Nolan’s Notes: A Tale of Quality Customer Service

Companies can deliver stunning ads and effective marketing plans that create strong emotional reactions. But your personal experience creates a long-lasting impression. It comes down to customer service. What’s your amazing customer service story? Here’s one of mine.

In 1998, I was running a technical training department, selling capital equipment into semiconductor facilities. At the time, there was a lot of investment in new memory fabs in China, and that meant I spent a big chunk of my time in Shanghai, running onsite training programs.

One three-week trip routed me through the Narita, Tokyo, airport before heading to Shanghai. As I started my journey at security before boarding for Narita, I placed my luggage on the conveyor and moved forward. Unbeknownst to me, my planner binder (Remember those?) somehow got free of my laptop case and became wedged in the X-ray machine—where it stayed for an hour before they were able to get it out. Meanwhile, I had already boarded the plane and never heard the page calling me back to security. While it might seem a minor inconvenience to leave your planner at the airport, this particular book contained my passport, entry visa, boarding pass into Shanghai, and $500 in cash. I was in the air, headed to Tokyo, and completely unaware.

Somewhere over the Aleutian Islands, a voice in my head said to check on my planner. Imagine that profoundly sinking feeling when I realized I didn’t have it. Being this was 1998, I pulled out my credit card and used the airplane’s pay phone to call home. My wife quickly answered and I explained that I had lost my planner. I asked her to call the airport’s lost and found department, as well as Delta’s customer service number. I said I would call back in 30 minutes. Let me tell you, never had time moved so slowly as that half-hour.

When I called her back, she had plenty to report. Airport security had my planner, and would surrender it to Delta’s customer service, which had offered to put my planner on the next set of flights to Shanghai. Miraculously, it would arrive about 18 hours behind me. My planner would be delivered to my Shanghai hotel just as if it had been lost luggage.

Now, how did I get to Shanghai from Narita without a passport or boarding pass? I knew I could manage 18 hours without my planner, but I needed that paperwork for my connecting flight. I was pleasantly surprised once again when a Delta representative met me at the gate in Narita with a replacement boarding pass and a photocopy of my passport’s ID page. They said they would vouch for me at the gate, and when I arrived in Shanghai, another Delta agent would walk me through passport control with the photocopy.

Everyone involved knew that this was a high-risk plan; passport control officers might not let me through, in which case, I would have to wait in the international arrivals terminal for 18 hours until I could be reunited with my planner. Sitting on that plane, somewhere west of Kamchatka, this plan sounded preferable to being refused entry altogether.

I’m happy to say that the plan went off without a hitch. The Narita agent was there as I deplaned, holding a new boarding pass and two passport photocopies—one to show the gate agent and one for my pocket. Arriving in Shanghai, Delta once again came through. The next agent was there, waiting for me. She kindly walked with me all the way to the passport control desk, where I’m assuming she explained the situation (in Mandarin Chinese) to the officer and produced the passport photocopy. This conversation lasted for about two minutes, ending with a longish monologue from passport control before they both nodded, he stamped the two photocopies, and waved us on. The Delta agent motioned me to the side, explained that they were allowing me entry, and that my passport would be brought to passport control along with the stamped photocopy so that the stamp could be duplicated in my book prior to sending the whole planner on to my hotel.

The next day, while I was in my hotel still adjusting to the time change, I heard a knock at the door. A bellhop had my planner for me, the passport was stamped, and everything else—including the cash—was undisturbed. That, ladies and gentlemen, was customer service.

design_0523_cover250.jpgIn this month’s issue of PCB007 Magazine, you won’t find customer service stories quite as harrowing as the one I’ve just described. Instead, our customer service coverage looks at the many facets of the industry by letting others tell their own stories. I am confident you will find something of value in at least one of those stories we tell.

Barry Matties files a dispatch from Houston, where The Ion’s Joey Sanchez is cultivating networks of people to bring complementary skills together. Joey’s philosophy is the core of customer-centric thinking. In addition, columnist Dan Beaulieu has been writing about customer service for years. We asked Dan to pick his five favorite columns on the topic and you’ll get to read those here.

Speaking of columnists, Paige Fiet discusses manufacturing as a customer service ecosystem, and Todd Kolmodin keeps his eye on positivity and morale in the workplace. Furthermore, you’ll find updates on solder mask legislation and regulation from Chris Wall, and an interview with American Standard Circuits’ John Johnson on their customer-driven focus on ultra HDI. Throughout the magazine this month you will find short pieces telling customer service stories meant to inform and inspire.

