Feldco Focuses on Customer Service to Maintain Small Company Feel

ERP system alone is not enough to ensure "customer delight"
Christina Lewellen
October 1, 2009
SPECIAL FEATURES | Operations, Sales & Marketing, Channels
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Feldco Factory Direct

Des Plaines, Ill.

 With additional locations, Feldco has invested in a customized ERP system to help manage the details, but the management team knows that true customer satisfaction comes from employees dedicated to promoting "customer delight."

Feldco has figured out that the best cure for growing pains—and panes—is sometimes the simplest pill. As the Chicago-based replacement company has gotten bigger, adding more locations to serve more geographic areas, it has pushed harder and harder to continue to delight its customers.

Maintaining customer satisfaction through significant growth can be made easier with investments in software to track each part of the process, but it all boils down the employees, and how committed they are to making sure each and every customer is satisfied.

“It’s vitally important that we never lose sight of who keeps the lights on, and that’s the consumers,” says Doug Cook, Feldco president. “They’re also the single best lead source we have, and that’s word-of-mouth.”

It may seem trite to say that Feldco is surviving the economic storm by focusing on customer service, but that’s really what the company is doing. In the last few years, as the company has expanded well beyond its Chicago roots into new markets like Indianapolis and Madison and Milwaukee, Wis., the management team wanted to make sure that the customers were continuing to get a small company feel from a getting-much-bigger company.

The management team explains that Feldco’s year has been much like that of other window and door companies. Although the downturn has been challenging, Cook says the dealer is looking at the economic time-out as an opportunity to improve the processes it has in place to ensure customer satisfaction. “We expected lower sales so we held our powder dry,” he says. “We didn’t expand the marketing, we just focused on our core customers, working on our service and implementing a new ERP.”

In addition to improving its technological tools, Feldco has looked for prudent opportunities to invest in employee training and new talent—all with the aim to set itself up for future growth when the market does turn. “Investment is a tricky word,” Cook says. “I think you have to make wise expenditures. You have to discern the difference between needs and wants. The wants are the things you need to put on the back burner, and you should put the needs in front of you to figure out what you can get affordably. These [economic] circumstances that make it difficult to sell into also give an opportunity to retain terrific talent at a lower cost, for example. We look at our opportunities and see where we can benefit.”
And for Feldco, the most important opportunities lie in the realm of managing the customer experience. “Everything we do from the very first point of contact, up to the final point where we make sure they’re delighted with the experience, we do everything to make sure they’re satisfied with their purchase from Feldco,” Cook says.

Bernie Feld founded Feldco more than 50 years ago to sell storm windows to the Chicago area. When he retired several years ago, he transitioned the company to Cook’s leadership, who continued the family-owned tradition that had grown into a thriving replacement window company. Cook and his team have stretched Feldco beyond its Chicago borders in the last few years to additional Midwest markets. But staying true to its early roots is important to the company; the additional locations and sales volume cannot come at the hands of weaker customer service, the team contends.

From the first phone call to the final window installation inspection, Feldco employees at any of the company's locations can track customers' projects, thanks to its upgraded software.

The dealer wants each customer to still get that “small company” feel despite the additional volume and sees technology as a way to help consistently manage the important touch points. “In short, we outgrew our old system,” Cook explains. “When we looked at our goals as an organization, we realized the system supporting our operations would not be able to sustain us into the future. We didn’t have the horsepower in our IT infrastructure.”

The way the company approached the enterprise resource planning system was to make sure that no customers feel as though their project has slipped through the cracks. “Our ERP starts with the very first point of contact,” says Michael Cox, director of corporate development. “We can handle over the phone or internet more information than we ever could before. We are able to follow through with them on the entire Feldco experience. At any of our locations, you can track exactly what’s happening with that customer at any point in time, period.”

The technology helps Feldco make sure that what the staff is pursuing internally in terms of creating a good customer experience is actually resonating with customers. “Having that good data allows us to follow up with customers after we think the job is finished to make sure they think so too,” Cox says. “If there are any outstanding follow-up issues, they get handled immediately and don’t slip through the cracks.

