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Early last year, the owners of Castle Windows, in Mount Laurel, N.J., hit on the idea of creating a new position at the company: job inspector. The inspector would visit company jobs and identify any "concerns" while filling out a quality-control report. The idea was to nip service issues in the bud. "A preventative thing," says co-owner Rod Arce.

What the company found was that having the job inspector increased repeat/referral business by $800,000 in the first year. It also "causes installers to be at the top of their game," says co-owner Chris Cardullo.

What Customer Service Is ? and Isn't

Canadian marketing and management guru Sam Geist has a simple definition of customer service: "Delivering on the promise," whatever that promise is. Companies that do that are "raking it in," Geist says, offering Apple and Amazon as examples. But most don't get it. "And the Internet has changed everything," Geist points out. "There's nowhere to hide."

For home improvement companies, "delivering on the promise" involves finding ways to make a positive impression on customers at every level of interaction.

In July Legacy Remodeling, in Pittsburgh, began sending current customers a 10-point questionnaire. The company also discontinued voice mail for its sales reps. CEO Ken Moeslein says that reps were often too busy to return calls, or they simply forgot them, which caused a certain amount of customer irritation. Now a live voice answers the phone, takes a message, and passes messages to salespeople on a daily basis. "As you get bigger, you try to think of ways to become more efficient and do more with less," Moeslein says. "But you don't need to be more efficient in being nice to people."

Service What You Sell, and Then Some

Before the recession started, Kearns Brothers, in Dearborn, Mich., opened a service department staffed by five technicians trained by the company's window, roofing, and siding suppliers. The promise: Someone from Kearns Brothers will be out to look at your problem within 48 hours.

Even in a tough economy, the company made a strategic decision not to cut back on the service department. "By having trained guys, we're able to take care of the smallest needs," vice president Gary Kearns says. Most serviced jobs were not installed by the company.

Another measure that Kearns Brothers implemented this year was having an inside person contact customers on a monthly and yearly basis to inquire about job satisfaction. The most frequent response, Kearns says, is, "I can't believe you're calling me.