Got a business-related question for Mister Sparky? Send it to Mister Sparky (AKA Patrick Kennedy) is the owner of Mister Sparky, Inc. in Atlanta and the president of Eelctricians' Success International in St. Louis.

Are customer surveys helpful for measuring the performance and professionalism of your employees?

Including surveys with your invoices is a fantastic program to employ. However, you must also take some things into account when you evaluate their importance.

I've found that only two types of customers will take the time to fill out your survey cards and send them back to you: the clients who are really upset or really happy. For the most part, clients who are just satisfied with your services aren't going to take the time to reply. Now, if you're performing your service at a high level, you shouldn't have a lot of unhappy clients, so most of your surveys will come back telling you how amazing your service is. But don't start patting yourself on the back just yet.

We estimate that we only receive about 15% of our surveys back. That's far from the majority and hardly a fair representation of your client base; you still know nothing about what the other 85% think. So it's a good idea to follow up your service calls with a phone call asking each customer what they thought of your service. That way, even if they don't fill out a survey, you'll have some indication of how you're doing on each call. And it's a good idea to do it the day of the service call because the experience will still be fresh in your customer's mind.

That being said, surveys do have value beyond just gauging how your customers perceive you. First, they show your clients that their opinions and their feelings matter. Whether they take the time to fill out the survey or not, they'll know you care. Second, when you get those positive comments back, it's a great way to encourage your team. In our company, we post our positive comment cards on the wall so everyone can see what our customers are saying about us. Third, negative cards can alert you to a situation and allow you to address the problem with your team before it becomes more serious or happens again.

Our surveys allow our clients to rate our phone representative, how the work was performed, our employee's appearance, and our employee's attitude, all on a scale of 1 to 5. We also include standard questions like “Would you use us again in the future?” and “Do you have anyone you would refer to us?” Your survey doesn't need to be too complex. Just give your clients some space to fill in their opinions.

How should I go about establishing relationships with other service contractors who might be able to refer their customers to me?

Partnering with other business owners in your area is always a great idea. You and other contractors are in and out of clients' homes all day, and your marketing efforts allow you to touch many more. By trading referrals with a contractor from another trade, you can reach even more homeowners in your area and grow your service base.

Start by identifying the company that you feel is the absolute best in your area in a given trade. Which plumber has the best reputation? Which HVAC business do you hear people talking about? If you would be comfortable letting them work in your home, then they would probably be a good partner for you. Contact the owner of the company and set up an informal meeting. Tell them about your company and ask them about theirs. If you like what you hear, offer to refer your customers to them and ask if they'll return the favor.

Where it goes from there is up to you. After you've established a relationship, you may decide to jump into joint marketing projects that allow you to share the cost. We've been advertising with a local plumbing company for years now. We printed up refrigerator magnets and “things-to-do” pads with both of our companies' names on them and pass them out to all of our customers. They have 40 trucks driving around town and we have our 29 techs, so that's a lot of free advertising for both of us. It's a win-win situation. So make that first call and initiate that first meeting — you'll be very glad you did.

Illustration by Clint Metcalf