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When a customer is unhappy with Majors Home Improvement, in Milton, Fla., owner Michael Majors personally deals with the complaint. “People are reassured because I'm the one handling it,” he says. That makes a certain point.

Newpro, one of the biggest window replacement companies in New England, uses the same philosophy. “It's my name on the building,” says director of operations Nick Cogliani Jr., who often responds to the call, “and I want to show them that I will do whatever I can to rectify the situation as quickly as possible.”

RESPONSIBILITY FUNNEL What Newpro and other companies have learned is that how and when you respond to a situation can mean the difference between an angry customer berating you online and a smartphone full of referrals.

Sometimes those complaints are about the process. At Newpro, prospects have occasionally taken issue with the company's policy that all buying parties be present. “If both people aren't there, we're just spinning our wheels,” Cogliani says, “but we try to be as flexible as possible.” If the complaint involves installation, the company's installation manager handles it.

At Siding-1/Windows-1, in Chicago, dedicated customer service reps deal with complaints and shoot a report to company president Bill Conforti. “We call daily while the job is in progress, so we never let it get out of hand,” Conforti says.

Majors says that his most common complaints involve miscommunication between sales and production. “If the customer has expectations and feels they're not getting what they were promised, we fix it. Then I take it up with the salesman,” he says.

SWIFT RESOLUTION Everyone agrees that time is of the essence. Majors follows up immediately or at least within 24 hours. “The quicker you can follow up and show your concern and start coming up with a resolution, the easier the customer is to work with,” he explains.

At Newpro, swift response has another purpose: preventing that complaint from becoming public via Internet review sites. If someone chooses to post their dissatisfaction online rather than contact the company, Newpro responds with copy that always includes Cogliani's phone number and email address. “We acknowledge it and we make every effort to contact these people and show the community that we really care.”

Once resolved, Majors, Cogliani, and Conforti follow up with phone calls to make sure everything was handled satisfactorily. Lose control of an irate customer situation, Conforti says, and you lose both the customer and all potential referrals. “That's when you really find yourself behind the eight ball.” —Mark A. Newman is senior editor for REMODELING, a sister publication of REPLACEMENT CONTRACTOR.