Tom Dickson, owner of the Lansing Lugnuts, a Class A minor-league baseball team, based in Lansing, Mich., likes to use customer complaints as a guide for improving service. To encourage customer comments, he created a pitch: Give all 300 employees a small notepad of complaint forms to carry at all times. and tell them to record every complaint, no matter how small--or they'll be fired.

Now complaints (mostly small ones) come sliding home at the rate of about 50 per game. Each complaint receives a personal response, and Dickson has raw material for better customer service. Also, no one has been fired under the policy. Dickson admits the line about terminating employees for failure to record a complaint is just to get their attention. He prefers the carrot approach: his "Caughtcha doin' somethin' right" program, in which supervisors give "Lugnut Loot," worth $5 at stadium concessions, to employees seen providing good service.

Pay envelopes contain a list of complaints received, the resolutions, and the name of the employees who turned in the complaints. The biweekly feedback is critical to the success of the program, according to Dickson. "First-line staff members understand that management is listening to their observations and working to improve the workplace experience."

The Lugnuts are the first Class A team in the 125-year history of minor-league baseball to draw more than 500,000 fans in their first year of play. Dickson is convinced that the organization's customer-service focus is the reason for its success.

Copyright 1997 G+J USA Publishing