Empowered for Perfection

Perfection Glass Puts Customer Service into Employees’ Hands
Christina Lewellen
October 12, 2011
SPECIAL FEATURES | Operations, Channels, Close-Ups

 
Going the Extra Mile

EXCELLENCE IN CUSTOMER SERVICE


Perfection Glass
 

Kennewick, Wash.

Shawn Linhoff has learned that if you give employees the ability to make decisions with the full support of the leadership team, the employee will win, the customer will win and, ultimately, the company will win.
As the head of Perfection Glass, a Kennewick, Wash., company that his father and uncle started decades earlier, Linhoff strives to empower his employees to make decisions on-the-fly to ensure the company is always doing the right thing for customers. “For the $50 you’d save in trim by the end of the year, it just isn’t worth it to have employees question how to fix a situation in the field,” Linhoff says. “When your employees are empowered to make decisions, you’ll know it when you see the delight in your customers.”
Built on a long-standing foundation of above-and-beyond customer service, the team at Perfection Glass focuses on the details to create an impressive experience for its customers, and consistently surveys homeowners at the completion of every project to make sure they’re hitting their customer satisfaction objectives. “I have worked for this company going on 17 years now and I can tell you from the moment I stepped in these doors, I have felt the need to improve for myself and my company,” explains Robert Rojas, sales manager at Perfection Glass. “I think it’s the reputation and the name that makes you want to improve. When you put ‘perfection’ as any part of your business [name], you need to constantly strive for it.”
Having a team that buys into customer service at all levels requires a special type of employee, Linhoff points out. So in the last five years that Linhoff has held the reins of Perfection Glass, he has focused on attracting the best people (and in some cases re-attracting the best people) and making sure he creates a supportive environment to make people energetic about coming to work each day. “The first two or three years you run a business, you don’t really have a clue what’s going on, and in my case, we were in a very good market—anybody could have run the business,” he explains. “But as I started to mature in my role, I started to realize that the key to our success is really the people.”
FROM THE START
Brothers Ron and Russ Linhoff started Perfection Glass nearly 40 years ago during a period of time when residential construction was thriving in the company’s Kennewick, Wash., footprint. Bolstered by a local nuclear reactor and the economic support that comes with it, several local window and door companies sprang up in the 1970s and continue to compete against each other to this day. “As a kid in a family business, I was playing baseball and going to school and having fun, but I also saw how hard mom and dad were working at it,” Shawn Linhoff recalls. “From the time I started paying attention, I realized dad was continually taking the company up a notch. He logoed up his trucks, did the right kind of marketing and took care of his employees. I’m proud to say that, out of the four dominant window companies in town, we now do double [the business] they do because of the efforts in the early days.”
 
The employees at Perfection Glass know their decisions will never be questioned as long as the customer is happy as a result. 
Linhoff took over the business about five years ago and tried his best to preserve the culture his dad and uncle had worked hard to build. “We’re doing 90 percent of things correctly but it’s that next 10 percent we’re always chasing,” he says. “If you shadow any of our employees for a day, you’ll witness at least conversation about how we could be doing something better.”
Still, Linhoff admits that rising from the ranks to take over a family business comes with a special set of challenges. He knew he wanted to foster an environment in which every employee felt pride and ownership in Perfection Glass—and this included removing himself from the “final say” role that the head of a company often assumes. “I inherited a crew that I had worked side-by-side with,” he says. “In the beginning, I was pegged as the guy would wouldn’t make a decision. Someone would come to me with a problem and I would say, ‘What do you think?’”
What might have frustrated employees initially played an important role in Linhoff’s strategy for customer service. “I didn’t give in,” he continues. “Instead of firing off the answer I would have thought was right, I asked the employees what they would do. I learned that all of our employees—from the entry-level guy to the most seasoned vet—already have the solution that will work perfectly if they just get the support to follow through with it.”
HAPPY PEOPLE
These early growing pains caused when his employees turned to him for solutions to problems tapped Linhoff in to a key component of customer service. It wasn’t the ripped screens or the dirt on the carpet that was frustrating customers—it was the complexity and time it took to get a resolution presented to them. “It’s the hesitation that dissatisfies customers,” Linhoff says. “It’s the inability for the guy in the field to make a decision to make it right. That’s where customer service falls apart.”
For this reason, Perfection Glass takes employee empowerment to an impressive level. Employees know that whatever decision they make in the field, no matter what it costs in time or expense, will be supported by the management—so long as the customer is satisfied with the outcome. “Our entire team knows we’ll be doing that project right,” says Linhoff. “And that includes what goes on behind the trim. If we mis-order a window by an inch, we’re going to get another window—not try to fill it by caulking.”
This also means that Perfection Glass employees will not be punished for making mistakes, Linhoff notes. “When somebody would make a mistake in the past, they’d start covering it up,” he says. “I was always the last one to hear about it from an upset customer. Now, we all know that mistakes will happen, but I ask [employees] how we’re going to fix it and we move on.”
Where Linhoff’s personality is such that he would want to jump in and solve a problem right away, he has learned to trust that his folks in the field will offer customers the best Perfection Glass has to offer. “They know better than I do how to get through a situation,” he says. “If a situation would pop up in the early years, I would react passionately. But I’ve learned to tone that down and give people the room they need to solve the problem.”
 
