Although Mike Patierno has grown ASI Building Products 100 percent in two years, he isn’t really comfortable with expanding at such a rapid pace.
“It’s too much of a challenge to bring that many people on board and get them singing the same song,” says the president of ASI. “Some can’t carry a tune at all. The challenge is to be able to grow your business without losing your service level.”
Patierno says his company, which posted more than $90 million in revenue in 2005, is not perfect at maintaining a steady level of service while growing so rapidly. When an organization grows that fast, something is going to be left off the hook, he says.
“What you don’t want is your old customers feeling like they’ve been neglected,” he says. “That has happened to us. We’ve lost some, and they aren’t coming back.”
To prevent that from happening again, ASI now keeps a number of people on the road to build relationships with the customer.
“You have to understand why you lost them,” Patierno says.
Smart Business spoke with Patierno about why you can’t take customers for granted, and why it doesn’t pay to keep score on mistakes.
How do you find good employees?
That’s not easy. We’ve been lucky in that regard. We go through an extensive interview process. We have a lot of candidates. We limit it down to about five candidates.
We use very lengthy job descriptions to understand what the job entails. We use a lot of qualifiers, as well, like management tests and honesty tests. We do quite a bit of screening for those last five candidates.
Each manager is responsible for the last decision, but we go through our HR department, and they put the list together for the top candidates. It depends on the level, but they’ll go through the next management level above the decision-maker and they’ll make the choices, and the direct manager will get the last choice.
How do you train employees?
We’ve created ASI University. We have an online learning program for those people who know how to use a computer. If they don’t, in each branch we have a designated computer where someone will sit with them and we actually do the testing.
We have a required 30 hours a year of training for some positions. Some are up to 60 hours. These are paid hours. For entry level, it’s 34 hours about the philosophy of the company, and what the customers’ expectations are. We go through Warehouse 101, which is a simplistic view of what a warehouse should be and how it should operate. They do it within the first 30 days of being hired.
It’s benefited morale because they know you care about them because you are spending time with them. In the past, it was the school of hard knocks. You had to learn a few things on your own. Now, we’ve designated an employee to be that person’s trainer.
How do you handle failure?
We keep people informed. If it’s an individual making an individual mistake on a customer, we will sit and counsel that employee. Typically, it’s their direct supervisor and the manager above them trying to get them to change their ways. For the most part, the things that happen are things that fall through the cracks.
We are constantly trying to improve our process so nothing falls through the cracks. We have a very progressive complaint process, which people don’t like because it does stand out if you make a mistake.
Let’s say the salesman had a complaint about a price or about a service issue. That actually not only hits the manager’s desk that’s directly responsible, but also goes to the manager above him. We also have reportings weekly where we can discuss something if it looks like it is becoming a habit or a process issue rather than a one-time mistake But no one is chastised by it. No one is keeping score. We are just trying to make sure the complaint is handled quickly.
We don’t browbeat them. We simply bring them aside and say, ‘You made this mistake on Wednesday and this one on Thursday. You need to take time, or whatever the circumstance is, and we need this improvement.’
What is a pitfall to avoid in business?
Don’t take customers for granted. One thing I’ve seen over the years, and seen my managers do, is think you have a customer for life. You have to earn that customer’s business, especially when they see things slow down.
They look for reasons to leave you. You have to be on your guard and have their interest in mind. You have to be ahead of the game all the time. You might have to lead a price down or add a service. You have to be one step ahead.
HOW TO REACH: ASI Building Products, (800) 282-6624 or www.asibp.com