Delta Dental Plan of Massachusetts, an insurance company, based in Medford, Mass., convened a "customer-partnership committee" soon after the company had spun off from Blue Cross and Blue Shield in the 1980s. Committee members, some from big-name clients such as Polaroid and Gillette, were encouraged to talk candidly about their concerns.

Later, the committee - which now meets quarterly and includes a rotating group of 20 customers - played a big role in crafting Delta's cash-back service guarantee, the company's best tool for bringing in and satisfying new customers. And with Delta's 1996 revenues at $231 million, the customer-partnership committee deserves its fair share of the credit.