Countertops Magazine Archive

Promises, Promises (and How To Keep Them)

All fabrication companies fall into one of two groups: those that can keep the promises they make to the client and those that can’t. The companies that can are more profitable and are more fun to work for. Those that can’t squander their profits on rework, return trips and recruiting new clients, making for a work environment that is tiring and chaotic.

The companies that keep their promises (defined as on-time installation of counters as requested by the client), do so because at every stage the staff knows what to do, how well to do it and when it must be done. Companies that can’t, fail to do so because it is assumed that everyone intuitively knows what is necessary and will do whatever is necessary to get the job done right and on time.

Take a moment to think about your business and honestly evaluate your organization. To which group do you belong? If you’re not sure, read on.

Let’s say your sales department promises a customer that they can deliver their undermount sink to the shop two days after the template is made and that they can add backsplash to their vanities even though the job has already been cut, all without affecting the install date. A common situation and promise no doubt!

Unless everyone knows their job in this situation, the promise will not be kept and a sink and backsplash breakdown is imminent. The sink information won’t get to production and the corresponding sink counter will be delayed. The backsplash might not get fabricated at all. The sink itself, once delivered, might be stowed away on a rack without a label by a well-meaning employee. And because the shop was hastily polishing the delayed sink counter the morning of install, the customer will have an extra two hours waiting for the installers to arrive. Then when the installers realize that the sink was in fact back at the shop, another delay. The icing on the cake will be the customer calling in to complain that the promised backsplash on the vanity is missing.

If this scenario or ones like play out with any sort of frequency or regularity in your shop, it’s pretty safe to say you are currently a member of the group that struggles organizationally to keep its promises. Thankfully it’s not a permanent and inescapable status! It’s as temporary as you want it to be, depending on how hard you are willing to work.

The other companies, the ones who strive for, achieve and maintain the ongoing ability to keep the promises they make to their clients, don’t get there by accident or luck. They get there by applying a practice to increase the likelihood that important work gets done right and at the right time.

This practice is a simple way of managing the work that the members of any team (sales, production or install) must do in any given situation to make sure that they really know what to do and when to do it. It has three simple stages and must be applied to any situation or task in the interest of keeping the promise and improving profitability.

The first stage is making it absolutely clear who is responsible for a given task. In the sink and backsplash breakdown example above, who is responsible for documenting the changes requested by the customer? Who is responsible for receiving and labeling the sink when it’s delivered? Who is in charge of notifying production when the sink arrives? Who is responsible for updating the backsplash cut sheet and notifying the sawyer? If it’s not clear, team members will make reasonable assumptions that someone else is responsible if it has never been formally assigned to them.

It is your job to make that work clear!

The second stage is defining those tasks in measurable standards, as in when the document changes need to be made, where the sink must go and who the backsplash cut sheet must be delivered to. To put it in starker terms, the sawyer can’t cut the splash if he doesn’t receive the cut sheet until the day of install. A decision about when, where and who must be made in every case, relative to the promise made…

It’s your job to define the when and where related to those interdependent tasks so everyone has time to accomplish them!

The third stage is documenting who is responsible for the tasks and the measurable standards. An ancient proverb states that the strongest memory is weaker than the faintest ink. This means that if you don’t write it down and people don’t see their names attached to those interdependent tasks and standards, people will forget it’s their job. Period.

It is your job to keep track of these assignments in black and white.

Making a promise to the customer is easy when you know, really know, that the organization (the sales team, shop and install crews) that will be fulfilling the promise can keep it.

On the other hand, when you’re not really sure because you’ve assumed the work will get done, the wait between contract and completion is nerve-racking at best even if all goes well. And if it doesn’t? Well, let’s not go there!

About the Author

Aaron Crowley has worked in the slab countertop industry for 19 years, the last 15 years as owner of Crowley’s Granite Concepts, a six time Angie’s List super-service award winner. Aaron also developed the Fabricators Friend line of stone-shop gear, founded Remnant and authored the book Less Chaos, More Cash. He speaks and writes regularly on the subject of business management in the countertop industry, and can be reached at [email protected].