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The Official Baldrige Blog

Learning from Role Models: Category 3: Customers

Baldrige Excellence Framework Overview showing the Criteria Category 3 Customers item highlighted.
Credit: sdecoret/Shutterstock, Baldrige Performance Excellence Program. 2019. 2019–2020 Baldrige Excellence Framework.
Baldrige Criteria Blog Series

In this blog series, we are highlighting some of the learning (successful strategies and programs) shared by Baldrige Award recipients to highlight the categories of the Baldrige Criteria and how your organization might consider using them as inspiration. 

Part of the purpose of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Improvement Act of 1987 (Public Law 100-107) is to disseminate information about the successful strategies and programs of Baldrige Award-winning organizations that “practice effective quality management and as a result make significant improvements in the quality of their goods and services.” Such sharing by Baldrige Award recipients is done at the Quest for Excellence® Conference, as well as at the Baldrige Fall Conference. Baldrige Award recipients also often host sharing days after their wins to share best practices.

What is Category 3?

Category 3 of the Baldrige Criteria covers your organization’s customers.

2019-2020 Baldrige Excellence Framework Criteria Overview highlighting the Customers item.
Credit: Baldrige Performance Excellence Program. 2019. 2019–2020 Baldrige Excellence Framework.


Category 3: Customers

This category asks how you engage customers for long‐term marketplace success, including how you listen to customers, serve and exceed customers’ expectations, and build customer relationships.

Category 3 stresses customer engagement as an important outcome of an overall learning and performance excellence strategy. Your customer satisfaction and dissatisfaction results provide vital information for understanding your customers and the marketplace. In many cases, the voice of the customer provides meaningful information not only on your customers’ views but also on their marketplace behaviors and on how these views and behaviors may contribute to your organization’s current and future success in the marketplace.

Baldrige Award Recipient Best Practices

Following are some practices shared by Baldrige Award recipients (Alamo Colleges District; Integrated Project Management Company, Inc.; and the City of Germantown, TN) in the realms of customer listening, relationship management, customer life cycles, and integrated pathways to engagement and graduation. What could your organization learn/adapt?

Alamo Colleges District

2018 Baldrige Award Recipient, Education

Alamo Colleges District’s vision of being “the best in the nation in Student Success and Performance Excellence” aligns with its Students First culture. The district’s results demonstrate this:

  • Graduation rate first among all state community college districts in graduates as a percentage of full-time enrollment and second among a national cohort; 
  • Student satisfaction with the overall educational experience at 88.4%, more than two percentage points higher than the national norm as measured by the Community College Survey of Student Engagement in the year the district received the award; and
  • 150% increase in four-year graduation rate since 2009 and best in the state. 

To attain such results, Alamo focuses on building relationships with and retaining students using a key initiative called MyMAP (My Monitoring Academic Progress). This intentional, integrated academic and student support system is tailored to address individual needs. 

Credit: Alamo Colleges District

The MYMAP system consists of 

  • Connection (College Connection [a program to provide support for high school students and their families], outreach and recruitment, and AlamoENROLL [a guide to completing the application]); 
  • Entry (college readiness activities, new student orientation, new student convocation, and student development courses); 
  • Progress (college readiness requirements, student development/learning framework courses, academic and student support activities, and faculty mentors); and 
  • Completion (certificate/degree awards and graduation, job placement readiness, transfers to four-year institutions, reverse transfers, and job placement readiness). 

MYMAP also includes integrated approaches. For example, AlamoADVISE is a proactive advising method using a case management approach, with each student assigned to the same advisor from entry through completion. It was developed and implemented as a cycle of improvement. 

In addition, First Time in College helps emphasize student retention, with students e-mailed and called every week to answer questions and offer advice on campus resources. Students nearing completion are sent post cards and reminded to visit their advisors. Students who do not register early are contacted to register for courses. Students who do not return are contacted to re-enroll and/or asked why they are taking the semester off or where they transferred.

Integrated Project Management Company, Inc.

2018 Baldrige Award Recipient, Small Business

Integrated Project Management Company, Inc. (IPM) uses multiple methods to listen to and interact with customers. Such listening drives decision making in process improvements and new services and is the foundation of IPM’s customer relationship management approach. Its customer-related results reflect this robust approach:

  • IPM’s Net Promoter Score, a key metric of customer engagement, was 61 in 2017, exceeding the excellent benchmark of 50. 
  • In 2017, existing customer revenue grew at a rate of 4.1%; new customer revenues grew 22%.
  • On the Project Performance Evaluation (PPE; IPM’s post-service survey completed by customers), IPM scored a 9 out of 10 in overall customer satisfaction, and it averaged a 99% satisfaction rate in the most recent three calendar years. 
IPM what we've learned graphic
Credit: Integrated Project Management, Inc.

