How's business? If you're like many, or most, home improvement company owners, it's been better. Maybe a lot better. Leads are down all over — 20% or more at some companies. Sales are stalled or going backward. Getting customers financed takes twice as long, and that's if you can find the loan.

No one reading this magazine is any stranger to these conditions. And even if you have been through a recession — let's call it what it is — before, this one has a lot of consumers rattled. Rattled to the point where they won't spend money unless they absolutely have to.

That's why prospects who used to see your direct mail piece or TV ad and pick up the phone just aren't doing it. At least not like they once did.

Many home improvement companies have responded to this situation either by adding low-ticket items, or by redirecting their marketing into the eyeball-to-eyeball venues — shows, events, stores, canvassing — that put them in front of prospects, and that are scalable.

If that's what you've done, great. It may see you through.

But here's another thought. OK, you have fewer jobs. Maybe this is an opportunity to build customer communication into every step of your business process, from lead procurement to aftercare. To sit down with your marketing, sales, and installation teams and figure out what it would take to make every customer feel important, to make them feel like yours was an outstanding company to do business with, and that signing that contract was a smart move. That, by the way, would include you calling to thank that homeowner for the trust and confidence he or she showed by selecting your company for the job.

Get out of the home improvement business and get into the customer service business so that you're not just another roofing, siding, and window company, you're the only real choice for someone who's thinking about making that investment in their home.

And even though there may be fewer customers at the moment, don't lose sight of the fact that there are still plenty of people looking — either now or in the near future — to replace some part of the building envelope. After all, that house is their biggest investment.

By making customer service every employee's priority, you build repeat and referral leads into every job. Not just that, but when business again flourishes, a lot more of it will be coming your way.

Jim Cory, Editor