Paul Schumacher was eager to get down to business as he addressed employees at Schumacher Homes’ 2012 annual meeting. That’s because business was good. In 2011, the company’s leads were up. Sales were up. Customers were happy. And to top it all off, it was the single best year in Schumacher’s 20-year history. All in all, the market outlook for custom home building was looking pretty great.

But if you weren’t in that meeting, you’d never know it.

“It’s probably the best time ever to build a custom home and get exactly what you want,” says Schumacher, founder and CEO of the custom home building company that has built more than 10,000 homes to date. “Low interest rates, material costs — everything is in the advantage of the customer — other than the perception that it’s gloom and doom out there.”

Schumacher understands that many prospective homebuyers remain recession-wary. Value is the new cultural mentality, and consumers are now quicker to assign labels such as “expensive” and “extravagant” to products advertised as “new” or “customized.” In fact, the company’s biggest competition now comes from the used home market.

“When you think of building a new home, people think, ‘Oh my God; it’s going to be too expensive,’” Schumacher says. “‘It’s going to take forever, and I’m going to end up in a divorce when it’s done.’ So we’ve just got to flip that on its end.”

Show; don’t tell

As a veteran homebuilder, Schumacher knows that no one in the construction industry is going to say that they don’t make a quality product. He’s seen the word “quality” exhausted by competitors and other builders. So to set the company apart from its competitor’s claims, he’s created a business model that lets customers experience its quality firsthand.

Schumacher developed the unique model early in his homebuilding career. He frequently had customers who were interested in model homes, but either wanted to build in another area or purchase the models. That meant the company needed new model homes to showcase the quality finishes, design elements and building materials for its next set of customers.

This dilemma led Schumacher to a realization. Making it easy for people to experience your value is the first step in converting new customers and showing them what you can do for them. If quality was one of the company’s key differentiators, why not display the model homes in commercial locations where people could view the quality, design and finishes any time they wanted? Then the company could build its new homes on the customer’s lots.

“It’s very different than the typical homebuilder coming in, and putting in a subdivision – going up one street and down the other — with a cookie-cutter approach,” Schumacher says.

“People can go through 365 days a year and see and experience our quality and not just talk about it. When they go through a model home they can hold us accountable, and we expect them to hold us accountable to that exact same quality that they see in our model homes.”

The “build on your lot” model also opens the company to a broad group of potential customers. While location is predetermined with all used homes and many homebuilders, Schumacher can offer customers quality custom homes that fit virtually any price range in any geographic location.

“We say, ‘We want you to live in what you love,” Schumacher says. “So in any geographic location we’ll have 200 to 300 different floor plans that we offer, but those are just a starting point.”

Today, the company builds model homes along the highways throughout where it does business. It’s no surprise that employees refer to them as “a parade of homes,” especially considering how many people pass through them each week.

From a marketing and advertising standpoint, the models help the company learn about the attitudes of buyers in different communities where it operates.

“It’s great to have big numbers coming through where we can kind of hear the same things over and over to try and identify trends,” Schumacher says.

“People really like the fact that we’re like a permanent fixture on the highway, that we’re not going anywhere. We’re not a builder that’s just going to go into a subdivision and when the subdivision is built out, they’re just going to move across town or out of town.”

Make it special

An ongoing challenge for any business is creating products that people prefer to ones readily found out in the market. While you need a product that’s affordable and good quality — of course — you also need to offer a better buying experience.

To show customers that building a new, custom home won’t blow their budget or boost their blood pressure, Schumacher developed his business around the idea that it’s all about customers getting exactly what they want.

“We say we’re not going to stop in the design process until we nail it and you’re getting exactly what you want, because our competition is the used home market,” he says. “We always tell people in buying a used home — someone else’s dream home — it just comes down to how many compromises are you willing to make. In building a new home, you don’t have to make any because it’s all designed around you.”

First, the company uses every opportunity to survey consumers and learn their new home “wish lists,” incorporating the market’s feedback into upgrades in existing models. It also adds these design options and features into its vast design database for future customers.

“You have to change,” Schumacher says. “Our whole design philosophy is we have to be able to give something to someone when they walk in a model home — it’s a blueprint that’s fun and exciting and inspiring — to get them to build, because if it’s the same old, same old, been there, done that, there’s no point in building it. They can go out and find it in the market.”

