A hidden variable sparks RJ Lee Group to strengthen customer relationships


Curiosity and creativity are prerequisites to work at RJ Lee Group. As an accredited analytical laboratory and scientific consulting firm, its more than 225 scientists and engineers look for patterns and connect the dots to solve problems.

CEO Rich Lee, Ph.D., says the company’s focus across its seven laboratory departments changes with the outside environment. In six months, he believes they will be immersed in water quality — as a result of the Flint, Michigan, crisis — and explosives because the company has technology that can help detect threats on airliners.

While these two areas may seem like they are unrelated, Lee says when you look closer they are actually fairly similar problems, when it comes to helping solve them.

That ability to detect patterns helped Lee identify a flaw in the company’s operations several years ago that he sees as critical to their growth.

“It was one of those things when you look back at in hindsight and say, ‘What a dummy,’” he says.

His marketing department wanted to bring Lee into the modern era and take advantage of social media. The idea was to reach out to customers with targeted messages, so they worked to segment their customers based on the kind of service they wanted.

“And so in characterizing the customers, what we noticed was that we have a surprisingly large number of people who come to us for the first time, and then don’t come back to us for more than a year,” Lee says.

“When we started looking at it, it was pretty clear that they came to us for a very specific problem. They didn’t really know of our other capabilities.”

Lee believes this challenge — making customers aware of all that RJ Lee Group does — probably happens more often in businesses than they realize, and he’s made overcoming it one of his biggest focuses.

He’s made a start on the problem, but it’s an evolutionary process. Lee says there’s never a single cure-all for business.

“We started looking at patterns and this pattern emerged,” he says, “and we go, that is something that we can do something about.”

Seeing beyond the niche

Customer retention or repeat business is a major driver for success in any company because it costs more to find new customers than to expand the relationships with your current customers.

In RJ Lee Group’s case, the problem was not customer service, like it is for many businesses. Lee says they have a 99 percent satisfied customer base when they survey them.

“Our people get great accolades for the quality of service, their ability to innovate and the way they approach the problem,” he says.

The challenge came into focus when they started asking questions like: How frequently does a customer come back to us? How many departments does a customer touch?

A large percentage of customers see the organization from an isolated perspective — and somewhere in the range of 80 percent of RJ Lee Group’s customers come with a specific problem in mind. For one company, RJ Lee Group is an asbestos company. For another organization, it’s a stainless steel failure analysis company.

And if someone comes to the company for a failure analysis on a semi-conductor circuit, their colleague down the hall who has an industrial hygiene problem probably doesn’t know that RJ Lee Group can help.

“It’s a little bit like we’re a transmission shop for many people, and they don’t realize when they’ve got a carburetor problem or a brake problem, they could come to us, as well,” Lee says.