Credit: Barry Blitt

Your customer calls to cancel three weeks after signing a contract. What do you say? At most home improvement companies it's explained that the windows (or shingles, or siding) have already been ordered and that the job is in progress. If the project involves windows, you probably point out that the windows are custom, meaning made-to-order for the openings your salesperson measured.

Customers buy the argument or they don't. Here's the point: If every job is a custom job — and it is to the extent that every job is different — your ability to make money depends on being able to do a lot of similar jobs in similar ways. Including processing that job on a schedule.

Let's say no one cancels and the work proceeds. How much attention is that client going to get from your company once installation is scheduled?

These days it had better be a lot. Many customers now pay cash rather than use financing, making them that much more demanding. They can also go on the Internet and complain about your company if they're dissatisfied. And if you're struggling to bring down rising marketing costs by generating more business from past customers, you need them to be at least happy or they won't recommend your company or use you again.

How to make clients happy is no mystery. Pay attention to their needs, communicate when appropriate, and follow through on promises. Companies that have implemented systems to pull all that off usually put someone in charge to make sure it all happens as intended, which requires management attention, a cultural shift, and maybe an addition to your payroll.

You could do a great job installing quality windows, siding, or a roof, leave behind a spotless jobsite, and still end up with a customer annoyed enough to bad-mouth your company online. Maybe they are mad because five weeks passed between contract signing and the morning that the crew showed up with a sudden, loud knock at the door.

Small things like thanking the customer for their order, letting them know where you're at with the production schedule, introducing — say by video, via e-mail — the crew leader, checking on their satisfaction during and after the job, will make them feel they're something more than just Job #356.

Regular communication at every point in the process is still something you can choose to do. The companies that make that choice gain significant competitive advantage.