Customer service is equal parts science, art, and inspiration. Once you find your groove, you know—and you’ll know when you’ve fallen out of the groove as well. Delta Airlines demonstrated impeccable customer service for me, halfway across the globe. There is plenty of customer service success in our industry, too. As always, if you have story ideas, or your own customer service adventures to share, contact me at I’d love to hear from you.

This column originally appears in the May issue of PCB007 Magazine.



Nolan’s Notes: A Tale of Quality Customer Service


Companies can deliver stunning ads and effective marketing plans that create strong emotional reactions. But your personal experience creates a long-lasting impression. It comes down to customer service. What’s your amazing customer service story? Here’s one of mine.

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Nolan’s Notes: Ready to Hire?


Staffing issues remain a top concern for electronics manufacturing companies—a ripple effect of the pandemic, to be sure. No sooner did supply chain issues soften than we realized nobody wanted to come work for us, and if they did, could we train them quickly enough? Therefore, what are today’s best practices in on-the-job training? Are local technical schools recognizing the need and meeting the challenge set before them?

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Nolan’s Notes: The Rise of the EMS Summit


A summit is defined as “a meeting or conference of heads of state, especially to conduct diplomatic negotiations and ease international tensions. Or, any meeting or conference of top-level officials, executives, etc.” With that in mind, I believe the EMS Leadership Summit at IPC APEX EXPO was well named. I spent the entire day at the summit, listening to the speakers and talking to attendees. I found a high level of engagement from both speakers and guests, and rightly so; there was plenty to talk about. What surprised me was the relatively low attendance. “This is information that everyone needs to hear,” I thought to myself.

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Nolan's Notes: The Fabricator's Mindset


We’re three months into 2023, and wrapping up our first quarter. So, as a PCB fabricator, what’s on your mind? Is it time to assess, and perhaps reassess, what your expectations are for the year and whether your reality is meeting your projections? What are you hopeful about? What has you nervous? What are the opportunities and obstacles to your business right now?

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Nolan’s Notes: The Manufacturer’s Mindset


It’s the ongoing balance of the four forces of flight—thrust, drag, weight, and lift—that keeps any flying object aloft. To gain altitude, the pilot adds lift, which usually requires more thrust. To descend safely, there must be less thrust, allowing weight to exert more force on the trajectory. In the business world, thrust is revenue, lift is manufacturing capacity, weight represents various business obstacles, and drag stands in for the operating costs and other financial burdens on your business. Just as the bird or pilot must balance their four forces, you must balance yours to climb upward.

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Nolan’s Notes: The Trade Show Is Over—Now What Do You Do?


When you’re new to your career, your role, or even new to the industry, the pressure can be immense. Then you find yourself at a trade show representing your company, tasked with bringing information back to your organization. But take heart, at least you’re not Harrison “Jack” Schmitt. Jack really understood pressure. Schmitt is a retired NASA astronaut from the Apollo, era but let me take a step back and explain some of the history. The U.S. space program, as you may recall, went to the moon with a science-based agenda; astronauts brought back lunar samples to study.

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Nolan’s Notes: An Evolution


This month, PCB007 Magazine looks at the evolution of advanced packaging from the fabricator’s perspective. This is, as you’re aware, a global topic. Asia harbors nearly all the manufacturing capabilities for the packaging and interposer substrates required for the latest packaging technologies. North America and Europe, buoyed by their respective chip technologies legislation, are working to bring packaging capability back to their home shores. How this plays out remains to be seen.

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Nolan’s Notes: Advanced Packaging


Advanced packaging is not new to our coverage. Over the past two years, we’ve written about the heterogenous integration roadmap, as well as reported on the October 2022 IPC Advanced Packaging Symposium in Washington, D.C. This is a topic wherein printed circuit manufacturing and semiconductor manufacturing begin to converge. For this issue of SMT007 Magazine, we contacted industry experts on packaging technologies to get their perspective on advanced packaging, and followed up with many of the participants in the IPC symposium, seeking a deeper dive into their presentations. We found enthusiastic voices willing to share their concerns, solutions, and R&D work with you.

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Nolan’s Notes: Traditions—The Old and the New


December is a month full of traditions. They may be religious, spiritual, family, or entirely personal. They may be related to the calendar or business cycles, but whatever the reason, December certainly seems to be driven by tradition. While traditions often get a bad reputation as stodgy and tired, they aren’t all bad. For example, we use this last month of the year to prepare you for IPC APEX EXPO. The upcoming conference and trade show is scheduled for Jan. 21–26, 2023, at the San Diego Convention Center. As we prepare this issue for publication, the show floor boasts 366 exhibitors.

