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Listen and Learn

By Greg Harris

Every customer gets a response!

Greg's corner Jameco's newsletter hadn't been out more than an hour when I received this reader reply, "I just wanted to let you know that I'm going to get a haircut before going home. Is that ok?" I quickly replied and told him that "Jameco is pro-haircut" and it was fine with us.

Not long after, I had to place an order with a company that was supposedly an expert in e-commerce. The system frustrated me and I wasn't able to place my order. I call to ask for help but everyone that could help was apparently on vacation, so I asked for the president's voicemail. The person on the other end of the phone actually laughed at me... at which point I lost it.

Every once in a while we get an email that doesn't make a lot of sense to us, but we have a hard and fast rule. Every customer gets a response within four business hours. We don't always meet that goal, but listening to customers is an urgent priority at Jameco.

Many large companies spend lots of money on market research to understand what customers think, yet, few senior executives spend much time talking to their customers. In fact, many organizations that I've worked with have sophisticated filtering systems designed to "protect" executives from the customers who pay their salaries. Often, if one of those pesky customers slips through it's viewed as a failure by the call center.

Thankfully, there are a handful of companies that welcome customer feedback, like the local restaurant where the owner stops by your table to see if everything is going well. Jameco tries to recreate this type of access for our customers. That's why we publish an email address ([email protected]) that provides direct access to Jameco's senior management. As you might expect, 90% of the email to that address is unwanted, typically from sales people who urgently need to sell us something. But sifting through the junk in order to find the customer gems is easy and not very time consuming... and gems they are.

Jameco has made dozens of significant changes over the years as a direct result of talking with and listening to customers. It's amazing how easy it is to make business decisions when you've listened to your customers. It takes an organizational commitment. I spend at least 30 minutes a day talking to customers and it's the most important thing I do.

Oh, that customer who needed a haircut? He replied with the following message: "OMG, that email was meant for my wife... I need to call her right away and tell her where I am." While Jameco can't claim to play marital peace keeper for all of our customers, we're confident that our reply to the email was important for this customer. I'm confident that as a result of this interaction, he will always think of Jameco as a cut above the rest.

And that e-commerce company that couldn't process my e-commerce order? Well after pitching a fit, I was finally connected to the president's voicemail. I left a long-winded message asking for nothing but told him that if my customer was this frustrated, then I would want to know personally and so I assumed he would as well.

He called me back the next day and told me he was embarrassed that his system had failed so miserably and he promised he would take action to get it fixed. Getting a personal acknowledgement and "thank you" was enough for me, but he didn't stop there. He told me that my purchase (a $2500 value) was on him and he suggested this was a small price to pay for the market research he got.

In summary, the customer's voice can serve as a company's guiding light and everyone on Jameco's management team makes talking to customers a high priority. In fact, if you are lucky enough to get our CEO on the phone, he'll likely volunteer to place your order himself (don't ask me because I don't know how) and he might even recommend a good barber.