Before Paul Berg's employees could improve their service to customers, they needed to learn how to communicate better with one another. To get them talking, Berg, CEO of Enterprise Builders, asked them to conduct a little internal market research.

The summer before last, during a company picnic, Berg handed each of the 13 employees at his $18-million, Avon, Conn., construction company written instructions that asked them to consider themselves "customers" of one another. Each employee went around to the others one at a time and asked them to list their 10 greatest needs as a customer. They then agreed on an action plan to meet each need. Later, employees looked at all the responses they'd gathered, identified those needs mentioned most frequently, and made them immediate goals. They also agreed to meet in a month to discuss progress on the problems.

The exercise "sanctioned workers to identify what didn't work right," Berg says, and to fix it instead of excusing it as "the way things are done." During the exercise, senior project manager Steve Buccheri heard about a lot of frustration with the job-cost reporting system. So he worked with six users to develop a better model, then brought it to the accounting department. The improved system is now in place.

Berg expects a big payoff in time. "In our business, there are so many levels of customers -- the subcontractors, the architects, the owners. I wanted our people to understand service in a living and personal way, so we started on the inside, and we'll work our way out to every layer of customers."

-- Michael P. Cronin