The Customer is Always Right

These fast-growing Craters & Freighters franchisees see customers as the key to their success.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In the three years since they took over the Dallas Craters & Freighters franchise, Tony Alleman, Choyet Terro and Don Theriot were named Rookies of the Year and recognized for having the fewest claims and largest sector growth within their franchise's system. This year, Alleman, Terro and Theriot, ages 39, 40 and 38, respectively, continue their winning streak. They were singled out for the 2003 All Star Award, based primarily on how well franchisees run a business.

Not bad for three friends who had managerial experience but knew very little about running a business when they first joined Craters & Freighters in 2000. When pressed for the secret of their packaging, crating and shipping franchise's success, Theriot boils it all down to one key: customer service. "The main focus of this award was the way we deal with customers. It's one of our priorities," he says.

In fact, the franchisees have various policies in place to make sure customers get the best service possible. "When a customer calls for a quote, our policy is to get back to that customer within 20, 25 minutes," Theriot says. "Our response time, our attention to detail, making sure the paperwork is correct ... the employees understand all this needs to be done."

Based on their different work backgrounds, each partner handles a different part of the business--Alleman oversees production, Terro handles finance and Theriot is responsible for sales. "Having such a diverse group has allowed us to share the responsibilities of running the company, and it allows us to see things from three different perspectives," Theriot says.

Those perspectives are helpful in crafting work policies, including those relating to customer service. "We get together and talk through all major decisions," Theriot says. "We try to make sure at least one person takes an opposing view, and it amazes me how, these discussions, the correct decision becomes obvious."

Yet sometimes problems still arise. If something goes wrong, the franchisees ensure customers' concerns are addressed, via a low-tech solution. "We decided not to have voice mail, because these customers want to speak to a live person," Theriot says. "That way, if there's a problem, such as damaged merchandise, it's addressed immediately. We go all the way to the person who picked it up from the customer, the packing person and the carriers to find out how this merchandise was packaged and handled."

Customers have taken notice of these initiatives. Business clients have hired the company to ship personal items and vice versa. Some clients have even made calls to Craters & Freighters' corporate headquarters to praise the franchise. "I think a lot of [winning the All Star Award] had to do with our customers calling headquarters and volunteering this information," Theriot says.

And the franchisees have no qualms about showing their mutual appreciation. "We constantly tell them 'thank you,'" Theriot says, "because without them, we understand that we wouldn't be here."

Take our franchise quiz to find the perfect match for you.