By making its 45 employees responsible for setting service standards and accountable to each other for their performance, a $1.7-million landscaping and snow plowing company, located in Erie, Pa., achieved a lofty goal--exceeding customer expectations.

Allin Companies' volunteer team of six front-line employees meets weekly to review customer feedback and employee suggestions. The team's recommendations are researched for feasibility by a five-person Leadership Council--a group composed primarily of crew foremen--responsible for setting and meeting the company's service goals.

For example, the Council decides how many complaints per month are acceptable and how long it should take to reach a new goal. Concerned about a potential increase in complaints, the Council initially rejected management's idea to accept a major new account, then it designed a training program that allowed the company to take on the new work without sacrificing service quality.

Employees know how each team performs, because customer-satisfaction survey results are published in the monthly internal newsletter. When a customer complaint arises, the employees must provide explanations--and solutions--to the customer and to peers on the Leadership Council.

President John Allin is pleased with the results: The acceptable number of complaints dropped from 10 per month to three within a year of the Council's creation, and the new goal of exceeding customer expectations has been met. "Now that pressure comes from peers," Allin says, "management doesn't have to 'beat on' employees to improve customer service. Employees motivate themselves."

Copyright 1997 G+J USA Publishing