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Cary, NC--Loud, persistent, high-pitched ringing. It's a sound that no one at the MTS Sensors plant likes to hear--and seldom does, thanks to a Customer Services program that may be one of the most dedicated in the business.

The shrill alarm occurs only when a MTS customer services rep fails to pick up an incoming call in prompt fashion. "No matter how far technology has advanced, there are some things that should never be automated," says Bonnie Mills, the MTS Sensors customer services manager. "There is no substitute for a smiling voice on the other end of the phone line."

In an era of voice recordings, abrupt call transfers, and lengthy "menus" that leave people angry and frustrated, MTS is determined to offer a personal touch to engineer-customers who want fast answers to their technical needs. At the Cary facility, MTS locates all relevant staff in the same area--order handling, applications engineers, and repair experts. Glass partitions allow the staff to see everyone in the group. No caller gets transferred to an unmanned desk.

If the MTS rep can't provide an immediate answer, the customer typically will get a return call within a half hour. Speed is vital: Orders are entered into the manufacturing system the same day and product is shipped within a week. Emergencies get 24-hour delivery service. MTS, which makes magnetostrictive position sensors, supplements its customer service system with a web site that gives product specs, installation advice, and answers to frequently-asked questions.

To verify the effectiveness of the program, Millis conducts monthly surveys of customers and consistently finds that at least 90% of buyers are satisfied (satisfied being a '4' rating on a scale of 1 to 5). Those who give MTS less than a 4 get a personal call from Millis to find out why.

Millis, with 20 years in the customer service field, notes that MTS adopted its proactive customer service system as a deliberate strategy to "stand apart from the rest." And she believes it accomplishes just that at a time when many companies have shifted to automated phone systems that leave callers exasperated.

The same sentiments are echoed by Nick King, who is also spearheading a new customer service drive at Kollmorgen. Though his company offers perhaps the biggest basket of motor and drive products in the business--some 60,000 motor designs alone--King admits that "we were not always the easiest company to do business with. Because we have so many different products, a customer could end up dealing with four or five of our facilities."

Now, with a 50-person staff at its brand new customer service center in Radford, VA, Kollmorgen is determined to offer one-stop shopping--no matter how complicated the order. The Kollmorgen Customer Service Network is connected via high-speed, fiber-optic network to plants all around the world, as well as to field sales engineers, sales offices, and distributors.

Like MTS, Kollmorgen co-locates all members of the customer service team--sales associates, applications engineers, programming engineers, and field service engineers. The goal is to have 24-hour turnaround on quotes and to accelerate delivery. Kollmorgen wants to ship prototypes of special, engineered-to-order motors in just four weeks. Its website supports this fast-response effort: If a customer asks a question via E-mail during business hours, he'll get a phone response from Kollmorgen within 10 minutes.

Says King: "Our customer service network is the front end to a world class organization. We're determined to show a new face to the customer."

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