Brian Metcalf
Carpet One has a somewhat unique take on the role of installation. They believe the process should not be viewed as a necessary evil. Instead, they insist this service oriented area is a good way for retailers to rise above local competitors and cement their relationships with customers. The approach is simple: If the installers are as well-versed in customer expectations as the people in sales, the word will spread-not only among satisfied customers but among experienced installers eager to work with people who respect their craft.

"Some of the stores that are part of our Installation Excellence program actually have installers on a waiting list who want to work for them," says Carpet One president Evan Hackel. "The environment of working in that store is so good and so collaborative that the word gets out in the industry: Go to work at a Carpet One store, because these people really care about installation."

Carpet One's Installation Excellence program began 10 years ago, as a way for salespeople and installers to better understand each other and come to know the ins and outs of each other's jobs. This way the sales and installation staffs can answer a customer's questions and address their concerns. Hackel says the success of the program is evidenced by its popularity among members adding that more than 10,000 people have completed the program since its inception.

When members enroll in the program, they receive a kit with three books: one for the owner, one for sales staff and one for installers. The literature details what it takes to keep a customer satisfied. And their satisfaction is a major part of the equation. When the job is finished, customers are asked to complete a satisfaction survey that rates the quality of their experience as well as various aspects of the installation process.

Bob Hutter

The scores help members figure out what's working and what needs improvement. Positive ratings help members achieve a 5-Diamond rating, placing them squarely in the top tier of their colleagues.

Brian Metcalf, senior vp of training for CCA Global Partners, notes that the key to success is shaping customer expectations. The process begins with a pre-installation check list that is designed to ensure that the installer and the customer are on the same page through out the process. For example issues like floor prep and the need to move furniture and other items in the home are addressed to avoid any last minute difficulties or misunderstandings. The entire process is centered on communication, says Metcalf.

He adds that professional courtesy is also a big factor in customer satisfaction. It could mean that the installer takes time to speak with the customer before the work begins and does a walk-through after the job is done. Or it could be something as simple as ensuring the installation crew is appropriately dressed and conducts themselves appropriately.

"After-sale care to the customer is critical to establish loyalty," he notes. "We've known for many years that installation issues derail many of the good experiences customers have in the showrooms. The Installation Excellence program forces us to make sure we're communicating the proper information to our customers."

Carpet One University's senior director of training development, Bob Hutter notes that meeting expectations is an involved process. For starters, when the job is done installers should make certain the floor looks spectacular the first time the customer lays eyes on it. He likens it to the wide eyed amazement kids get on Christmas morning and see presents under the tree.

To show off a quality installation, installers are required to vacuum up after the installation is finished. This helps them double-check the job they've done, and prepares the room to be seen by the customer.

"We want to show off the installation," Hutter says. "The idea is we're proud to show it off. At the same time, if she sees any problems when we give her a walkthrough, we can take care of it right there. For the customer, it's immediate gratification. For us, it reduces the number of callbacks."

And fewer callbacks lead to greater loyalty, repeat business and higher margins, Hutter says. He points out that big box retailers are starting to institute certification programs for their installers, a move which he believes has been inspired by Carpet One's installation success. "We need to stay in the leadership position in the flooring industry. Installation Excellence allows us to do that."

He adds that the showdown with mega stores is precisely why Carpet One was formed.

"It's exciting to see what I consider an essential fabric of our business: Entrepreneurs organizing to compete effectively in the marketplace."

For Hutter and other executives committed to elevating the installation standards, it simply means viewing installation as priority, not an afterthought.

"We're always looking for ways to recommend certain installation best practices to improve the salesperson's knowledge so they can help create realistic customer expectations," he says. "We do that through a variety of media and in the field. At the end of the day I think we have really raised the bar in the industry, in terms of the level of service and attention we pay to the program. The feedback and assistance of the members helps maintain its execution."