I once had an inside salesman who sold a deck with a metal railing package. The package arrived on time, but the supplier failed to include two parts for the rail. To save the customer’s time, the rep removed the needed parts from our display and drove them to the customer. Then, while the customer was finishing the job, the salesman brought cold drinks to the job site. The cus-tomer was impressed, and talked less about price on his next job.

I tell this story because what you sell, no matter how good it might be, always becomes secondary to the process that follows the sale. That service will determine the long-term viability and success of your business. Here are keys to what you should provide.

Operate with honesty and integrity. Always do what you say you are going to do. Never oversell the product or your company’s ability to perform. There is no substitute for fulfilling the commitments made during the sales process.

What makes you unforgettable? On-time delivery of an as-advertised product is what the customer expected and something your competitors do every day. The customer who receives more than expected will be back for more because it is unusual.

Build long-term relationships. Know your customers better than anyone else. Why do friends buy from friends? Because the respect and trust that comes from friendship can elevate you in the eyes of a customer as long as you never take it for granted or exploit it in any way.

Fix problems and mistakes immediately. Do not waste time in placing blame; just react to the problem and correct it immediately. Take time to contact an unhappy customer and sincerely communicate your interest in solving the problem. Offer to compensate them with a gift certificate or a discount on the product. View this compensation as advertising. Never discount the damage of negative word-of-mouth advertising from an unhappy customer. This is an opportunity to show your customer that you are different. Every company makes mistakes, but not every company takes responsibility for them immediately. It’s how you react that counts.

Happy people create happy customers. Enlist your staff’s input to improve your service model. Create buy-in that will motivate people to be invested in the success of your company. If you create an environment of teamwork and empowerment, and you truly value your people and their contribution to your success, good people will be knocking at your door. Surround yourself with people who are better than yourself. They will make you successful in your endeavors to create happy customers, and profits will follow.

Exceptional customer service is not easy. Management consultant Paul Gustavson wrote: “You must capture hearts and minds. Statistics say 70% of all strategies fail, 70% of all mergers fail, 70% of all change efforts fail. Why? Because they don’t capture the hearts and minds of the key people.” Exceptional service after the sale will only be achieved when your people catch the vision and understand their very existence in your company relies on it. Do the right things right all of the time and success will follow.

Dennis Gardner is a former market manager for ProBuild in the Salt Lake City area and currently is president of the Mountain States Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association. Contact him at 801.971.9166, or dgardner@synapsepc.com.