The Case for Service Over Sales

In the past year, Sentinel Field Services Inc., a mortgage field service company that maintains foreclosed properties, has doubled its geographic coverage area. What’s its marketing secret?

No advertising, no promotions — not even a sales team.

Instead, Sentinel has implemented a company-wide focus on expanding solely through word-of-mouth referrals. Those referrals come as a result of incredible service, says Thomas Inserra, Sentinel’s CEO.

Four years ago, the Clearfield, Utah company began formally embracing the tenets of “Six Sigma” management, whereby every transaction — from the moment the order comes in to the final billing and beyond — is religiously documented, then optimized, in an effort to completely eliminate errors.

“In our view, that intense focus on quality yields dividends in the form of lower costs, higher quality, reduced error rates, but also draws clients who are focused on quality to us,” Inserra says.

Six Sigma in Service

“Six Sigma” is typically used in manufacturing processes to get rid of defects, but in a service context, it means instituting several series of checks along the service team’s timeline — and lots of documented evidence to show they’ve done the job exactly to specifications. Inserra gives an example of a simple job: cutting the grass. That job, he says, may involve as many as 12 different steps (receiving the order, bringing out the mower, billing, etc,), each of which needs to be handled correctly in order for the grass to be cut properly and on time.

“We in effect spend more time and money documenting that we’ve met [the client’s] exact specifications than we do actually cutting the grass,” Inserra says. “You totally remove the ambiguity of what was, and wasn’t, done.”

The result has been incredibly strong relationships with a relatively small roster of clients, Inserra says. Admittedly, the national housing crisis has meant there’s a lot of business for mortgage field service firms, but Inserra insists that his company’s approach to growth will be sustainable beyond the recession. He says Sentinel’s ability to almost double the geographic area it works in was all at the request of its clients (mostly banks) who requested the company handle properties in other states.

Working Out the Kinks

Maintaining ultra-high levels of service can be tricky when a company works with contractors who aren’t always trained the same way as company employees. With expansion into new areas, Inserra says his 150-employee company has had to rely more heavily on local contractors to fulfill work orders, whether they’re roofing repairs, home inspections, or mold removal.

Inserra says his company vets local contractors rigorously, and tends to favor specialized workers over jack-of-all-trades contractors. The company also issues scorecards to help evaluate contractors’ work. “If they don’t meet our standards, we’ll give them a chance to improve, but ultimately we’ll move on,” he says.

The company uses proprietary software to push work orders and information out to workers in the field, a program Inserra wants to expand to a full range of mobile devices, including iPhones, Androids and laptops. The company’s headquarters are also open 24 hours a day, with three shifts of workers handling work orders. That way, Inserra says, full, detailed reports can be sent back to clients within a day.

“We don’t want to be spread too thin,” Inserra says. “We’re of the mindset that if you get a client, you make a promise [to provide high-quality service]. It’s a different way of running your business, and we found it was more cost-effective, and that’s how we grow our business.”

Thomas Inserra will be the keynote speaker at the National Association of Mortgage Field Services’ annual conference, which is taking place Sept. 13-15 in New Orleans. Visit the link for more details on the event.

More: For Mortgage Field Service Firm, Time Equals Money — and Apps Save Both.

Click here to download a free whitepaper, “Five Steps to Make Field Service Profitable.”

ABOUT Ian Stewart

Ian is a veteran journalist who has covered sports for various news outlets. Previously, he was managing editor for an electronic-book publishing company and a public relations writer.