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We’ll Get Right Back to You on That

Photonics Spectra
Oct 2000
We sent an e-mail to Hamamatsu Corp. one morning to inquire about the use of a photomultiplier tube in adverse conditions. By midday, Mario Kasahara of Hamamatsu's engineering team had responded with an explanation of photon- and nonphoton-counting methods, referred us to a source for more detailed information and invited us to call if we needed further assistance.

This reaction is not unusual for a photonics company -- at least it shouldn't be. Jon Anton, a computer science engineer with the Center for Customer Driven Quality at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., has conducted tracking studies since 1995 on customer response in business sectors, including technology. He said effective response programs can increase the likelihood that customers will choose -- and remain loyal to -- a business.

As recently as 10 years ago, many businesses balked at providing toll-free numbers. Customer-support Internet sites were largely unheard of. But today, Anton said, consumers and business-to-business customers can contact most manufacturers in multiple ways and receive a response in a timely manner.

He noted that photonic and other high-tech customer-response programs tend to be more resourceful than consumer products call centers that, for instance, answer questions about the family toaster. Engineers demand -- and get -- information tools that make them look like heroes. "The questions are intense and the need for technical information is great," Anton explained. "They get right to the point: 'You've got a problem, I'll solve it.'"

At Hamamatsu, customer response is an important part of the business plan, said Robert L. Wisner, vice president for sales and marketing. "We have a facility with applications engineers that are there specifically to answer questions customers may have ... with one guy specifically a lamp engineer and one specifically a [photomultiplier tube] engineer. All our salesmen are engineers or scientists. They may not be able to [immediately] answer the question but have a good idea what it is all about."

David Oliver, marketing director for Polytec PI Inc. of Auburn, Mass., said customer inquiries to the company's laser Doppler vibrometer unit also get high-priority attention. "It's a major part of our job as sales engineers," he said. "If it's a sales inquiry, our goal is to make the sale. If it's a technical question, we try to provide the customer with the best response."

Inquiries are hard to miss -- they flash instantly onto the Polytec engineers' computer screens. "We don't wait until the end of the day to respond," Oliver said.

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