Listening methods are used to identify unmet customer opportunities and industry trends, which are logged on The Hub (IPM’s SharePoint site); all entries are analyzed by senior leadership. Based on this listening, strategic initiatives are developed to adapt product offerings to better exceed customer expectations. 

Customers can easily seek information and support through on-site project management consultants. Each engagement is customized to specific customer needs. Within two weeks of completing an engagement, the PPE is administered to customers to solicit feedback. The PPE includes numerical rating, pick-list, and qualitative response questions.

Relationships are established through meetings, social media, and networking activities. IPM employees use networks to identify prospective customers, which is behavior reinforced by the Employee Business Development Incentive Policy, with escalating rewards determined by the depth of the relationship built. IPM also emphasizes finding other opportunities to solicit feedback, such as participating in customer-sponsored charity events, which aligns with the core principle of giving back. Relationships with former customers are maintained through regularly scheduled email or phone contact as well as get-togethers. Tracking data from customer interactions with the website provides insight into target audience’s interests, as does the monitoring of responses with marketing automation. 

City of Germantown, TN

2019 Baldrige Award Recipient, Nonprofit

The City listens to potential customers and plans accordingly by analyzing and forecasting market data, including demographic, population, economic, and employment estimates. Acting on this information, the City is in a stronger position to understand the market demand for commercial and residential development and to make appropriate land use decisions, thereby expanding its customer base. 

Two-way communication with potential customers is achieved through social media and the City’s customer service center. New residents are asked to complete a brief survey when signing up for water service. Survey information is used to update new resident packets and the Life and Stories brochure. Customers who leave the City are surveyed upon disconnecting water service to learn why they are moving and what the City can do to improve services. In addition, a biennial community survey asks respondents to rate the importance and level of satisfaction of specific services. A priority chart segments data by age, household income and size, length of residency, ethnicity, gender, and education level. This information is used to ensure that resources are used to fund areas of high importance during the annual budget process. 

Results show the efforts of the City’s customer approaches:

  • Earning a Net Promoter Score of 71 in customer engagement in 2018, Germantown has consistently exceeded the excellent benchmark of 50.
  • More than 70% of residents have lived in Germantown for more than 10 years, and more than 90% of residents plan to stay for five years, a percentage that has remained consistent since 2014.
  • Germantown has sustained a close to 80% overall satisfaction rating since 2015, better than the 2019 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey benchmark at 60%. Almost 95% of residents are satisfied with public safety.
City of Germantown Customer Cycle
Credit: City of Germantown

Residents engage with the City at different levels depending on their interests and availability levels: 

  • Inform: To enhance customer engagement, the City provides a number of ways to access information including social media, the website, press releases, public hearing notices, GMTV, an e-newsletter, a magazine, and a City services guide. In addition, professional customer service representatives are answer questions and provide information. 
  • Consult: Through public hearings, town hall meetings, or focus groups, customers are asked to provide input on policy issues or alternatives for senior leaders and the Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA). 
  • Incorporate/collaborate: Customers can make specific recommendations to senior leaders and the BMA through resident-staffed boards and commissions.
  • Empower: Empowerment is built on trust and involves asking customers to take responsibility (e.g., through nonprofit agencies). Senior leaders provide guidelines and policy or budgetary constraints to help frame an issue and may also help facilitate a process. 

Continue Learning Best Practices from Baldrige Award Recipients

Baldrige Criteria Blog Series: Upcoming Blogs

Category 1: Leadership
Category 4: Measurement, Analysis, and Knowledge Management
Category 5: Workforce

Baldrige Criteria Blog Series: Previous Blogs

Category 2: Strategy
Category 6: Operations

2019-2020 Baldrige Excellence Framework Business/Nonprofit cover artwork

Baldrige Excellence Framework

The Baldrige Excellence Framework has empowered organizations to accomplish their missions, improve results, and become more competitive. It includes the Criteria for Performance Excellence, core values and concepts, and guidelines for evaluating your processes and results.

Purchase your copy today!

Available versions: Business/Nonprofit, Education, and Health Care

About the author

Dawn Bailey

Dawn Bailey is a writer/editor for the Baldrige Program and involved in all aspects of communications, from leading the Baldrige Executive Fellows program to managing the direction of case studies, social media efforts, and assessment teams. She has more than 25 years of experience, 18 years at the Baldrige Program. Her background is in English and journalism, with degrees from the University of Connecticut and an advanced degree from George Mason University.

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