Serving Today’s Buyers with Yesterday’s Values
October 1, 2012
SPECIAL FEATURES | Strategies & Practices, Operations, Channels, Close-Ups
Going the Extra Mile
EXCELLENCE IN CUSTOMER SERVICE
Being British gives Duncan Newman and his wife, Natalie, an interesting take on the American Dream. The couple views the 1950s as the heyday of customer service and aims for that wholesome feel of Americana in every aspect of their Southern California window and door dealership.
Whether serving homeowners or contractors—and the company does a mix of both—Newman Replacement Windows sets itself apart with attention to details that reflects a bygone era. “What is it about America that makes America so great? It was the 1950s,” says Duncan Newman. “It was ‘Leave it to Beaver’ and dressing nicely. People were polite. Service was king.”
|Newman Replacement Windows aims to create a customer service experience that is consistently delivered. The team draws inspiration from a bygone era of 1950s America.|
The Duncan commitment to service is so pervasive that it ends up being a key differentiator for the company against its competitors. With two locations in San Diego County and a third serving the southern part of Orange County, the Newman approach to customer service has supported the company for nearly 20 years. “We show up in a uniform and we drive uniform trucks,” says Newman. “We do everything in a way that is repeatable so that people know what they’re getting. It’s like Starbucks or McDonald’s. We don’t let people down.”
The company employs a patient, educational approach to sales and a detailed, customer-centric approach to installation. The result is a business model that resonates with consumers, particularly given that this type of home improvement project is a significant expense involving an industry that doesn’t always have the best reputation, Duncan points out. The impact, he says, is notable.
“They were such nice, professional guys that worked well together,” recalls customer Dee Chenowth, a Ramona, Calif., customer. “My home was treated with respect, floors were covered, no mess at all. They did a beautiful job of installing and finishing the windows. When the job was done, they explained how to clean the frames and windows and how they worked. Be sure I have already, and will continue to recommend Newman.”
“I applaud the people that make up [the] company,” shares another customer, Lynne Seabloom, of Carlsbad, Calif. “Everyone from Newman Windows that I was in contact with during the event exemplified what customer service is all about.”
After working in the construction industry for many years, Duncan Newman was frustrated about the reputation of many companies doing business in Southern California. “I found that I was horrified by what I saw in the construction industry,” he recalls. “I think contractors were looked at like car salespeople.”
So with construction experience under his belt and a desire to capture the type of service that defined a different time in America, Newman and his wife started Newman Replacement Windows in 1993. “We’re both from England, originally, so we come from a different view of this country,” he explains. “We started our business and knew that we were going to have that 1950s approach to customer service. We are going to sell what we believe in and follow through with our promises.”
For Newman, this isn’t just lip service. He and his team focus on the details to help capture what they define as solid customer service. “When we walk up to a customer’s house, if the newspaper is on the driveway or a kid’s bicycle has fallen down, we pick it up on the way to the house,” he says.
Serving both homeowners and contractors, Newman has invested considerable time and money into developing three showroom locations. This serves the company’s business model well, given that many customers want to see the quality of the product before they make final decisions about their orders. To offer an even higher level of customer service, however, Newman has incorporated into its approach a way to take the showroom to the customer if he or she prefers to do business at home. “Our most common process is that the customers want us to come to their house,” Newman says. “We have to go there to measure, anyway, since all of our products are custom made. Our trucks are customized with camper shells so that we can take several [full-size] window displays with us. Depending on what our customers are looking for, most of the time we can take the [showroom] displays with us and show them in the home.”
Newman also employs a team of customer service reps to make sure that clients are reminded of appointments and fully apprised of what to expect during an in-home consultation. “We do not give windows of time for an appointment,” Newman says. “We give on-the-hour, on-the-minute appointments and we show up on time.”
Newman believes strongly that much of a home improvement company’s customer service reputation can be tied directly to the installation process. The work itself—and how a company’s employees behave in a customer’s home—is often the most nerve-wracking part of the experience for homeowners, but it can also be a company’s opportunity to shine, he notes. “The installers have a greater impact than anyone in the company on our repeat and referral business,” he contends. “We have weekly meetings with the installation team and I have two installation managers who visit every job every day to make sure the quality we expect is there. The installers, who spend more time in the home than anyone in sales does, have the ability to make the most lasting impression with customers.”
|"The Newman Advantage" puts the customer first in every step of the process, from the initial consultation through the final install and clean-up.|
Newman starts with using only company-employed installers and paying by the hour, not by the window. “There’s no incentive for them to cut corners and finish early,” he explains. “I pay them to do the job the way I would want it done.”
The company also makes sure that the vast majority of its team is certified in InstallationMasters and follows specific procedures pertaining to communicating with customers, completing the work efficiently and taking extensive steps to clean up the resulting mess. “Our goal is to leave the house in better condition than when we got there,” Newman says.
The installation crew is also armed with informative leave-behind materials pertaining to window care and maintenance issues. “We take through the windows so they know how to operate them, clean them and take the screens out,” he says. “Then we ask the customer to fill out a survey of how we did.”
The result—Newman scores a 10 out of 10 points 99 percent of the time.
PARTNERING FOR SERVICE
To execute a business model that is predicated on customer service requires a partnership with window and door companies that uphold Newman Replacement Windows’ values, Newman says. From the very beginning, the company has had a strong working relationship with Milgard Windows & Doors, and also offers lines from Jeld-Wen, Anlin, Magic, and L&L Entry Doors. “The reason I do more business with Milgard than any other company is that their philosophy to customer service and warranty is exactly in line with mine,” Newman says. “They never let me down. They may make a mistake, but they step up to the plate. Their customer service is the best in the business.”
And with top-notch ratings with the Better Business Bureau and the California League of Homeowners and an increasing involvement with the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, being able to address any challenges that arise is important to the Newman Replacement Windows way of doing business. For the mistakes that happen from time to time, Newman aims to resolve issues immediately. “We start by apologizing,” he explains. “We are not perfect and we do make mistakes. In 20 years, we’ve ordered some windows the wrong size, with the wrong colors and with grids that shouldn’t have had them. But I truly believe the public appreciates an apology more than excuses and ignoring the problem.”
Whether the complaint pops up in person, via phone or email, or with a post on a social media site, Newman tackles the problem head-on. “We deal with it right away—immediately,” he notes. “We apologize and make it right. And then we apologize again.”
The resulting image in the marketplace is what has come to be known as “The Newman Advantage,” explains Charles Clare, a senior sales rep with Milgard. “The customer is treated as a true VIP,” he says. “A large portion of the new customers that Newman Replacement Windows has are from customer referrals that are confident in recommending a company that puts the customer first.”
With Newman’s 50+ employees engaged in the company’s approach to customer service, Newman notes that he took advantage of moderated lease pricing in the commercial real estate market to secure optimal retail space for the company’s showroom locations. With a platform for growth that takes advantage of current market opportunities and based on a customer service approach from the past, Newman is confident that the company has a bright future ahead. “I’m eternally optimistic and I think the market is coming back,” he says. “You know, customer service works. I really don’t understand why more people don’t do it.”