No doubt, customer service ultimately drives our industry. However, in and of itself, customer service is an abstract component of every business: You can't feel it, touch it, or hold it, but you absolutely know when it's been good or bad. And whether your customers are big builders, remodelers, or custom home specialists, they expect a certain level of customer service that meshes with their business needs and production schedules.This is especially true when it comes to installed sales, a category that marries the conceptual value of service with the actual products the yard sells. When you fit these two pieces of the pro supply puzzle together, you can see a fairly concise picture of what it takes to run a successful program that will materialize tangible profits:

  • Timely delivery. In almost every survey I read, in every conversation I have with a builder, and in absolutely every program I've conducted about sales and service, this single issue has risen to the top of the “must discuss” list. When it comes to installed sales, there probably is nothing more important to your builder customers than having the product on the jobsite on time—except having the complete order on the jobsite on time. Timely delivery is a key issue for any professional, regardless of what business he or she is in. If a contractor relies on a supplier to deliver material/parts/equipment and that supplier is late, the ripple effect kicks in. Just look over your shoulder and count the number of times your suppliers have promised delivery, only to be late. What problems does that cause, and how far-reaching are they?
  • Products in stock. You must have all the products an installed sales customer needs, all the time, and ready for immediate delivery. Having the products in stock means your customer doesn't have to hear, “That's on backorder; we should have it in a couple of weeks.” At the same time, your customer is thinking, “Wonderful, if I needed it in a couple of weeks I would call and order it then. I need it now.” (Actually your builder needed it yesterday, but that's a given.)
  • Competitive pricing. We all realize that price is a very sensitive issue and cannot be taken lightly. Your builder customers realize that prices fluctuate almost daily on commodity lumber. They also realize that to receive the kind of service they want and demand,there is and will be a cost associated with that service. Further, they are willing to pay a fair price for quality products delivered with outstanding service. But the key here is fair pricing and your customer is the one who ultimately determines if the price is fair or not.
  • Obviously, if you are going to install a product, you'll have both the material and the labor at the jobsite on time, right? And further, if you are going to install, the material will be in stock before you begin the project. In many cases if you watch the market, you can offer these products installed at a fair price for your customer, while at the same time protecting your margin. Not only that, but you also ensure that you protect that material segment and potentially make a little money on the labor component.

    With the right approach, you can offer great customer service, ensure protected margin, satisfy customers, and make additional sales. Now that's something you can take to the bank!

    Mike Butts is director of installation services for United Building Centers. 507.457.8453. E-mail: