Beyond the Build

Customer Relationships

In Management, a Feast Can Be Just as Challenging as a Famine

Being involved with the management of a construction company, I am constantly thinking about balance in our workload. Are we outrunning our infrastructure? I’ve discovered that having too much work is as challenging as having too little.

That’s because we walk a thin line as contractors. For that matter, most service businesses do. We are all about long-term customer relationships. Having too much work within a given set of resources leads to failed customer expectations—that’s certainly harmful over time. Toyota provides an example of what not to do.

When the Japanese automaker first arrived in the U.S. in 1957, it was obvious they still had much to learn about American culture. The first car they offered U.S. buyers was called the Toyopet Crown. It was underpowered, uncomfortable and unsuccessful. While they failed at the first attempt, Toyota learned how to provide quality automobiles and service to its customers. By 2007 it had passed General Motors and become the leader in U.S. sales.

However, rapid growth during the past 15 years created problems for Toyota. Somewhere along the way, Toyota outran its infrastructure, and to me that was one of the things that led to the automaker’s recent safety problems with gas pedals and brakes.

I encountered a similar situation during the early days of Stewart Perry when we worked with an overwhelmed customer relationship. I learned a valuable lesson from that experience and I have often thought about the steps that need to be taken to avoid having the same problem occur here. I’m sure the same is true for you. Whether you are a real estate firm, a design firm or a construction firm, how do you provide superior service that bonds you with customers?

While we all wish to be more successful and enjoy increased sales and profits, success also brings about a greater responsibility to your customers and to the team. It is one thing to tell people what you are going to do. It is quite another to actually go out, get it done, then do it again and again, always performing at a high level.

Here’s what we’ve done in attempt to keep from outrunning our infrastructure:

  • Whenever a new opportunity comes into the office, we post it on Quick Base, our cloud data central. The team is notified of a new opportunity and can comment on the resources it will require.
  • Every Friday I receive an updated management resource grid, which allocates our project superintendents and managers to specific jobs in progress and pending.
  • I periodically make personal contact with our customer relationships to make sure we are taking care of their needs. I call, email or both.
  • I listen at the coffee machine and around the office for signs of stress that need to be addressed. If needed, we apply team resources to get the problem solved for the customer.
Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.