JUNE 1989

Top-rate customer service often depends on doing a lot of little things right -- telephone support, for instance. Michael Bruns, CEO of Comtrak Inc., a courier company based in Memphis, surveyed his customers and found being put on hold was their number-one complaint. Since Bruns markets his company as service driven -- and Comtrak takes up to 1,500 phone orders a week -- he couldn't afford to ignore the problem.

By dividing the number of hours billed to his order-taking line by the number of orders taken, he estimated that customers were being put on hold for an average of 45 seconds. He decided to get it down to 30 seconds, and that the way to do that was to tie the phone bill to Comtrac's monthly departmental bonus-point system. If the 30-second goal is missed, no bonuses -- which had been adding as much as 20% to employees' paychecks. If the goal is reached, employees qualify for the departmental bonuses and receive extra points. Operators now direct calls more carefully, dispatchers take more messages, and Comtrak has hired an additional dispatcher. Bruns reports that the goal has been met in 7 of the 10 months the system has been in place.