Founded in 1922, Indianapolis-based Business Furniture Corp. lays claim to being not only the oldest but also the largest business-furniture dealer in the state. How did it get there?
"It's like the old adage, 'How do you eat an elephant?'" muses CEO Dick Oakes. "'One little bitty bite at a time.' The way you get better, or best, is just one little bit at a time."
But husband and wife team Deb and Dick Oakes are the last to tout their success. "We're not so much interested in selling how big we are or how big we can get," says Deb, the president, "but more the quality of our services and products."
Those aren't just words. When the couple purchased Business Furniture Corp. in 1987, they set to work on their ultimate goal-- "to become the premier service company in Indianapolis," says Deb. The owners themselves set the precedent for excellent customer service by personally calling on each of their customers. During each visit they asked customers to describe Business Furniture Corp.
"We knew nothing of Indianapolis, our customers or Business Furniture Corp.," says Dick Oakes. "Basically, we asked them to give us a report card on our company."
Recently, they got a more formal report card from a study conducted by Indianapolis-based Walker Research. Results show a marked increase from 1990 to 1991 in nearly every aspect of customer satisfaction, from the initial consultation to the follow-up after installation.
Part of Business Furniture Corp.'s success can be attributed to its management structure. The first rule is that Dick and Deb Oakes make none of the difficult decisions. Instead, their Customer Advisory Council, made up of representatives of eight customer companies, meets quarterly to make any major decisions to add a new service, change advertising or head in a different direction. Who better to make the decision than the customers it will affect?
In addition, Business Furniture Corp.'s internal Quality Council, made up of 10 company individuals, oversees and directs core services. The company performs approximately 50 on-site post-installation audits per year. Each job is given a quantitative score, which is published for the Quality Council.
The company's Interdepartmental Teams, made up of representatives from every department in the company, provide solutions to customer needs. Then, Departmental Groups work on specific problem solving. As well, the company publishes a quarterly customer newsletter to communicate with its clients....