'Baldrige winners rely most heavily on telephone systems -- like twenty-four hour, seven-days-a-week toll-free 'hotlines' to ensure easy access. Federal Express even has a toll-free number for the hearing impaired and an automated call distribution system for smoothing out demand peaks, relaying calls to the first available agent at any one of its 18 call centers. Cadillac, never to be outdone, has 21 different toll-free numbers that customers and dealers can use. All employees are invited to listen to recorded calls to acquire a sensitivity to what customers are telling the company about its products.

"At IBM Rochester, the Customer Partnership Call process thanks customers for purchasing AS/400 systems. Calls are made 90 days after systems are shipped, and customers are asked what they like about the system, what they dislike, and what suggestions they might have for improvement. These comments are then compiled into a database, analyzed and distributed regularly to engineering, programming, marketing, manufacturing, and service teams to guide them in their work.

"Have you tried requiring your employees to call customers on a regular basis? Even when customers are not complaining, call them anyway. Get inside their heads, let them know that you are thinking about them.'

-- From The Baldrige, What It Is, How It's Won, How to Use It to Improve Quality in Your Company, by Christopher Hart and Christopher Bogan (McGraw-Hill, 1992)

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