Shop-floor employees closest to production are often best qualified to understand customers' needs. Tom Jagemann, president and CEO of Jagemann Stamping, a family-owned tool-and-die shop in Manitowoc, Wis., makes his line employees an integral part of the sales team. Whenever a problem arises, a small group of line workers is sent out with either a salesperson or an engineer to investigate at the customer's site.
Taking production workers on-site shows customers how much they get for their money, says Jagemann. "It also helps raise employees' level of commitment to the customer, because they see how the product is ultimately used and have a sense of the conditions that the user has to deal with."
Jagemann Stamping tries to avoid making a distinction between labor and management, a culture that has earned the company lifetime customers. Since 1993, it has lost only 1 of the top 25 accounts that make up 80% of its business--and then, with a bit of hard work, it managed to woo the same client back. The 52-year-old company's 1997 revenues came to $30 million.