I was recently presented with two situations that were full of misses: missed opportunities for customer service, missed sales, and possibly the appearance of misleading business practices–a big mess of misses all around.

In the first instance, a customer had bought a complete entry-door system for her home. Among its many features, it was also pre-finished. After installing the door, the crew took off the protective plastic wrapping to discover that during the pre-finishing stage, the door had been wrapped before the paint had cured completely. This caused the protective wrap to stick to the paint, which peeled off along with the wrapping.

The crew leader called our installed sales manager to discuss the situation. The manager immediately called the distributor to inform it of the problem, then contacted the customer. She was less than thrilled with the prospects of having a door that looked like it was infected with mange, but agreed that there wasn't much to be done except wait for another door. Just as soon as the distributor made contact, the manager called the customer with an estimated time for replacement of the unit.

The manager did everything he could to remedy the situation; he was quick, concise, and very courteous with the customer. My problem was with the installer, who I asked if there was evidence of the condition of the door before he went to the house. He said that it appeared as though the plastic was stuck to it. He'd seen this before and admitted he suspected this would happen. But he pulled the door anyway, and installed it without thinking that the customer just might like to have a well-finished door and a job that was done right.

So now we have a disgruntled customer, a return trip to make, a distributor that will incur additional cost, and some downtime cost for our installers–all because the crew leader chose to proceed with the install versus alerting the manager and customer to the potential problem. This would have avoided a customer service issue altogether.

In the other case, also involving doors, we had a customer who was shopping that Big Orange company and my client for a front-door unit that was a double-door system. Big Orange had quoted her two standard 3.0 x 6.8 door units of her choice for a fixed price installed. At my client's store, she picked out different style units of the same size and got a price. But when we visited the jobsite, we determined her door units were custom sized, and that the standard 3.0 x 6.8 unit wouldn't fit. So our manager quoted her a price for two doors, cut down to size and installed. Our price was much higher than the competitor, which isn't surprising given that we visited the site, took a measurement of the door, and proposed a package that would work.

The problem is that my client didn't do a good job explaining the differences between the doors at the big box and the custom-sized units from his showroom. Nor did he explain well why the price was drastically different. On the phone it's difficult to demonstrate product differences or explain the installation process. You really need to be face to face for this process. All the customer heard was that our price was $2,000 more than the big box–and that's all that her friends and family will hear, too, unless we can get her back into the store, demonstrate the difference, and explain the work needed to custom-size her door units. At the last call, the customer was "still thinking about it."

We can't assume the customer knows the difference in door sizes or that sometimes paint doesn't dry properly. We need to explain why the doors won't work, why the price is higher, why the paint came off with the wrapping. Not doing so is sloppy, but it's also the cause of more misses: miscommunication and misunderstanding. The client doesn't know sometimes the paint sticks, but we do. We can tell the client sorry, this door is defective and here's why. We'll bring you a good one. The client doesn't know the doors are cheaper at Big Orange because they're standard one-size-fits-most doors, and the client needs a custom-fit product. Here is all the client knows: The paint came off, and the private business charged more than the big box store did.

We have to take our customers by the hand and make sure we don't miss any more opportunities for outstanding service. Business is too precious right now.

Mike Butts is president of LBM Solutions, a DeWitt, Mich.?based LBM supply consulting and training firm. 517.267.8757. E-mail: mike@lbmsolutions.com