Larger trends in consumer feedback even prompted Schumacher to launch a new line of home designs called the Earnhardt Collection, which addresses a market segment that desires more informal spaces such as great rooms and open kitchens. Collaborating with the Earnhardt family — popular from the NASCAR racing world — the company launched the new line in late 2011, and it is already popular with customers.

“People really want unique, fresh homes,” Schumacher says. “They want a very relaxed and comfortable atmosphere — formal is out.”

Since the majority of people want significant customization on the outside or inside of their home, the company also emphasizes the fun, straightforward nature of its design process. To help people envision their changes, designers demonstrate them on a live monitor, using interactive, real-time design technology.

“They’re seeing the walls move before their eyes,” Schumacher says. “They’re seeing the exterior change. And the beauty of that is we’re all so visual, we can say, ‘Is this exactly what you mean or do you want to add two more feet here? Do you want to rearrange the kitchen?’ and they’re doing it all right in front of their eyes. People say this is great because you can get so much more done when you’re doing it in real time.”

Even with these design elements, Schumacher knows that price is still the major factor in building a new home instead of buying used.

“People say ‘I love the plan. I’ve designed it. I’ve customized it. It’s exactly what I want,’” Schumacher says. “But the next big question is, ‘OK — how much?’”

To answer this question, he’s spent the last 10 years developing a price quoting system that lets customers individually price every piece of their home. When you are dealing with customers who are unfamiliar with the many costs going into the final product — design, labor, building — transparent pricing is even more critical, Schumacher says.

“We put them in control so they see where every dollar is spent,” Schumacher says.

“It’s that innovation all around the whole design and buying cycle that I think really differentiates us.”

Go green

The success of the company’s business model is evident in the quick turnaround time, good communication and high quality that make up its competitive advantage. But it’s also the product of the 225 employees who contribute to the company’s goal-oriented and results-driven culture.

The backbone of this culture is a company-wide scorecard system, which rates each store location and individual employee with color-coded metrics. Metrics are built around areas such as sales, time of construction and homeowner satisfaction.

“A big part of our success is the whole scorecard system where everyone, every department knows what’s expected of them on a monthly, quarterly and yearly basis and everyone is working in the same direction,” Schumacher says. “Without those goals, a lot of it is just talk.”

Red scorecards indicate stores or employees that are below a goal, yellow indicates that they’re within 10 percent of a goal and green signifies that they’ve met or exceeded a goal. The simple and visual nature of the scorecards makes them especially effective, he says.

“Anyone in Schumacher Homes can pick up a scorecard, and without even looking at what the individual metric is, they can see a lot of green means ‘Man, we’re doing a good job! We’re on plan.’ Yellow — ‘Hey, we’ve got to address those areas’ — and red, ‘We’ve got to take note of it,’” he says.

Scorecards also show individuals how their achievements roll up into the company’s overall progress on its goals. Results are shared on the corporate Intranet as well as publicized at regional meetings.

“We’re an open book,” Schumacher says. “Whoever is in first place, it’s very well-known and whoever is in last place it’s very well-known. Everyone really strives to be the best they can, to meet their goals and then to be the best in the region and the best in the overall company.”

Schumacher uses company meetings as an opportunity to recognize top performers as well as to recognize accomplishments such as ‘most improved.’ When you discuss goals clearly and often, people can see what you trying to accomplish on a short-term and long-term basis, empowering them to be part of the success.

“You communicate the importance of the goals, in that, by hitting the goals we can get to the next level of investment or we can do these significant projects,” Schumacher says. “So everyone understands their significance, their role, and what the company is trying to do.”

Today, the company’s culture is built on green scorecards and how employees can see more of them. When visiting different offices, Schumacher notices that employees are quick to pull out their scorecards and ask for feedback.

“They’ll say, ‘What is it going to take for us to be green in whatever the metric is?’” he says. “There’s great sense of pride and teamwork in that.

“We know that we have to have a very good, straightforward, simple process that makes it fun and exciting. At the same time we have to deliver an unbeatable value, a great value.”

Out of 35,378 homebuilders in America, the company was recognized with the 2012 National Housing Quality Award, an industry benchmark award for total quality management. Coming off its best sales year ever, it’s also seeing a new spike in customer interest through leads and site visits.

