Excellence in Marketing

Professional Builders Supply Walks the Walk on Customer Service from Top to Bottom
Ryan Self
October 1, 2008
FEATURE ARTICLE | Strategies & Practices
Van Isley and Kevin Kusilek display the Professional Builders Supply customer commitment in their showroom, along with letters and accolades from satisfied customers.

Whether in windows or doors or pretty much any product purchase, most consumers have felt the frustration of getting lost in the labyrinthine customer “service” department of a company, unable to get their questions answered or find someone who will take ownership of their issue. At Professional Builders Supply in Morrisville, N.C., the company has implemented a customer-first system that goes beyond simple talk and gives the buyer a direct path out of phone trees and wait times and into a face-to-face meeting with company management. Perhaps more importantly from the company perspective, PBS doesn’t wait until the customer walks through the front door to spread this message – that service focus is a key tenet of its marketing strategy.

“All of our trucks are cleaned weekly and also have a very consistent message and brand proudly displayed on the sides: ‘It’s about the service,’” says Kevin Kusilek, premium window manager with the company. “All our delivery associates wear uniforms that also display our message and brand; again, ‘It’s about the service!’”

The company’s founders figured out early on that reaching – and marketing – a new level of customer service was a necessity, not a choice.

“We started the business in 2003, when a major national player had 65 to 70 percent of the market share; they were dominant,” says company president Van Isley. “We had to do something to differentiate ourselves. We were six guys who understood that to survive and feed our families, we ‘d have to stand out somehow –service was the way to do it.”

“The market was ripe for a company that was truly focused on the customer,” Kusilek. “The company has set on this customer commitment letter, and that commitment is measured and tested every day.”

The PBS service message is repeated throughout company literature, and even on vehicles.

PBS was founded on the premise of being a locally-owned and operated company that caters to local custom builders in the Raleigh-Durham triangle. While other large companies chase large customers, PBS would be the kind of place where a customer could walk in at any time and chat with someone high up the ladder. Today, 95 percent of the company’s business is through custom home builders, with another 2-3 percent focusing on regional local builders. The company deals in products from Weather Shield Windows & Doors, Marvin Windows & Doors, Andersen Windows, BiltBest Windows & Patio Doors, Windsor Windows & Doors, MW Windows and Silver Line Building Products Corp.

The company started initially with only millwork interior doors, and has since grown into a full service yard excluding roofing and sheet rock. While the company always keeps one eye towards expansion opportunities, it is careful not to become an impersonal monolith. Kusilek says PBS will remain in the area, possibly expanding into South Carolina while looking to add customers using the service angle. To do so, the company will continue to rely on critical word-of-mouth referrals.

“Referrals only happen if you’re living up to your commitments, and the only way to live up to your commitments is to measure your performance daily and communicate the results to your associates in a positive way so changes can be implemented,” Kusilek says. “At the end of the day, if everyone in the organization is making decisions based on what is best for the customer, the referrals will keep coming.”

Isley always knew that as the company grew, he wouldn’t be able to personally handle every little issue that arose, no matter how dedicated he was to customer service. Instead, he has trained and empowered his staff to make the tough calls and crucial decisions that often mean the difference between a satisfied customer and a customer who won’t be back.

“It all starts with the employees,” Isley says. “They are our number one asset, and if we take care of them and empower them, they in turn take care of the customer.”

“Over time, it becomes a culture,” Isley adds.

PBS employees are given the leeway to make large decisions without bogging down in a chain of command in order to satisfy a customer on the spot, Isley says.

“Take care of the customer first, ask questions later,” is his philosophy. “If something is wrong, we’ll talk about it later, but take care of the customer first.”

“There’s a certain amount of pride in doing something no one else can do,” Isley adds. “We don’t take no for an answer – if the customer needs it, we get it done.”

Kusilek says he can list day-to-day examples of where the system works – both as a positive reinforcement (management will walk a crisp $20 bill and a laminated copy of a positive letter from a customer down to an employee in front of their peers) and in the natural competitive edge that comes with a sales career (sales teams have the power to write each other up for failing the service commitment; the team with the most write-ups cooks breakfast or lunch for the whole staff).

“I’ve never felt this empowered,” Kusilek says. “If a decision needs to be made, I make it. That’s difficult to do when working for the bigger companies.”

Kusilek should know – prior to joining PBS, he spent 20 years with Andersen Windows. While he reports nothing but positive memories from his time with Andersen, he acknowledges that once a company has hit a certain size that customer intimacy is lost.

“You can talk about customer service as a manufacturer, but you’re always a step or two removed from the builder,” Kusilek notes. “The distributor or manufacturer is not on site, showing the builder what they should and should not do. With the speed of the process here, trust can be gained or lost every single day.”

Isley recounts a story where two employees were delivering a large front entry door system in a box truck. The subdivision where they were delivering the system was being asphalted.

“Any other company, they turn that truck around and take it back,” Isley says. “Our guys pulled the truck over, and carried the frame over a mile to the site.”

The benefits of that can-do attitude transcended the successful completion of that job, Isley notes.

“The builder happened to be on site, and I know he has told that story to 10 or 20 people,” Isley adds. “It’s just fun to be part of something that started from nothing, and to have done it the right way.”

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Reach Ryan Self, managing editor, at rself@glass.org.