“That’s when customers become dissatisfied—when they think you’ve forgotten about them,” he adds.

While the new, customized ERP helps manage details, the Feldco leadership asserts that it’s still only one leg of the three-legged stool. Without a solid product offering and employees inspired to pursue customer satisfaction, the ERP would not stand alone as a successful solution. “We can have the best ERP in the world, but really it’s the people who deliver customer service into the home,” Cox says.

Feldco has come up with a system to take customer satisfaction to another level—what they call customer delight. “Most people talk in terms of customer satisfaction,” Cox says. “To satisfy customers, that’s one level of experience and expectations. We want to deliver a delightful experience to customers.”

All Feldco employees' compensation is tied to customer satisfaction levels, as measured by surveys sent to every homeowner at the completion of the project.

To kick customer satisfaction up a notch, Feldco fosters employee buy-in by building customer delight into all aspects of the business. “We recalibrate our employees’ expectations from what might be a ‘good enough’ attitude, to going above and beyond,” Cox says. “In these tough economic times, we’ve looked internally to find out what are the elements in our customer experience that we can make better and how can we get our people to do that?”

To start, Feldco ties every employee’s compensation, in part, to customer satisfaction. The company has a comprehensive feedback program that includes sending a survey to every customer to rate the entire experience, Cox explains. “From the marketing they first see to the final cleanup of the windows, we have to set the expectations of employees that they need to deliver that same, consistent experience throughout.”

To make sure customer delight permeates the entire organization, Feldco engages employees in off-season training. When seasonal sales slows the company’s pace in the winter, employees get at least six hours of customer delight training that includes role playing and new hires go through a comprehensive orientation. “We’re always training customer delight in all areas of the company,” he says.

Spending this much time and energy on creating and then measuring customer satisfaction certainly helps keep its current customers happy, but it also lends itself to the all-important customer referral, Cook says. “Whenever we secure a customer, we do whatever we can to retain and please and delight that customer,” he says.

While many window and door companies aim to achieve high levels of customer satisfaction, Feldco integrates the pursuit into almost everything it does. This dedication has earned the company some marketplace recognition, including a previous Window & Door magazine Dealers of the Year award for Overall Excellence in Serving Homeowners. Other accolades include an A+ grade from the Better Business Bureau and an honorable mention as one of the best places to work in Chicago by Crain’s Magazine.

It seems to be resonating with customers as well. “I work for an organization whose motto is ‘everything we do revolves around the customer,’” says homeowner Kelly Sather. “When I find an organization with the same mindset, I patronize that organization and even better, I recommend them when I can. This is something I will do for Feldco without hesitation.”

“From the time I contacted you via email, through the final inspection of the bay and two casement windows we had installed, your people were very courteous, friendly, professional and timely,” says Ernest Lindsey, another homeowner. “My wife and I are very pleased with the whole operation and have already recommended Feldco to a friend.”

It’s important to promote customer delight internally, but the company ultimately works for external recognition in homeowners’ positive feedback. “When you get to referrals, that’s the ultimate measure of a satisfied customer,” Cox says. “It definitely gets into the market.”

“In any industry, everybody wants to be sold,” Cook contends. “Nobody says that, but at the end of the day, they want to be given a reason to buy. When someone dials our number, they’re looking to be sold. It’s that initial impression—you want it to be favorable. You don’t always want to be selling overtly, but you want to leave a good taste in their mouth. It can be as simple as setting an appointment at a certain time and actually being there on time.”

The bottom-line reason Feldco is so customer satisfaction-crazy is because, even though the company has pushed its limits for healthy growth, each customer needs to have the company’s value proposition of good products, knowledgeable people and reasonable prices to sign on the dotted line. “For our value promise to be true to a customer, we need to be able to pass along the volume discounts that we earn,” Cook says. “The customer only really cares about their home; they don’t care that we sell a lot of windows. So how do you make that volume benefit continues as a benefit and yet make sure they don’t get lost in the shuffle? It’s with our system, allowing us to run our organization like a small company with that same high-touch, consistent feel.”

Click here to see our other 2009 Dealers of the Year.

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