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Nolan’s Notes: UHDI—Raising Awareness and Interesting Questions


It was over lunch on the second day of the recent IPC Symposium on Advanced Packaging when I asked a question that triggered an interesting discussion about advanced packaging and ultra high density interconnect. While these two technologies are distinct, they are also symbiotic; it takes both to make either successful. As the symposium delivered on its agenda, the inter-relationship between those two technologies became crystal clear.

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Nolan’s Notes: The Conveyor Belt Effect


How many times have you watched a conveyor belt in a movie played out for comedic effect? It’s a familiar trope: The belt starts out slowly, then increases its speed, until chaos ensues. Think “I Love Lucy,” “Star Wars,” and Charlie Chaplin in “City Lights.” These are perfect metaphors for this issue on workflow management, where planning your workflow on the manufacturing floor in these challenging times sometimes feels like being just one step away from disaster—or safety.

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Nolan’s Notes: Have Passport, Will Travel


Technical conferences, expos, symposia, and trade gatherings of all kinds are back and in a big way. Maybe it’s just because we’ve been quiet for a while, followed by a year of careful, tentative restarts to the event schedules, but this upcoming year’s calendar of events seems to be full steam ahead. I’m excited to get back into the convention centers and hotel ballrooms; that is where some of our best news and reporting originates. That comes at a price, however, as my travel schedule looks pretty brutal between now and Thanksgiving. Just between you and me, while it may feel brutal to my workload, I’m ready to dust off my passport, see some airports, and wear thin some shoe leather.

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Nolan’s Notes: New Era Manufacturing


In a 2010 New York Times article titled “Failing Like a Buggy Whip Maker? Better Check Your Simile,” writer Randall Stross confronts the buggy whip analogy and unintentionally offers some perspective on our industry. PCB fabrication is thriving on a global scale. Innovations are occurring regularly, mostly in Asia. It’s not that the world has moved beyond needing printed circuits; the world is simply evolving its wants and needs from a circuit board fabricator. It makes sense that those who are leaning on the buggy whip analogy may have given up on the industry. Truth be told, however, we’re more like the carriage parts manufacturers than like the buggy whip makers. Here's why.

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Nolan’s Notes: Light at the End of the Tunnel


The development of an issue of SMT007 Magazine can take two to four months of planning, research, content gathering, editing, and production. Under normal conditions (are they ever normal?) the stories we identify at the start of the planning process are still accurate at the time of publication. We move fast in this industry, but sometimes, just like the rest of our industry, things evolve.

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Nolan’s Notes: Supply ‘Pain’ Management


We’re all feeling the discomfort, aren’t we? Things are getting squeezed and stretched. While the correct amount of that “something” is hard to put your finger on, there’s stress in the PCB manufacturing and assembly process. It reminds me of coming home from the hospital with my first born. He was 28 days early, and naturally, his early arrival threw off all our birth preparations. For example, we attended the last session of our Lamaze class with a newborn in a baby carrier. Never have I seen sharper, dagger-eyed stares than from that class full of moms-to-be.

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Nolan’s Notes: The Shifting Supply Chain—An Argument for Investment


The gears of the economy worked like clockwork for quite a long time, at least in North America, Europe, and Asia. Overall, that smooth operation is no longer the case, for several reasons. It’s as if the watchmaker has upended the clockworks onto the worktable and is rearranging the mechanism to work differently—to tell a different time, if you will. In the overall economy, there are bearish signs (9.1% inflation year-over-year in the U.S. in mid-July). But in electronics manufacturing, the market looks quite bullish on the demand side. This month’s cover reflects that dynamic—a bullish industry within what seems to be an emerging bearish economy.

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Nolan's Notes: Data Security—It’s Incumbent Upon You


In May 2022, the news broke in Portland, Oregon that the city government had suffered a “cybersecurity breach” and lost $1.4 million in city funds. As reported by numerous news sources, a city-issued press release stated that “preliminary evidence indicates that an unauthorized, outside entity gained access to a City of Portland email account to conduct illegal activity.” Incidents like these are more common than we realize, and must be addressed in our industry as well.

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Nolan’s Notes: What’s the Point of Collaborating?


When we first started planning this issue, we used the word “partnership” in our working title. Partnership certainly is one way to collaborate. Creating close working relationships with manufacturing specialists who can extend your capabilities for your customers is one obvious way to collaborate. But there are others, for example, collaboration can also look like proactive communication with customers as well as vendors.

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