Shop-floor employees closest to production are often best suited to handle customers' needs. That's why in 1985, when brothers Bob and Tom Jagemann assumed leadership of Jagemann Stamping Co., a $5-million, family-owned tool-and-die shop in Manitowoc, Wis., they tapped into the talent of their line employees by involving them in client visits.

Not wanting to send workers out cold, the owners of Jagemann Stamping set up in-house training to teach interpersonal skills. At new-product introductions and research-and-development sessions with customers, engineers and salespeople typically are accompanied by anywhere from one to six line workers who know the particular technology well. The workers can see how their products are used and answer questions. "It eliminates the filters and interpretations, making it easier to coordinate the work," says vice-chairman Bob Jagemann.

"Their involvement also helps raise their level of commitment to the customer," he claims, "because they see how the product is ultimately used and have a sense of the conditions that the customer has to deal with." Whenever there is a problem or a defect, a small group of line workers is sent out with either a salesperson or an engineer to investigate. "It's better than having them sitting back here, potentially knowing the solution," Bob Jagemann adds.

Now in its 50th year, the company had $28 million in 1995 revenues. Bob Jagemann attributes part of that growth to a culture that tries to avoid making a distinction between labor and management, a culture that has brought the company lifetime customers. In the past five years Jagemann Stamping, which currently has more than 300 customers, has lost only 2 of the top 25 accounts that make up 95% its business -- and it got one of those back.

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