Easton, a manufacturer of baseball bats, bent over backwards to provide excellent customer service when an 11-year-old needed a replacement for a cracked bat four days before an All-Star Little League Tournament. The warranty had expired, but the customer service representative asked to see the failed bat because it new of product problems and sent a replacement overnight. Company officials note that a good brand name is no longer adequate; on-time shipping and quality products as well as service count far more in today’s market.

This is a story about a little boy and a big company. The boy wanted to play baseball more than anything in the world. What makes this story special is that the company wanted him to play ball just as much.

The 11-year-old was set to play in his first All-Star Little League Tournament, only four days away. The problem? The boy’s bat, his only bat, had a fatal flaw: It had a crack in it.

The Little Leaguer’s dad, seeing his son’s spirits sag, decided to give it his best shot. He called the sporting goods store where the bat was bought. “Sorry,” came the reply. “This is now up to the manufacturer. Here’s their number, though. They are pretty good about these things.”

The dad, figuring he was getting the runaround, still made the call to Salt Lake City. “Hello, Easton, Bat Warranty Department. This is Wayne. How may I help you?”

The dad unloaded. “I am sorry,” Wayne replied, “the bat warranty has expired.”

The dad just knew it was over.

But, Wayne continued, “I have got to see this bat. These new bats for softball are a constant struggle in balance. They have to be as light as they are strong. Can you get that bat here, tomorrow?”

“It’s Saturday!” the stunned father stammered. Wayne laughed and replied: “Have that bat here. I will call you when I get it.”

Dad, not yet a believer, still complied. Wayne called the next day to say, “You’ll have your new bat on Monday.”

Dad stared at the phone in disbelief. His son would have his new bat a day before the tournament. Monday morning, the bat arrived at the front door, along with a note from Wayne. He hoped the little boy would have a great tournament.

“Who are these people?” the dad wondered. “What is this company? This is not how companies operate.”

The dad, who had his own ideas about “marketing,” had to find out more.

“It’s simple,” Wayne said. “Your boy is 11, playing in an All-Star tournament. He’s a good athlete. We want him to be our customer all the way through college.”

“Your experience with Easton is our vision,” Wendy Wilson, customer service manager for Easton, said when contacted at the California headquarters of the 75-year-old, privately held company.

“A good brand name is no longer enough. Today, you need to ship on time, have quality products and definitely be No. 1 in customer service. My job is to empower my team to make the best decision possible — for the customer.”

“Everyone’s our customer,” she added. “The end user is our customer. Our dealers are our customers. To me, the people in our company are customers.”

Here was a company that does traditional marketing on the front side, through co-op advertising with retailers — its customers — and direct marketing with sophisticated point-of-sale brochures.

But it also brings operations — customer service — into the fold with marketing on the backside to ensure that customers remain customers.

This is how you really build brand equity and make the marketing investment pay off.

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