“Our mantra here is we don’t really care what’s going on in the industry — we’ve got to go make our own market,” Schumacher says.

How to reach: Schumacher Homes, (877) 267-3482 or www.schumacherhomes.com

Takeaways:

  • Show your value to customers.
  • Customize your customer experience.
  • Get your team invested in your value proposition.

The Schumacher File

Paul Schumacher

founder and CEO

Schumacher Homes

Born: Canton, Ohio

Education: Western Reserve Academy, Cornell University, University of South Carolina

What is one part of your daily routine that you wouldn’t change?

Working out every day at 5 a.m. — physical stamina and mental stamina go hand in hand.

Who are your heroes in the business world and why?

My mom and dad are great role models for a strong work ethic, positive attitude and to believe all things are possible.

What would your friends be surprised to find out about you?

I had four holes in one — and climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro with my 14-year-old son in June.

On getting out of the ‘flipping’ business into the home construction business: What I realized is that all you are doing is dealing with someone else’s mess, because you’re just going in and fixing up old houses. As I got into it after a year or two I thought, man, it would be great to have your own brand new, fresh product and not be fixing up someone else’s mess from 40 or 50 years ago.

Published in Akron/Canton
Saturday, 30 June 2012 20:01

Concert and business: Two-part harmony

I recently had the opportunity to attend a Keith Urban concert. I had never attended one of his concerts and I’m not a huge fan of country music, but I thought it would be fun and an enjoyable night.

As the concert started, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the experience and how much I learned about business during the show. Let me explain the comparisons that I see between a Keith Urban concert and a successful business:

  • Communicate: Urban addressed the crowd a bunch of times during the night with a fun story and a clear message.
  • Use surprises: Urban walked into the crowd playing his guitar. In fact, he did this with security to the other end of the stadium. Lots of performers do this — but I have never seen one give away his guitar. At the end of the song, he gave his guitar to a fan!
  • Use the latest technology: Urban had some cool video screens behind him that reinforced his message and kept everyone’s interest for the entire concert.
  • Highlight individuality: Urban did an amazing job introducing his band and their talent. Every lead singer will do this, but Urban really personalized them and genuinely looked like he was having a great time.
  • Flexibility: Urban jumped around and was very flexible. OK, maybe this is a reach, but don’t we want our businesses to be flexible?
  • Leave your customers wanting more: Urban did two encores, and at the end of the second one, not one person out of the 20,000 people in the audience wanted to leave. Clearly, everyone left wanting more.
  • Create raving fans: Urban did just that. The tweets, the posts on Facebook and the discussions that everyone had because of that night will pay enormous dividends in the future. I’m sure most of the younger attendees downloaded Urban’s songs from iTunes that night, and the older ones went to Best Buy the next day and bought a CD.
  • Use PR: Everything Urban did was highlighted on the video screens. He gave away his guitar; it was highlighted. He walked into the crowd; it was highlighted. He brought someone up on stage; it was highlighted.
  • Engage the audience: Somehow, some way Urban seemed to notice everything in the crowd. A sign in the top deck of the stadium. A shirt that someone was wearing. Two people dancing to his music. I’m sure his staff worked very hard at this. Who knows, maybe some of it was staged, but it was well done and it made people feel special. Isn’t that the exact message we want our business to convey to our clients?
  • Involve the past: During the evening, Urban highlighted and spoke about Waylon Jennings and The Beatles. He mentioned how much they helped him with his music and how much he respected them. In business, we should all be doing this with former leaders or influencers of our companies.
  • Have fun: I’m not sure who had more fun, Urban or his audience. He was engaged with what he was doing the entire time he was on stage. Clearly, it was his goal to give everyone a memorable night, and his goal was accomplished.

Keith Urban is a great talent but probably a better showman and businessperson. His concert was an amazing night. He gave so much of himself during his performance. Every aspect of his show was about his fans and ensuring that he delivered a picture-perfect performance and experience.

I took away so much from his concert. I hope this piece enables every reader to take away at least one good idea or tidbit of information to help their business. <<

Merrill Dubrow is president and CEO of M/A/R/C Research, located in Dallas. The company is one of the top 25 market research companies in the U.S. Dubrow is a sought-after speaker and has been writing a blog for more than four years. He can be reached at merrill.dubrow@marcresearch.com or at (972) 983-0416.

