One Great Customer Service Story


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Over the years I have been involved with many customers and many rescue missions. A rescue mission occurs when a shop screws up so much and hurts the customer so badly they have to do something extraordinary to get the customer out of hot water and not lose the account.

Many great PCB vendor/customer relationships have been forged in adversity. Great company reputations can be made when a vendor handles its problems when they occur. The worst thing a vendor can do when adversity strikes is to argue about whose fault it is. The right thing to do is take care of the problem first and then perform the autopsy later. The customer is usually in a whole lot of hurt and needs his problem solved immediately. There will be plenty of time later to wade through the events and figure out who did what to whom. Then there are the great customer service stories, occasions when a PCB vendor went so far and above the normal expected performance the story becomes part of that company’s legendary history, a story that contributes to that company’s definition of customer service.

Here is one of those stories. This was in the late ‘70s when eight weeks was standard lead time and six weeks warranted premium dollars; two weeks (10 working days) was too impossible to even consider. The company was Rockwell’s Maine Electronics, a great shop when it came to technology; these folks could build boards 40 years ago that most companies can’t even build today. But as good as they were at technology, they were weak on delivery.

Catch-back schedules (remember those?) were part of their everyday life. They could build great stuff but on-time delivery was a stranger to that facility. And two weeks? Well, that wasn’t ever going to happen. One day, the sales manager received a call from the head of procurement of one of their high-tech customers. This man sounded desperate. One of his buyers had neglected to place an order for a program that consisted of 14 part numbers, all 12- and 14-layer boards, in quantities of 100 each. This was intriguing enough, but the real kicker was that he needed the boards in exactly 14 days, 10 working days. And as customers are apt to do in this situation, he would pay anything if the company could commit to building these boards and delivering them on time. This was on a Friday, and he said that if we agreed and settled the deal right away, he would have the artwork sent up from Boston where the company was located.

But he needed all part numbers, all quantities, at his facility at exactly noon sharp two weeks from the next day. To add to the challenge, he was so serious about getting the boards there at noon that he added a bonus as an incentive to make sure he got his boards on time. Apparently, there would be a team of incoming inspectors ready to receive and accept the boards and then pass them along to the assembly lines.

As he talked to the sales manager, who had called the division director into the room, they looked at each other and nodded in agreement and told him to send the artwork, they were going to do it! They asked him to stick around into the evening, so they could quote the boards and settle the deal. Three hours later the artwork arrived, and they set to work quoting the boards. These were tough boards, which was the reason they had come to them with this challenge; most other shops could not have handled this technology. They quoted the entire project and added four times premium for doing it.

They developed a plan that involved taking one of their second shift supervisors and putting him on the project exclusively. He would spend the all his time tracking the boards and making sure they were never held up anywhere, always keeping them moving. The entire shop was put on high alert and this project became a companywide initiative. The idea of the money was great, of course, but the real driver of this project was everyone working together on something that no one had ever done before. Not this technology, not this amount of part numbers, or these quantities.

There was certainly a lot of drama along the way. They scrapped out one entire part number and had to start it over from scratch, which meant that it was built in five working days! And then, get this, there was a nor’easter the Saturday the boards were due to be delivered and they were not sure the driver would be able to make it down to Boston. He had a terrible time making the delivery by noon. In fact, several sections of the Maine turnpike were closed, so our driver had to get on old Route 1 for much of the trip.

These were pre-cellphone days, so everyone waited anxiously for that phone call he had promised to make back to us telling us that we had officially done it. Noon came and went, and then another 30 minutes and then another 15 minutes and the phone in the sales managers office rang. We had delivered the boards in time; he had been at their dock at 11:58! He had been so happy that he forgot to call, and it was only once he was back on the highway that he remembered and then had to find a payphone. They had done it. The boards were there, and everyone lived happily ever after!

I’ll save the worst customer service story I ever heard for another time.

Dan Beaulieu is co-founder of D.B. Management Group. To read past columns or to contact him, click here.

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