Customer Focus: Lessons from a Roofer


Recently, a flurry of skilled laborers worked on my house. Some of them replaced the siding; others replaced the windows. A separate group painted the exterior trim, and still another group handled replacing the rain gutters. 

Quarterbacking this major project was a big, friendly guy who has been doing roofing and siding on homes in my area for decades. 

We'll call him "Mike." Because that's his name. 

A number of aspects of how Mike managed this project impressed me, but most of all, it was his focus on me and my wife as the customer. For example:

  • Mike remained the single point of contact during the entire project. That made it easy for us to know who to call with questions or concerns. It was Mike, no one else. 
  • Mike shielded us from the complexities of managing and coordinating the different groups of specialists who actually did the work. These groups were all subcontractors on the project (or at least that's what I'm assuming), but we never dealt with them directly as far as the work itself was concerned. 
  • Mike communicated frequently and proactively, using multiple methods. We texted, e-mailed and talked on the phone. Additionally, he stopped by the house in person every few days to check on the progress and make sure we were happy. 
  • Mike quickly dealt with any issues--either real ones that we had or ones that he perceived as potential problems--very quickly. 

From a financial incentive point of view, Mike's behavior makes perfect sense. Most of his business comes through customer referrals. If we're not happy, he will quickly lose his reputation and his income. 

To some degree, this is true for all businesses.  We love personal recommendations and referrals. A product with hundreds of glowing reviews on gets our attention. A friend's horror story about dealing with an airline negatively affects our view of that organization. 

When I've worked with organizations on the topic of customer experience, we often go through a process of mapping the customer's journey--all the way from the earliest stages of awareness through the post-purchase stage, at which happy customers become loyalists, or, even better, advocates. Throughout that process are a host of "touch points," or instances in which the customer interacts with the organization. 

Through his attention to our concerns and by leaning forward in his communications with us, Mike was managing his customer touch points. These are direct touch points that he could control, and he did. 

But the secondary touch points in my home improvement story involves the subcontractors that Mike managed. And Mike managed those touch points to some degree as well. 

For example, the first group that Mike assigned to replace our gutters came by our house to complete some initial measurements. The problem is that they came by at 9 p.m. We found this odd, but Mike found it completely unacceptable. He apologized profusely on their behalf. 

And then, he fired them. 

Mike took swift action to protect the customer experience he is attempting to create. I suspect he did this because he (a) wanted to send a clear signal to us that he cared, (b) he lost some faith in their sense of judgment and (c) he found their actions to be misaligned with his sense of how the customer must be treated. He realized that they reflected poorly on him, and he quickly corrected the situation. 

Although the concept of customer experience and the customer's journey along a continuum of interaction applies to virtually all businesses, the details certainly become much more complex in larger enterprises with numerous customer touch points. Customers become aware of the organization through early, often subtle sources of advertising--including word of mouth. Sales people add a critical additional dimension, followed by technical experts, customer support people and so on.

Regardless, a few fundamental principles remain:

  • A mindset of customer service must prevail. Top leaders set the tone and all of their managers have a role in expecting, supporting and rewarding behaviors that align with how organizational values pertaining to customer relationships. 
  • Competing priorities must be uncovered and addressed. For example, if sales people make unrealistic promises that other people then have to try to clean up, customer disappointment is likely (and internal conflict is certain). 
  • Leaders must quickly deal with behavior that fails to reflect a superior customer experience. As an organization, you become what you tolerate. 

Oftentimes, you get what you inspect, not what you expect. This is an old axiom from my earliest days as a U.S. Navy officer, but it applies here particularly well. Mike had a direct feedback loop regarding our customer experience. Namely, he checked in with us frequently. Larger organizations would likely benefit from building such feedback loops and continually measuring customer experience.

Because what every organization wants is an advocate, a person who tells others how great its products or services are and encourages others to buy what they're selling. 

On that note, if you live in my area and need some siding or roofing assistance, let me know. 

I might know a guy. 

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About Ben Baran
Ben Baran, Ph.D., is probably one of the few people in the world who is equally comfortable in a university classroom, a corporate boardroom and in full body armor carrying a U.S. government-issued M4 assault rifle. More at and