Measuring up Featured

7:00pm EDT January 29, 2008

Bob Webb depends on his past customers to draw new ones to his custom home-building business, so he knows he’d better treat people right. As president and founder of the $50 million Bob Webb Group, he understands that customer satisfaction is the lifeblood for his company to survive and grow, so he strives to satisfy each and every customer so that they’ll spread the word.

Smart Business spoke with Webb about how he now gauges customer satisfaction through surveys instead of just assuming people are happy.

Measure yourself. How do you measure your business if you don’t have that information coming back in some way? I don’t know. There might be other ways you get that, but somehow you have to find out what that customer actually thinks of you after the process is done and you’ve got their money.

Customer satisfaction is the biggest indicator of the job we’re doing, and we do surveys of our past customers. We’ve probably done that in the last 15 years or so. Before that, we just assumed they were happy.

If there’s something that you see popping up more often, you try to fix it. You learn all the time. We learned that we’re not perfect, which we thought we were.

The business today is much more competitive than it ever was before, and every year, you have to get more creative and follow up on every possible avenue or lead or source of business you can get.

Most everything you do costs a lot of money, but for the benefit, it’s certainly worth doing because we can correct a problem. If we have a problem that starts showing up, we can get it fixed, so I think no, it’s not expensive. It’s the cost of doing business.

You can run all the surveys you want and get all the information you want to get, but if you don’t follow up on it and take advantage of it, it’s worthless. I think companies do that. They think it’s the proper thing to do, but they don’t get the results back, and they don’t study it and don’t decide what to do with what they found out.

Delegate. I started out as a oneman show, so one of the first things that was hard for me to do was delegate responsibilities, but the more I started doing it, the easier it was.

Being able to do that is very important. People who start out in a large company don’t know things to be any different, but when you’re the only person there that’s doing all the tasks, you always think you can do it better than the person hired to do the job. That’s not necessarily so, and the quicker that you realize that you can’t do it all and you can’t do everything the best, the better off you are.

You just have to give it up. It’s like having a kid when you send them to college. You’ve got to turn them loose. You have to start somebody on a job who you have confidence in, that you’ve spent enough time with, that you know they’re very capable. You just have to give them the room to show you that you can.

Create a staff you trust. It takes time. You can interview people, but until you get them into your organization, you don’t know how they’ll fit in and what they’re capable of doing and how motivated they are to do that.

Give them an environment they can succeed in, and when they do, recognize that. Everybody likes that about as much as money. We all need that pat on the back occasionally. We need to be recognized by the people we work with that we are doing a good job and the people that are their bosses recognize that.

That’s throughout the company. That includes the carpenter or whatever job they have. It’s equally important to everybody.

Don’t be complacent. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was never be complacent about your business. About the time you think that you’re pretty good at what you do, if you really take the time and look around, you’re not as good as you think you are. These surveys might tell you that.

Our business, and I’m sure in most business today, it’s changed more in the past 10 years than in the previous 30 years, and you really have to be on your toes and do a much better job all the time.

Any product you build, as soon as you build it, go back and think, ‘Is it as good as you can get it?’ Go back a month later and say, ‘OK, I could have done this a little bit better or that a little bit better.’ That could be some function in your office. It could be the way you track your costs or how you estimate a job or whatever.

Your customer might tell you a few things about it, and as many times as you look at it, you don’t see it, but they do.

Associate Editor Kristy J. O’Hara also contributed to this story.

HOW TO REACH: Bob Webb Group, (740) 548-5577 or www.bobwebb.com