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Is Your Front Office Helping or Hurting Your Business?

You’ve seen lots of articles from several of us about how to optimize your value-creating processes: template, fabricate, and install.  You see more articles on this part of the business because this is where the magic happens.  This is where the value is created that your customers pay you for.

But what about sales and the front office?  Should we ignore those processes?  After all, every salesperson will tell you that nothing happens until somebody sells something.

As a business, you exist to service your customers.  To some degree, every employee has that as part of their job description.  The question is:

How well do you service your INTERNAL customers?

  • Install is the customer of the shop. If the shop doesn’t fabricate the top correctly, the installers have to work that much harder to make the (paying) customer happy.
  • The shop is the customer of Template. If the templater has an error in their work, the shop can’t make the top so the installers can make it fit the kitchen.

The same relationship exists between sales, customer service, scheduling, and the shop.  There is a whole series of internal customers within your business.  How well your employees service the needs of their internal customers has a large impact on the profitability of your business and the level of chaos in it.

Your employees may not be servicing their internal customers well if:

  • Your remake rate or callback rate is high (you do track those, right?)
  • When trying to determine what caused a customer issue, you get a lot of finger-pointing – it’s always someone else’s fault
  • Your install schedules are frequently changing
  • It’s taking longer than 5 or 6 days from template to install to complete kitchens
  • Employees aren’t sure who was supposed to make sure that faucet information was retrieved from the customer (for example)
  • Employees frequently have to go find information that should have already been provided to them
  • You hear comments like “They should have known to …” or “Everybody knows that …”

So, if this is occurring in your business, how do you get a handle on it?

First – Define Your Process

You can use questions like these to help drive the process.

  • What are the essential steps in your front office processes?
  • Who is responsible for each step?
  • What outcome (result) is expected from each process step?
  • What does the templater need to know so he/she can create an accurate template?
  • What information is required before scheduling can occur?
  • What information is needed to generate a valid quote?

If you don’t write it down, it never happened.

Second – Document the expected outcome of each process step.

It is worth every minute you spend writing all this down.  Just talking about it won’t get the results you need.  Once you have it all written down, do the following:

  • Share the document for each process step with the internal customer for that step. Have that person make suggestions for any changes.
  • Take the modified document to the person performing that process step and get their input.
  • There likely will be a difference of opinion as to who should do what. This is your opportunity to coach the employees through agreeing on their responsibilities in the process.  (It’s also possible that you may just need to make a command decision in the best interest of the company.)

Third – Implement the changes

Make sure everyone knows what changes have been made and what the new expectations are.  It helps to print up job descriptions/expectations and review them with employees.  (Side note:  If you are hesitant to do this because you feel that these roles and responsibilities change too often, then you have a much bigger problem.  Don’t even start this exercise.)

Aaron Crowley in his excellent book Less Chaos, More Cash proposes what he calls the Order of Operations.  He does a great job of describing this whole process and I highly recommend his easy-to-read book as a sound guide.

Finally – Follow Up

Just because you told everyone what is changing, just because you wrote it all down and had everyone sign it, there is no guarantee it will still be happening that way in 3 weeks.  For that, you have to follow up:

  • Regularly spot check orders in various stages of your process to see if the new guidelines are being followed.
  • When you find folks deviating from the new process, how you ask about that is critical.  “Bob, why aren’t you following the new process?” makes the assumption that Bob is lazy or ignorant or doesn’t care.  It automatically makes him the problem.

Consider this alternative approach: “Hey, Bob. It looks like following this new process can be a real challenge.  What is the biggest obstacle that makes it tough to follow the new process?”  This approach sets up you and Bob as tackling the problem together and is more likely to get you a superior outcome.

Your consistency and discipline in spot-checking orders and assessing how the new process is working is the key to making these changes work long term.  Without that, you will only see short term improvements before things revert to their original chaotic state.

Front office processes – sales, customer service, scheduling – don’t transform stone into beautiful countertops.  However, they are critical to making sure those transformative value-added process have the opportunity to work correctly.  If the front office doesn’t set the shop up for success, the work required to delight the customer gets infinitely more difficult.  A big key to reducing the chaos in your business, making more money, and getting your life back is making sure your front office processes are well thought out, well documented, and consistently supported.

As a fab shop owner, you deserve to have a business that makes you money and also allows you the time to enjoy it.  To find out more about how to make more money and get your life back, email me at

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