 As one of the first employees ever hired at Perfection Glass, Steve Lamb, left or right, returned to his dealer roots after working for a manufacturer for 17 years. He teams up with Shawn Linhoff, president, to foster empowerment among employees.
THE RIGHT PEOPLE
Happy customers come from happy employees, Linhoff contends. To cultivate a culture of satisfied employees, Linhoff tries to make time for company picnics, conducts a one-on-one review process at the end of each year with each employee and will load up a cooler with ice and drinks to relieve crews that are working hard on hot days. But none of these things hold a candle to letting employees know that their opinions are valued, he says.
“In one example,” he notes,” one of our installers said that when we go out for our re-measure or critical measure, we should leave the tape measures in the trucks when we first knock on the door. I didn’t understand what he was saying. But he told me that it’s important to get to know the customer and learn the little things first. If you jump straight into the measuring and you’re not really listening, you may miss some important points in what they’re saying.”
Linhoff also knows that having the right people on the team is the glue that can hold customer service together. One of the first employees ever hired by Perfection Glass was Steve Lamb. “Steve helped build this company,” Linhoff says. “He was one of my mentors as a kid and he worked with us for about 16 years before he was offered a position to go work for Milgard. He worked for them for 17 years.”
Then, as Linhoff struggled to find his footing just a couple of years into his leadership of the company, he was having dinner with his father and discussing some of his challenges. His dad said to him, “Too bad you don’t have a guy like Steve Lamb,” Linhoff recalls. “So I thought I’d go talk to him. We brought him back on the Perfection Glass team. We call him production manager, but he’s really the one behind the scenes who’s molding our people.”
During his tenure with Milgard, Lamb was still the service rep for Perfection Glass. He stayed in touch regularly with the company and he was excited about the opportunity to go back to the company after nearly two decades on the road. “It was an easy fit,” he recalls. “Like putting on your favorite pair of jeans.”
Now back with Perfection Glass for more than two years, Lamb shapes the customer service philosophy at Perfection Glass and encourages employees to give their best effort on every job. “We’re a team,” he says. “And we all know that we’re only as good as our weakest link. We know what customer appreciation and good service looks like and that’s what we strive for.”
New employees may take a while to adjust to the Perfection Glass approach, but Lamb works hard to get them up to speed with the company’s higher expectations. “I wanted to come back and be a guide for the younger guys,” he says. “There’s more to life than just going to work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. You have to look forward to it and take great pride in the fact that you’re building the community. I like the idea of that legacy.”
THE SURVEY SAYS
Perfection Glass is always looking for ways to improve customer service and makes a point to openly invite customers to critique their work. From surveys delivered to clients at the end of each installation, the team learns from its missteps and explores new ways of doing business.
 
 Perfection employees seek to do little things that will make customers happy.
“We seem to find that the little things are what keep the customers happy, such as showing up on time to an appointment, providing a timely estimate, scheduling of installation at the time of ordering and even cleaning of the windows at the completion of the project,” Rojas says. “These seem very trivial and we always thought that everyone did it the same way but have come to learn differently from the surveys we send out after the job is completed.”
“What’s interesting about the surveys is that some companies might be afraid to do it because of what will come back,” Linhoff says. “But if you’re running the game right, you’ll get many more compliments than complaints.
“With my customers, I dig deep. I want the engagement.”

Click here to see the other 2011 Dealers of the Year.

Contact Christina Lewellen, senior editor, at clewellen@glass.org.