What do customers think of your mailings? Michael Harris, CEO of $11-million Deck House, found out when he asked customers to a sales-training meeting in Acton, Mass., where they met with employees from throughout the company, which sells post-and-beam house kits.

Most comments centered on the sales follow-up after a prospect called Deck House. "Too many different letters from too many different people!" the customers cried. And such strict invoices!

Customers said that during the nearly yearlong selling and design period, they received duplicate or confusing information from different departments. Harris agreed, when, after the meeting, he pinned all customer correspondence to a bulletin board. He adds, "Here we were, asking intimate design questions, and then sending out curt invoices. We needed to be more personable."

So the accounting department reworded the invoices, explaining why early payments were needed. To pare mailings, Harris combined letters and developed a comprehensive resource book for new clients, detailing the design and building process, manufacturer referrals, and warranty information. At $3 a book to produce, Harris estimates, it's "worth a few thousand" in customer goodwill. "We get lots of customer feedback, and they bring dog-eared copies to meetings."

The result: customer-survey ratings climbed. "Everyone," Harris says, "got to appreciate the customer's point of view

-- Phaedra Hise

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