If your new business purchase isn't quite right, skip the middle management filters and take your concerns straight to the top. That's what Tom Bell expects from his customers.
Bell is CEO of Bell-Haun Systems Inc., a voice and data telecommunications company in Westerville. Within the first month after a new Bell-Haun system is installed, he phones the decision-maker, giving him or her an opportunity to express an opinion of the product, the service and the installation.
"Regardless of the size of the company, I think every CEO needs to make a part of each day dedicated to keeping his finger on the pulse of the front line," Bell says. "I can't think of a better way to do that than to talk to a client. If it's a smaller business, then I think it's important for the chief executive to do that personally. If it's a huge GM-type company, the CEO has to make a decision on how to stay in touch with reality."
Bell says relying on input from senior managers won't suffice.
"They naturally are going to filter out, rose color a little bit," he says. "The really successful CEO has figured out some way to litmus test reality."
Bell-Haun service manager Eric Morgan, who has been with the company 10 years, says he sees the benefits of Bell's approach.
"The impression we all get here is that the customers deeply appreciate our CEO taking the time to personally call and say, 'My name is on the company. We sold this to you. How is it working?'"
Bell and his partner, Mike Haun, started Bell-Haun in 1977. Haun is the scientist who keeps the company alert to new and future technologies, Bell says. Bell's role is to work with client issues and opportunities, marketing and related activities for the 54-person company.
Bell started making customer follow-up calls five or six years ago, although he can't remember a particular incident that initiated this approach.
"Necessity is the mother of invention," he says. "I probably got a call from a client who wasn't really all that happy. After the call was over, I thought: 'This would have been much better if they had been called by me.'"
Now, about three weeks after the system is in place and the training complete, Bell phones the decision-maker. His core comments and questions include:
- Introducing himself and thanking the company for its business.
- Asking if he or she received the products and services expected.
- Inquiring if there was anything in particular about the process that they liked.
- Asking if there was anything annoying or bad about the process.
The average conversation lasts less than five minutes.
"I also tell them that they can call me at any time about anything," Bell adds. "If they have any issue, good or bad, I hold them accountable. They must call me."
One client told Bell the system was great, but it was making the client learn military time. The phone was set up to display 1500 hours instead of 3 p.m., for example.
"I knew there was an option of programming the phone in military time, and I told him we'd change it," Bell says. "We could change it remotely. He called me back an hour later and was very happy of the change. That is one of those little things he may never have called us about. But we could have found out by talking with someone else.
"He could have passed that along to others that everything was great except military time. Now, he can say how quickly we changed it."
Another client was concerned because it took longer than he expected for customers calling in to eventually get to a human. The system was set up with an auto attendant, where the caller listens to choices and then picks where he or she wants to be routed. The system then determines which employee phone is open to take the call.
After Bell brought this concern to Morgan and the project manager, their analysis showed that the caller was doing what the client wanted, listening to the auto attendant options and making the right choice. Bell was then able to explain this to the client.
"The perception that Tom Bell takes this time [to contact customers] has a far greater impact than anything I could do as the service manager or anyone else," adds Morgan. "The president and CEO carries that weight." How to reach: Bell-Haun Systems Inc., www.bell-haun.com; 882-4040
Andria Segedy (email@example.com) is a free-lance writer for SBN.