Low employee turnover leads to satisfied customers and repeat business. Dan Austin, director of Backcountry, an adventure vacation company, based in Bozeman, Mont., agrees. According to Austin, "Trip leaders are like fine wine--they get better with age."

Austin has developed a bonus plan that encourages his 34 trip leaders to provide exceptional service and return for employment the following season. Each time a customer comes back for another Backcountry tour, the two team leaders from the customer's last trip each receive a $25 bonus. Only current Backcountry employees are eligible for the bonus.

The beauty of this plan, according to Austin, is awarding bonuses based on customer return rates instead of initial sales. The bonuses go directly to the individuals who have the greatest control over the customer's experience. The bonus policy thanks them for providing a delightful customer experience, and it reinforces the trip leader's natural inclination to build personal relationships with customers. Some send postcards after the trip or phone customers when passing through their towns.

For a veteran employee, the bonus total can be substantial--as high as 10% of wages. The timing of the bonus--just before the signing of the following year's employment contract--also encourages employees to return. "Last year, 100% of our tour leaders returned," says Austin, "and 85% of customers are return customers or from direct referrals--the highest rate in the industry"

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