Baseline Carries the Flag For Passionate Business Leaders

“Feedback, negative and positive, is the breakfast of champions.”

The quote comes from Jerry Bell, a professor of business at the University of North Carolina.

But what’s really notable is where you’ll find it: The message appears on a customer response card from Advanced Technology Services, a Peoria, Ill., company dedicated to making factories run better. On most such cards, this phrase would be a mere bon mot. But ATS president Dick Blaudow means business.

ATS pays the card’s postage. Blaudow instructs his company’s maintenance technicians to sign the card and hand it directly to the customer after a visit. If ATS’ information-technology, plant maintenance or other services elicit anything less than an 8 on a 10-point scale, the customer receives a follow-up phone call, within a day of the card’s arrival at headquarters.

Blaudow and his executive team see more than 600 replies each month. But that’s not all. After every visit to a customer, the technician must fill out a “site observation survey,” which must be filed with the technician’s travel expense form. Each aspect of factory operations, from upkeep of equipment to tidiness of the machine shop, must be rated on a forced scale of four points: 1 (radical follow-up is immediately required); 4 (an aspect of service is “below standard”); 7 (“meets standard”) and 10 (“exceeds standard”). No survey? No reimbursement check.

Busywork? No. It’s a paper-based customer information system. When an ATS manager meets with the customer, the response cards and the site surveys provide metrics. The customer’s ratings can be compared to the technician’s ratings, on the same 10-point scale, when all cards or surveys are sorted, averaged and cross-referenced.

The shirt-pocket-sized response cards double as sales ammunition. “This feedback is a tremendous credit for us and the customer does offer us new opportunities,” Blaudow says. Getting the customer comments is “great, even if [the responses are] not good,” he says, because he’ll know what needs to be fixed.

In the end, ATS is one of the companies that proves management style is not just a house of cards. Blaudow leads by example; he is the kind of guy who picks up stray soda bottles he finds in the customer’s parking lot. “You can write a book and tell people to read it,” he says. “But there’s nothing like being out there and showing people what to do.

“I carry the flag,” he says. “It’s my passion.” By carrying the banner from the parking lot into the factory manager’s office on to the factory floor and over to the computer room, “I make it a passion for all our leadership.”

It’s for people who share Blaudow’s passion that we’ve created this special edition of Baseline magazine. Enjoy, and learn from, the first Baseline Leadership issue.