Published in Dallas

Asked to take the managing partner position of Ernst & Young’s Cincinnati office in November 2008 with the recession looming was both good and bad timing for Julia Poston. On one hand, she quickly realized the amount of challenges and drastic changes that the firm would need to cope with, but on the other hand, she could utilize personal strengths and take the firm to levels of business it hadn’t been before.

It didn’t take long for the effects of the recession to cause clients of the accounting firm’s 300-employee Cincinnati office to begin to pull back and shelve projects. Poston had to look for alternative ways to keep clients and customers satisfied while also making sure the employees of the firm understood what was needed of them moving forward.

“We were pressed to figure out how to manage our business a little differently with our revenue dropping as clients shelved things. Trying to manage the business with a smaller revenue base just meant that you had to be more frugal,” Poston says. “We really looked closely at where we could drive some of the costs out of our business without impacting the services to our clients. There were people challenges too, because people were just really worried about the recession and what it was going to mean and they felt vulnerable.”

Luckily for Poston and the firm, those were things that played to her strengths as a leader. She had to drive transparency and openness with her employees as the firm dealt with the changes of a recession.

“It caused us to have to ask them to do more with less and we had a chance to really see who the leaders were during those tougher times,” she says.

Here is how Poston took the negatives of doing business in a recession and turned them into game-changing initiatives for Ernst & Young.

Communicate in tough times

As the recession began to take effect and some of the early signs of change crept into the firm, Poston had to be upfront and clear about what this meant for employees.

“We really looked to people to come to us with ideas about how we could do things differently and challenge things that we once did,” Poston says. “What we tried to do was say to our people, ‘Hey guys, we’re in the midst of a recession and we need you guys to act like you own this firm too. Tell us how we’re going to manage through this. Rather than feeling that things aren’t as great as they once were, tell us what you would do if you were running this business.’”

In order for this approach to work, everyone in the firm had to understand that changes were inevitable and they had to embrace that fact.

“Change happens in every business,” she says. “You can either try to manage around it or you can take it and say, ‘All right, how do we need to continue to transform what we do, how we serve our clients, how we behave internally as an office given this change and react to it?’”

To get people to step up with ideas and have the urge to be engaged in helping the firm forward, Poston was open and transparent.

“If you want everybody to own the goals of your business or your practice and not just have their own personal individual goals … you have to be very transparent with them,” she says. “You have to co-develop the goals with them and then build in the accountability with all levels. The only way to do that is with transparency. Just kind of barking that out and setting those goals and telling everybody that everyone has to own those goals doesn’t work if people don’t feel that they’ve got all the right information and transparency into the process.”

Poston and her other partners took the recession as an opportunity to engage all of the firm’s employees in new ways to run the practice.

“We need to approach our work and our client services differently coming out of this recession,” she says. “We need to have far greater diversity of thought. We need to make sure that we bring, not just our partners to the table to help make decisions as it relates to our client’s business issues, but we need to invite our younger people to the table to think about how we come up with solutions and creative ways to help our clients deal with their business issues. We really have had a big emphasis on connecting everyone from partners to staff both in horizontal and vertical teamwork. We’ve really changed the culture to challenge people to speak up and share their ideas no matter what level they are in the firm.”

Through the process of communicating what it would take to get through the recession and getting employees engaged, it became evident who the leaders in the firm were.

“The people who stepped up and said, ‘We can manage through this change,’ are the ones who are most vital to our business and largely have been the ones who have been most successful coming out of the recession,” Poston says. “The ones who were kind of paralyzed by the recession and didn’t show an ability to adapt to change and doing things differently, they didn’t show great strength. They showed a resistance to change and wanted to harken back to the old days, which the old days aren’t back again.”

Discover new leadership styles

Poston wanted everyone to challenge the old ways of thinking and doing business at Ernst & Young.

