By Charles J. Alsheimer

Trying to make contact with a company for product information, technical support or placing an order is not what it was years ago. Fact of the matter is it can be downright exasperating. The all-too-typical scenario when trying to reach a company today is that the phone rings several times, the phone picks up on the other end and you hear a recorded message that goes something like this:

“Thank you for calling. If you would like to place an order, please press 1; for product information, press 2; to speak to a customer service representative, please press 3; for shipping, press 4; for warranty information, press 5; if you know your party’s extension. you may dial it now. Please press 0 for all other requests.” In some cases, the options are so long that you can’t remember which number to dial by the time you listen to all the options. If you are fortunate enough to actually have a human being pick up, you might find yourself talking to someone in India or the Philippines, who you can’t understand because of their dialect. Frustrating? You bet. Unfortunately, this type of customer service is the new norm for many American corporations. It shouldn’t be, because great customer service is often the ticket to a company’s success or failure. When I graduated from college, I took a sales and marketing position with the world’s largest producer of wood office furniture. In addition to making great furniture, the company prided itself on having excellent customer service. Part of my responsibilities with the company was heading up their customer service division. During my tenure, two of our mottos were, “The customer is always king,” and, “Nothing happens until something is sold.” From the president’s corner office to the factory floor, every employee knew that without satisfied customers, we would cease to be successful. For seven-plus years, I had a ringside seat into the inner workings of a major corporation, especially when it came to the importance of having great customer service. Though I left the corporate world in 1979 to become a full-time outdoor writer and nature photographer, the lessons I learned in the corporate world have stayed with me all these years. The bottom line is this. For a company to be successful, it must have a great product, but without great customer service backup, it will not last very long, regardless of how good the product is. One of the beauties of the free-market system is that it weeds out companies that try to cut corners, especially when it comes to customer service. Since entering the outdoor profession, I’ve had the opportunity of working with many hunting-related companies. Unfortunately, I’ve seen many companies that had great products fail in part because of their poor customer service. It’s safe to say that the companies within the hunting industry that have had great success place a premium on customer service. The Whitetail Institute (publishers of the magazine you are holding in your hands) is a company that not only knows how to produce and market great products but also does a first-class job in addressing its customer’s needs. In preparation for this article, I interviewed Whitetail Institute’s Steve Scott to determine why the company places such a high emphasis on customer service.

Alsheimer: Steve, for more than 25 years, Whitetail Institute has been one of the most successful companies in the hunting industry. How important has customer service been to your success? Scott: I’d say it ranks third behind the quality of our products and the research we do to continually improve our existing offerings and develop new products. We believe it is crucial that the customers who trust us with their money know they can give us a call and actually talk to our extremely knowledgeable consultants and real hunters to get their questions answered. Our staff has more than 200 years of combined experience planting food plots and helping others with their food plot efforts.

Alsheimer: What makes Whitetail’s customer service different from that of other companies? Scott: I can’t speak for other companies, but I can say this about us. Our company policy is that we strive to address every caller’s needs as fast as we can. Virtually every time, a customer calls and asks us a question we can answer that question immediately, but if we can’t, we’ll get back to them with an answer ASAP. We have biologists, agronomist, PhD’s, nutritionist and other experts to help provide the best information possible to our customers. So, it doesn’t matter if the customer has never planted a food plot or has years of experience, we want them to know they are extremely important to us and we are here to help them. Every office in our complex has a strobe light in it to let us know of an incoming call. As a result, the caller might wind up talking to various members of our staff, from the president on down. The bottom line is that our staff wears a lot of hats and works hard to make sure our customers get their questions answered in a timely fashion.

Alsheimer: Does your customer service play any role in product development?
Scott: We have employees who’ve been with us for more than 25 years, so when we get requests on how to plant different seeds, we have the knowledge to offer helpful advice. If we notice a trend in type of request or questions we get, it can and has led to all new products. For example, our No-Plow product came about as a result of interacting with customers who wanted to be able to plant a high-quality food plot with minimal ground preparation. There is no question that input from our customers and our customer service folks often play a big role in the products we offer.

Alsheimer: Do you believe that customer service boosts your sales?
Scott: No doubt. Repeat sales and word of mouth have definitely been crucial to our business growing through the years. You don’t necessarily need great customer service if you are making coffee cups. But our business is technical in nature, and because many of our customers have no agricultural background or no idea how to get started producing food plots, we must have knowledgeable staff to show them the way. Our staff has some of the most knowledgeable folks anywhere when it comes to food plots so we can help even the most experienced food plot veterans improve their results with food plots. Our customer service extends out past our home offices in Pintlala, Ala., because of our presence at outdoor shows and our TV exposure. Many of our staff work the outdoor shows to get the word out. And by sponsoring many of the outdoor TV shows, we have the ability to show viewers who we are and what we can do for them. I guess I’m a little prejudiced in saying this, but I’ll stack our staff up against any in this business. A blessing that’s come from having a great customer service department has been the relationships we’ve built with our customers through the years. Many have blossomed into lasting friendships that never would have occurred had it not been for the customer service department we have.

Alsheimer: I know that Whitetail News is a tool to help drive sales. That said, do you view it also as an asset for your customer service.
Scott: Whitetail News is certainly a great sales tool. But it is also an educational tool for both the guy just starting out or for the individual who really knows what he’s doing when it comes to food plots. The magazine is published three times a year and is free to our customers for a period of two years from their most recent purchase. But getting back to your question, Whitetail News has turned out to be a huge addition to our customer service. Each issue is packed with cutting-edge articles written by the best food plot, land managers and hunters in America. As a result, it helps our customers know all the ins and outs of food plotting from soil to seed. Knowledge is a powerful thing, and we know the more knowledgeable people are about food plots, the more likely it is they will choose Whitetail Institute products.

Alsheimer:What other resources does the Whitetail Institute offer to assist customers.
Scott:Next to Whitetail News, one of the biggest resources we offer to those interested in food plots and deer management is our website ( The Web is the future, and our website has everything Whitetail News has and so much more. For starters, everything about the Whitetail Institute can be found on our website. In addition we post many of the popular articles dealing with soil, herbicides, seed choices and land management from past issues of Whitetail News on the website. Our goal is to provide the best customer service and solid resources for those interested in everything from how to plant food plots to better deer hunting. We also offer a DVD that covers everything related to Whitetail Institute products and tips that will help beginners and pros have the most success possible from their food plot efforts.

Alsheimer: In closing, is there anything else you want to share?

Scott: We want people to know that our 800 number is available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Central Standard Time. We’ve had folks call us from the back of a tractor, so it really doesn’t matter where they are calling us from. So, if you are not 100 percent sure of something dealing with food plots, don’t hesitate to call us. If we don’t have an immediate answer we have the ability and resources to go find the answer and get back to you quickly.