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IT reseller picks tool, surveys customers

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By Kate Maddox

Challenge: Mainline Information Systems, based in Tallahassee, Fla., is a reseller of IBM Corp. products. Founded in 1989, Mainline started out selling IBM mainframe computers but has since diversified its offerings to include servers, middleware and services.

"We wanted to make sure that our customers really understood who we were, and get feedback from them about our salespeople, service and support staff," said Mary Strauss, senior director of marketing for Mainline. The company had not done any formal customer feedback surveys prior to 2003. "Customers have a lot of choices when they buy servers and other products," Strauss said. "We really wanted to differentiate ourselves through our service and our people."

Solution: After investigating customer survey tools, Mainline selected NetReflector, a Seattle-based customer satisfaction measurement company that provides online surveys and best practices consulting. "I don’t have the budget to have an analyst on my staff, but I can use their analysts," Strauss said. NetReflector creates the online surveys, provides consulting based on feedback and delivers executive summaries of the findings.

Each month, Mainline sends e-mails to customers that have completed a transaction during the previous month, asking them to participate in the online survey. As an incentive, Mainline offers a $20 gift certificate to Amazon.com to customers that complete the survey. If the first attempt is unsuccessful, Mainline sends a follow-up e-mail within two weeks. If that attempt is also unsuccessful, customers are contacted by phone. Mainline uses the customer feedback to improve its services, cross-sell and up-sell to existing customers, as well as recruiting customers for testimonials.

Results: Since implementing the customer research program two years ago, Mainline grew its revenue from $394 million in 2003 to $455 million in 2004—a 15% increase. Its response rate on the surveys grew from 29% in 2003 to 39% in 2004. It has also been able to recruit many customers for testimonials, which it uses on its Web site, in public relations campaigns and as references for prospects. "Satisfied customers will buy more and tell their friends and peers," Strauss said. "It all goes back to the relationship."

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