs out there that peopleneed help with,” Polifka says. “You need to make sure that whenthey make the call for that job, they're calling you.”

But measuring customer satisfaction isn't just about gauging loyalty or evenidentifying areas of potential improvement. It can also be a powerful marketingtool. Many companies — such as S&K Roofing, Siding & Windowsin Eldersburg, Md. — bind completed surveys and display them intheir showrooms.

Measure All Phases Business owners attuned to the fine points of customer service find that it'sbest to measure every part of the customer experience. That way you can tellhow your company is doing throughout the process, from administration throughsales, installation, and cleanup. Most companies develop their own surveysand use employees to solicit feedback. Surveys might be conducted bymail, phone, or e-mail. Almost all surveys ask homeowners to rate serviceusing a numerical scoring system, with blank space for comments about specificissues. Experts say brevity is the key to success.

“Anytime you ask your customers to do you a favor — and that's whatyou're doing when you send them a survey — you have to make it easyon them,” says Laurie Brown, a customer-service consultant and motivationalspeaker based in Ferndale, Mich. “To make sure your customerscomplete it, the shorter, the better.”