“One of the things that’s been a game changer for us was we took our partner group and did something different in terms of challenging leadership styles and creating an environment of teamwork in a really different way than we had ever done before,” Poston says. “One of the things that we did was we had an off-site, three-day, two-evening event out at Camp Joy, which is a camp that has a lot of those outdoor activities like ropes courses and those physically challenging things. We called it the partner leadership challenge and it was a combination of those activities outdoors along with facilitated classroom on leadership challenge. Everyone had to attend and it was a huge game changer for us because there became an element of trust and partnership that we thought we had before, but we didn’t have any idea just how far we could take that.”

The leadership challenge and classroom part of it was started with a 360-feedback process that all the partners needed to do with at least 10 people — people above them, at their same level and below them.

“We really openly dived into all of the feedback that each of us had gotten and set goals for ourselves and buddied up to help drive that accountability,” she says. “We all got a lot of lift from one another by doing this, and that’s the kind of culture we want here — a culture of LIFT. LIFT stands for leveraging insights from teamwork with the idea being that if we team and trust in it in an extraordinary manner, we will be able to leverage each other’s insights and do an even better job serving our clients and taking care of our people here.”

The partners took it upon themselves to make sure they were acting as the best leaders they could and made sure they didn’t just talk about it, but demonstrated it.

“We identified what we thought were the five key practices of good leaders and really honed in on those,” she says. “Do we model the way? Do we actually walk the talk? Do we inspire a vision for our people and communicate that? Do we challenge processes? Do we enable others to act? Lastly, do we encourage the heart? Do we really let people get into what they’re doing? We took those five practices of leadership and we discuss those in each of our partner meetings and remind each other that we have to model the way.”

Keep your clients close

Poston understood that it wasn’t just her firm and the accounting industry struggling to get through the recession. The firm took advantage of the situation by getting closer to clients and helping them achieve better ways of doing business as well.

“When times are good and companies are growing and earnings are growing, sometimes there’s not really a burning platform for them to be interested in hearing our observations of how other businesses are tackling different issues,” Poston says. “When you’re in a recession and everybody is really struggling, we found our clients were far more interested in hearing our ideas on how they could approach the recession. They welcomed other thoughts and ideas and observations from others and they might not have as much previously. When things are good, you’re not concerned about best practices.”

It’s easy to relax and allow business relationships to just carry on when things are running smoothly. However, it’s when times are tough and those relationships are put to the test that you have to really deliver on the promises of service and support.

“If we had this come again, we would do the same thing in terms of investing more and more with our clients and spending more time with them and building those relationships so that you can help them and be a partner with them,” she says. “When the economy starts to turn, you’ve positioned yourself far better as a trusted business adviser to them. Spend more time with your clients when they are struggling and have bigger business issues, not less.”

Competition in the accounting industry is fierce, so it is crucial that Ernst & Young find ways to differentiate itself to clients.

“We’re in a really competitive business,” Poston says. “We’ve really coached our people to not take any client interaction for granted and always be at our best. A differentiator between Ernst & Young and our competitors is over the course of the last year and a half, we have really globalized our firm. We have the same methodology for client service and delivery, the same metrics, the same type of communications across the entire globe. The reason that that’s important is that it’s a pretty big benefit to our clients that have a global footprint. Our project teams, our integrated solutions are very consistent across the globe. That consistency that we have in our firm across every location is a huge plus. That’s not necessarily the structure for other firms.”

While the changes in thinking, communication and leadership have been a huge help to getting the Cincinnati office through the recession, the top priority and most helpful aspect of those changes were the clients.

“Make client service the No. 1 thing you do,” Poston says. “If you approach your business from what would be best for your clients, chances are you’ll probably be doing the right thing. And then, just really invest in your people. Take care of them and give them challenging things to do and let them be a part of the decision-making and treat them like the great young professionals that they are and they’ll deliver. You’ll have great retention and have really satisfied clients.”

HOW TO REACH: Ernst & Young Cincinnati office, (513) 612-1400 or www.ey.com

Takeaways

-          Communicate your challenges and changes to get employees engaged.

-          Challenge the old ways of doing things.

-          When times are tough make the best of client and customer relationships.

The Poston File

Julia Poston

Managing Partner

Ernst & Young Cincinnati

Born: Boston, Mass.

Education: Attended Miami University and received a B.S. in accounting

What was your first job and what did you learn from that experience?

