Karen discusses the importance of what both the customer and supplier should expect in service from one another.

Customer service isn’t new to anyone who grew up in Chicago, as I did. Early on, we learned the now-famous slogan “Give the Lady What She Wants” from our landmark department store, Marshall Field’s.

The trick is for both the customer and the supplier to know what type of service is expected.

The Internet has certainly changed the landscape in servicing customers. In this issue, we discuss Dow Chemical’s Web site, e-epoxy.com. The article points out, however, that e-epoxy.com is not meant to replace the existing procurement channels and contracts that adhesives manufacturers rely on for steady projects and customers. It was created specifically for spot purchasers of epoxies and related products who do not need high levels of technical or sales support.

In a January 12, 2003, article appearing in the Chicago Tribune, Chris Cobbs points out that the Internet has changed the middleman’s role, but hasn’t cut it out. Rather, the middleman, whether it’s the company’s technical sales representative or a distributor, is experiencing a new and evolving role based on adding value to the relationships.

And there are ways to do this:

· Chemcentral Corp., Chicago, the world’s largest privately held chemical distributor, has implemented a new operating strategy designed to expand and enhance the company’s customer and market focus. Termed “Regionalizaton,” this new strategy centralizes support functions in regional business centers while retaining sales and operations at its many distribution sites throughout the country.

John R. Yanney, Chemcentral CEO and president, says, “Regionalization helps get our sales and marketing people out of office administration and into the field to do what they do best: service the marketplace.” In other words, adding value. · The Industrial Performance Group, a Northfield, Ill., firm that specializes in supply-chain and distribution-channel management, points out that taking action to improve the manufacturer/distributor working relationship is hard work, but it yields high returns. Typical outcomes include improved sales performance, higher margins, and customers who are more satisfied and loyal. A detailed executive summary of these findings from the company’s four-year study of 750 manufacturers and 500 distributors can be found at http://www.indusperfgrp.com.

· Pam Mitchell, a symposium leader and strategic planning consultant, makes a good case for holding a customer symposium to understand how you can truly partner with your customers and solve their problems. For a copy of her tape, Deliver Value to Your Customers and Inherit the Market, call 937-293-6640, visit the Web site http://www.strategicpathways.org or e-mail pam@strategicpathways.org.

· Finally, let’s not neglect the tremendous efforts on the part of suppliers themselves to solve technical problems for customers. In just one example, Omnova Solutions, Inc., Fairlawn, Ohio, recognized Dr. Gerald Chip and Christopher L. Wilkey for an application using GenCryl 9030 binder systems. The team developed a one-component latex binder system used in polyester roofing mats that are impregnated with asphalt. Previously, latex roofing binders required a two-step process, with the second step needing to be performed by the customer when the roofing was installed. The new system has been enthusiastically received by customers in the United States and has opened opportunities in Europe.