Extra mile can’t be extra for entrepreneurs

By Juergen Kneifel Herald Columnist

Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase going the extra mile, as it relates to a business’ attention to customer service and the importance of performing work over and above expectations. Nowadays, this practice may be what small business owners should focus their attention on if they expect to grow their enterprise.

Robert Jensen is the owner of Tsunami Sewer &Rooter. He started his business four years ago after working in the construction field for nearly 10 years. I contacted Jensen in August when I was trying to clear a sewer line on a rental property in Edmonds.

This extra-mile experience is worth sharing. It demonstrates how much this practice brings in return for an entrepreneur.

First off, the Tsunami ad on Craigslist was appealing to me because of the flat-rate promise for the work. I know many landlords and homeowners who get frustrated when the price in an ad is a teaser and the actual work performed ends up far more expensive than planned. Sticker shock is not the way to impress your customers, especially if you hope for repeat business or referrals.

Jensen and his assistant surveyed the access points to the sewer and also walked the stretch of line where it works its way to the sewer manhole, which happens to be situated on the back corner of the property.

“It’s not too often that I get access to the manhole that is connected to the residential line,” said Jensen. “Usually these are located in the middle of the street or across several adjacent properties.”

Since he did have access, Jensen pulled the steel cover plate from the manhole to determine elevation and pipe depth.

The pair worked efficiently, running the snake the entire length of the line until the cutting blade reached the manhole. Using a garden hose and a steady stream of water under pressure the line began to show signs of promise. A small root ball was pulled through the line.

I could see from the top of the manhole that water was now flowing clear and free and the clog seemed to be resolved. But then, I’m no expert.

As his assistant began cleaning tools and putting machinery away, Jensen returned to the manhole. But before putting the steel lid back in place, he shone his flashlight on the inlet, which was 11 feet deep, to observe what was happening with the water flow.

Now, some service technicians would leave it at that. The client is witness that water is flowing freely and appears to indicate the clog is resolved. But here’s where Jensen made a positive, lasting impression.

He decided to climb into the manhole and take a closer look at the spot where the root problem may have originated — something that is not standard for this type of project. His hunch led to the discovery of a small section, an arm’s length up the pipe, that was lined with more roots and debris. He asked for a five-gallon bucket to be dropped down so he could remove the additional material.

Jensen directed his assistant to reconnect the machinery and reopen the access at the house to run the snake several more times. The result was quite surprising: five gallons of roots and additional debris were pulled from the line following the initial cleaning.

“I’m all for having repeat business,” Jensen said. “I just don’t want the repeat business to be the result of not having done the job right in the first place.” He shared with me later that the line would have been fine for a year or two with the initial punch that his machine had opened. But “good enough” doesn’t cut it these days.

Jensen noted that most of his business is now the result of referrals and word of mouth. He also has plenty of property managers and landlords among whom he’s established a reputation for fair and honest work and a commitment to go the extra mile.

While many of his clients are based in Snohomish County, he’s also willing to travel to keep customers from looking elsewhere.

“I go where the work is,” Jensen said. “Just the other day I was clearing a line in Auburn for a property management company that I service.”

Going the extra mile sets committed entrepreneurs apart from those who would simply be fine to cut corners. And going the extra mile in Jensen’s world doesn’t just need to be a figurative statement.

Have you had a small business owner go the extra mile for you? Please share your experience by email. I may add more examples in a future column.

Juergen Kneifel is a senior associate faculty member in the Everett Community College business program. Please send your comments to entrepreneurship@everettcc.edu.