I worked in a restaurant when I was 16 years old, and it was a really great job because you work really hard, but you learn all kinds of valuable things: how to operate with equipment, how to deal with customers and handle money. That’s when I started liking accounting because I enjoyed interacting with customers and the financial end of it as well. It was a great starting place to learn some valuable skills.

What is the best business advice that someone has given you?

My dad used to tell me that business was so unethical. I didn’t agree with him, but I’ll never forget that because, as a business leader, we have a responsibility to be good corporate citizens.

What is one of the most stressful things about tax season?

Right now, given the political environment, there is an awful lot of chatter and proposals of how our tax system might change. One of the things that we try hard to do is understand what these proposals are and talk to our clients about them so that if any of these come to be, we will be able to help our clients think about them and respond to them.

If you could speak with anyone either from the past or present, who would you speak with?

From a business standpoint, there are some incredible business leaders that I admire. A.G. Lafley was an incredible CEO at P&G, and I find those kinds of people inspiring.

Published in Cincinnati

Let’s face it: We all want to be liked. But when it comes to being liked in the social media space — specifically Facebook — many companies make the mistake of measuring the quantity of the “likes” they receive as opposed to the quality.

The reality is that the quality of the likes is often much more important and relevant than the quantity of likes. That fact was driven home to me by the case of one of our clients.

Recently, the client told us that it want to gather more than 1 million likes on its Facebook page. The client’s page receives a steady viral increase of 500 to 700 weekly new likes, and the likes are “quality” likes with relevance to its company. They are coming from individuals who have a special interest in the company, who want to participate in conversations and are actively sharing our client’s posts on their personal Facebook pages and within their social contact spheres.

Looking at the analytics of the individuals who like our client’s page, we’re finding that in addition to being highly activated and engaged, they are also target-market and geographically relevant. The likes are happening because customers are actively sharing the content, pushing new people to discover the page, engaging in relevant discussions and are coming from people specifically seeking the company online in order to socially connect.

Thus far there have been no ad buys and there have been no contests launched to also supplement growth efforts. Their collection of likes — now in excess of 50,000 — has come through social networking efforts.

But internally, our client is facing the same struggle that thousands of companies currently face when it comes to evaluating their social media ROI. Managers within their organization feel that in order to justify the relevance of social media in their marketing mix, they have to obtain as many likes as possible. But getting people to simply click the “like” icon on a Facebook page is not difficult.

There are many ways to quickly inflate page likes. Contests spike likes but most of the entrants are only interested in winning the prize and not in making a purchase. You can buy packages of page likes but the majority of “purchased” likes are typically not buyers and are not geographically relevant.

Facebook ad campaigns, which are similar to Google pay-per-click advertising, can also help drive new likes. Facebook ads allow an advertiser to drill down to target potential brand loyalists and customers by a variety of geographic and psychographic denominators.

The issue is that once you stop the contest or the advertising campaign, your number of new likes will drop off considerably. You potentially will see an exponential increase in likes during the campaign period.

But what good are these new likes if people liking you possibly only visit your page once? If they initially like you and then never come back, they aren’t paying attention to what you’re saying, they’re not engaging with you and they have no interest in buying your product or service — or telling others to buy your product or service.

The relevancy in social media is to have people talking about you and with you, and ultimately becoming your brand evangelists. Statistics have shown that 90 percent of consumers trust peer recommendations and 70 percent of consumers trust recommendations online.

Companies need to turn their attention away from trying to use likes as a popularity contest. As a company leader, you need to realize that if you have a Facebook community of 1,000 consumers who are actively engaged, with analytics showing huge impression rates, it is much more valuable than a community of 10,000 who visit your page, click “like” one time, then seldom — or never — come back.

Adrienne Lenhoff is president and CEO of Buzzphoria Social Media, Shazaaam PR and Marketing Communications, and Promo Marketing Team, which conducts product sampling, mobile tours and events. She can be reached at alenhoff@shazaaam.com.

Published in Detroit

Abby Stancik, a financial adviser, was happy with the results she was getting from her workouts at Overload Fitness. But there was another aspect with which she was even more impressed.

“I really do like that the trainers take your workout as seriously as you take it,” she says. “There is not a lot of chit chat. And beyond that, though, all the staff is very knowledgeable in nutrition.”

She was very interesting in the connection between nutrition and fitness.

