Many home improvement companies survey customers at the end of a job. They want to know if the customer is pleased, happy enough to refer them to friends. Some tie scores to bonuses, especially for installers. But if it's your company doing the asking, will the customer always be honest? And what happens to all the information that's gathered?

THIRD PARTY Contractors who use outside firms for so-called third-party surveys say that they get unfiltered feedback and a way to manage that information.

“I'd had enough pain,” says Bill Essert, president of Wooden Window, a California company that makes and installs its own custom wood windows. In-house efforts to solicit customer feedback on jobs lacked urgency, continuity, and follow-through, Essert says. So in 2005 Wooden Window contracted with GuildQuality, a customer-satisfaction survey company in Atlanta that specializes in construction and counts more than 550 builders and both full-service and specialty remodelers among its members. GuildQuality conducts its 15-question surveys by mail, e-mail, or phone, and posts results via its Web-based reporting system.

Neil Harvey, vice president of Francis Harvey & Sons, in Worcester, Mass., a full-service contractor with an exterior division, says that before joining GuildQuality two years ago, company foremen would hand clients a survey form, and salespeople would be responsible for following up. If surveys came back, they often just ended up in a file.

Joining GuildQuality provided the company with a steady flow of feedback, both minor gripes and gratitude. Data is compiled on an ongoing basis and stays on a GuildQuality Web page that employees, customers, and prospects can link to from the Francis Harvey site. That page shows that of the 73.4% of Francis Harvey customers who responded to a GuildQuality survey on their experience with the company, 95% would recommend the firm. Harvey says that GuildQuality feedback is especially useful for exterior jobs, where homeowners are often not present when the job is closed out.

WHAT IT COSTS GuildQuality founder and president Geoffey Graham says companies using the system can benchmark their performance against that of other similar companies , and customer responses to any particular job are immediately forwarded by e-mail to everyone in the surveyed firm. The average response rate is 70%. GuildQuality offers prospective members a free trial and charges a monthly rate plus a cost per survey. “So if you're a replacement contractor, your best bet would be $250 a month and $20 a survey,” he says.