When Communications Systems reported to me, we divided our data business into four areas: Networking equipment, servers, desktop equipment, and desktop support.

Our first two server vendors just didn’t work out — when asked why they delivered a server with no cable to connect the disk drive and controller, the sales rep from the first vender answered, “That’s how you ordered it.” The second vendor was even worse.

Each time our preferred provider messed up, we called the sales rep for our desktop vendor, who got us up and running on both occasions. So I called a staff meeting and asked, “Is there any reason to re-compete this business?” Nobody saw any reason to go through the effort to make another guess at who might support us well when we already had the proof from a vendor we already knew.

I mention this because of last week’s column about First CEM Bank, which wouldn’t accept just some business from a mid-sized retailer. It needed to start with a “deep relationship” or it wasn’t interested. Unlike FCB, our desktop vendor understood that deep relationships are earned. Fortunately, it isn’t the only one.

So I got off the plane, took the shuttle to Enterprise Rent-a-car (that week’s lowest rate on Travelocity) and approached the desk. The young lady behind the counter finished in roughly a quarter the time I usually spend at a car rental counter and pointed me to where I was to pick up my car. As I walked up, a man with a clipboard greeted me: Enterprise located its printers where the cars are, not behind the desk, so everything printed while I walked, not while I waited. Smart.

The man with the clipboard showed me my car, reviewed it with me for damage, and asked if I traveled much. When I told him I did he provided a card with a telephone number so I could arrange for a corporate discount.

Hmm. Less waiting, personal attention, and they actually asked for my business. Very smart. Also unique. So long as their rates are competitive (not necessarily lowest, but competitive) they have it.

So I bought a Minolta/QMS magicolor 2300 DL printer. It printed great, but I couldn’t reach it through my network. I called tech support, and after a very short wait spoke with a guy who recognized the problem and immediately escalated my call, without my having to ask. The technician he reached told me to buy a cheap hub to sit between my router and the printer. If that fixed the problem, he told me, Minolta would send me a toner cartridge to keep me whole financially.

Two days later he called me … that’s right, he called me … to make sure everything was working right. Two days after that the toner cartridge arrived on my doorstep.

So I recently bought a new laptop computer — a Compaq Presario 2500 — from Best Buy. It worked fine, except the internal wireless adapter wouldn’t connect to my D-Link wireless access point. After two hours on the telephone with one of Compaq’s support technicians — a personable and knowledgeable woman — we agreed the Presario’s 802.11g card must have a subtle incompatibility with the D-Link. Since I’d bought the system from a retailer, she suggested I work with them, rather than having to ship the laptop to Compaq for service. Good idea. Thanks for a great effort.

But first I contacted D-Link. Two other wireless adapters connected to their wireless access point just fine, I explained — any ideas about what to try with my Compaq? D-Link’s e-mail tech support, unlike that of some other companies I could name, is provided by actual human beings, who suggested three possible avenues to try, even though it really wasn’t their problem. None worked, but they tried. Very much appreciated.

Which brought me to Best Buy’s Geek Squad. I explained the situation to one of their technicians, who unboxed a new 802.11b wireless access point, hooked it up to one of their computers, and demonstrated to our mutual satisfaction that my system’s wireless adapter was working just fine — the problem was, in fact, an incompatibility between it and my D-Link unit. “That’s what I expected,” I told him. “So here’s my question: Whose problem is this — mine or Best Buy’s?”

He promptly called over a manager and explained the situation. The manager then asked me how I’d prefer he solve it. “If you’ll give me a wireless adapter to plug into the PC Card slot, I’ll be happy as can be,” I answered. Which he did.

Every one the companies mentioned in this column has made a conscious decision to provide a great customer experience, figuring it will pay off both in direct additional business and word-of-mouth marketing. Does the strategy work?

I guess it does: They have my business, and you just read this column.