Customers with complaints become apostles for the competition. When CEO and chairman Jim Thompson realized this truth in 1990, he challenged employees at his company, Electronic Controls Co. (ECCO), a Boise, Idaho, manufacturer of warning lights and backup alarms for commercial vehicles, to stamp out complaints.

Concerned that underlying problems that had provoked complaints might prompt future gripes, the customer-service team devised a form to record detailed information about each complaint and ECCO's corrective action. A sales-team secretary entered each complaint into a database, broken down into primary- and secondary-root causes. The most common cause, order entry, was further broken down into three areas: duplicate purchase-order number, incorrect address, and incorrect freight method. This new procedure reduced the occurrences of these three errors by 43% over a one-year period.

Once corrective action had been taken, the team leader filed the original hard copy of each resolved case in a binder entitled "closed." Complaints that merited further consideration were placed in the "open" binder. ECCO used the database to generate a monthly customer-satisfaction report that listed complaints by category and frequency of occurrence.

Ed Zimmer, ECCO's president and chief operating officer, says that this system minimized chronic problems. "In a recent 12-month period, we had 33 complaints about shipments that were either over or under the right quantity," Zimmer says. "In the first six months since we redesigned our packing slips and added a second check of each box before it was sealed, we only had six such complaints."

Copyright 1997 G+J USA Publishing