Like many businesses, Professional Exhibits & Graphics, in Sunnyvale, Calif., sends its customers follow-up letters that include customer survey response cards asking them to rate standard items such as the level of service and the clarity of the training they received--or whether or not they would be comfortable referring other customers to the 55-employee company. One of the most valuable questions, according to president Dick Wheeler, is the one at the bottom, asking customers whether or not they would like to receive a call from Wheeler himself.

Professional Exhibits & Graphics, which distributes customized portable trade-show booths, reports revenues of more than $10 million and sends out 300 to 400 survey cards each month. Wheeler estimates that he makes a personal follow-up call to roughly 1% of card recipients. (In addition to those asking to be called, Wheeler will randomly call some customers who haven't made the request.) In the year and a half he has been making such calls, Wheeler estimates that 95% of callers' issues have been resolved. "It's very rare that we can't make someone happy," he notes.

In addition to fostering more loyal customers, the practice gives Professional Exhibits the opportunity to fine-tune its systems. For example, when a customer complained about the difficulty of reaching the company during off-hours, Professional Exhibits upgraded its off-hours paging system. Though the customer-survey program entails soft costs such as printing for the cards--and the president's time--Wheeler insists that the benefits far outweigh the expenses. "If you can salvage a dissatisfied client and get them happy again," he says, "that pays huge dividends in the end."