‘Yes’-man Featured

7:00pm EDT November 25, 2007

Late one night, a desperate customer called Field Packaging Group LLC to request an order. Most of the company’s 70 employees had long since gone home, but Marty Field, Field Packaging’s president and managing partner, was still there and was more than willing to get his hands dirty to fill the customer’s request.

“I knew how to drive a forklift,” Field says. “We had to find the product that was in the warehouse. I dug it out and put it on the dock. It was ready for the customer to come and pick it up that night.”

Such dedicated service to his more than 300 customers has propelled the corrugated box manufacturer to 2006 revenue of $25 million.

Smart Business spoke with Field about how to always say “yes” to your customers while never overpromising.

Q: How do you provide superior customer service?

You get business for a number of reasons. If you’re not competitive, you’re not going to get the business. If your quality is not acceptable or superior, then you’re not going to retain the business. So that leaves service.

Our mantra is that our service to our customers must be superior to our competition. We must have an atmosphere where customers do not hesitate to approach us to ask for the unusual or the unreasonable. We must say ‘yes.’

So how do we do that? By having excess capacity. We have excess capacity because we have invested in new and better equipment that operates well. We invest in upgrading and updating and a lot of maintenance in our equipment so that it performs well, and we’ve invested in an efficiency bonus program so that by being more efficient, we have excess capacity.

If you have excess capacity, then you have flexibility. Use that flexibility to be able to always say ‘yes.’

Q: How do you always say ‘yes’ to your customers without overpromising?

Always do what you say you’re going to do. You must perform according to the way you promise.

If something happens, and you’re not able to perform, then you must communicate with the customer before the missed delivery date.

You must call them and say, ‘We have a problem here, and we promised to deliver tomorrow. Can we have an extra day?’

If the answer is yes, the customer is satisfied. We have not overpromised because we have communicated with them and have not disappointed.

Have production meetings every morning where the plant communicates with the sales [staff], and the sales [staff] thereby communicates with the customer. If you don’t open up the lines of communication within the company and from inside the company to your customer base, then you’re going to overpromise.

In addition, there are always quality problems from time to time. Nobody does everything perfect. Overpromising is when you promise to have perfect quality and you don’t. If you have a situation where you have a quality problem, it’s the ability to react very, very quickly and either replace the product or correct the problem so that the customer doesn’t experience any internal problems as a result of something you’ve done.

Q: How do you hold employees accountable to your standards?

We pay a bonus based on our efficiencies. When we started the program, we didn’t even know what our efficiencies were. We had to buy a new computer system and create standards based on what the same piece of equipment in our plant will do in any other plant across the country.

We put up chalkboards on every machine in the plant, and every day, we update the efficiencies for each piece of equipment and for the plant as a whole.

At the beginning of the month, we discuss the results of the previous month with everybody. If we have some quality incident, we talk about the specific quality incident.

When I say we hold people accountable, they’re holding themselves as accountable as we are because they get compensated for what they do. They also know what each crew is doing because it’s all there in public.

Q: What mistakes do CEOs make in running their businesses?

They lose track of what’s required in the marketplace. In order to run a business, you need to know what the requirement du jour is — what customers need.

For some customers, price is not an issue as long as you do superior service. Other customers, if your price is not extremely competitive, they’re not going to talk to you any further.

It’s the ability of being able to understand what motivates people, both from a sales standpoint and from an employee relations standpoint, and filling their needs.

Unless you get out there and you deal with the people, you’ll never know that. Spend time in the plant talking with people. Do a lot of entertaining so that you get to know customers better.

HOW TO REACH: Field Packaging Group LLC, (708) 594-5260 or www.fieldpackaginggroup.com