“That is as important to me because you can work out like crazy, but if you are putting junk in your body, you’re not going to get the results that you want,” she says. “Overload’s trainers give you good guidance on that. They’re very knowledgeable; they have tools at Overload to measure your body mass index, so it’s really kind of all-encompassing facility.”

At Overload Fitness one of the core values is to over deliver, says Jeff Tomaszewski, vice president and co-owner.

“We pride ourselves on going above and beyond the call of duty or what is expected of us from a client,” he says.

While Overload believes it offers the most efficient and effective exercise program available, the staff doesn’t stop there.

“We want the client to have a world-class experience every time,” Tomaszewski says.

From uniformed staff, to a 67 degrees temperature in the facilities, a ban on mirrors and music, a continuous training of staff on customer service and more, Overload offers world-class customer service.

“We have discussions about not only exceptional customer service experiences but also terrible ones,” Tomaszewski says. “At each monthly staff meeting, we ask each person to share an experience in which they implemented world class customer service in their personal lives. This has a dramatic effect on changing behavior, and it is truly amazing to hear some of the stories that come from this exchange.”

How to reach: Overload Fitness, (440) 835-9090 or www.overloadfitness.com

Published in Cleveland

When PartsSource Inc. launched its ePartsFinder online locator for hospital equipment parts in 2006, the company’s leaders were confident it would resolve any issues regarding customer response time. After all, it enabled customers to receive replies to requests for parts pricing and availability in 30 to 60 minutes, dramatically faster than any other company hospital equipment parts provider.

But over the last couple of years the company realized that sites like Amazon.com and Orbitz were beating it by providing instantaneous pricing and availability for parts. Therefore, being the fastest company in its market niche was no longer good enough. PartsSource’s president and CEO, A. Ray Dalton, challenged his company’s IT department to build an application within ePartsFinder that would deliver instant information on pricing and availability to customers. Essentially, he was demanding that ePartsFinder become as quick and reliable as Amazon.com.

Last October, the company launched the new application, SmartPrice, and after some tweaking and training of employees and customers on how to use the service, customer feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, the company reports.

In addition, PartsSource has found that strong customer adoption of the new service has quickly taken hold. The company is experiencing a surge in new users, the first such upswing since its launch of ePartsFinder six years ago.

PartsSource also reports that it is seeing increases in parts requests and customer satisfaction scores since launching the SmartPrice application. As the company adds more parts to the available SmartPrice matrix, it is experiencing additional increases across the board in each of those key metrics from its entire customer base.

PartsSource’s mission has always been to improve health care delivery while reducing associated costs. Due to changing demographics and health care reform, the need to help its customers reduce costs further will increase dramatically over the next decade.

HOW TO REACH: PartsSource Inc., (330) 562-9900 or www.partssource.com

Published in Cleveland

At Post-Up Stand Inc. every department is focused on customer service and the ways to make it better. Alon Weiner, vice president and co-founder of Post-Up Stand Inc., a manufacturer of tradeshow displays, banners and stands, is helping provide customers with service they come away satisfied with and a product that keeps them coming back time and time again.

The employees of Post-Up Stand take pride in their work and realize the importance of delivering a quality product to customers. No matter what an employee’s position is within the company, they are considered part of the customer service team. From the accounting department to production, all employees work with the customer in mind.

New employees undergo training sessions to ensure they are prepared to handle the questions that come in from customers.

New hires are handed a binder filled with product specifics, procedures and pricing at the start of training to assist in the customer service education process. These employees will also go through a shadow program with senior account executives for the first month of employment. They spend time in each department to learn the complete order process and gain knowledge of the product portfolio.

Training doesn’t end there. New hires also have to be familiarized with the company’s website to understand how the navigation works in order to assist any customers with online issues and questions. Post-Up Stand doesn’t just train new hires. Existing employees get reviewed through incoming calls, client surveys and are offered continuous training on new products and services.

All of this is in an effort to make every customer experience a positive one. The company aims to meet every deadline given and goes above and beyond what customers expect. Employees are trained to never say no and more often than not they are willing to go the extra mile by staying late to the job done.

How to Reach: Post-Up Stand Inc., (216) 332-0530 or www.postupstand.com

Published in Cleveland

For The Ritz-Carlton, Cleveland, every guest that walks into the hotel is considered a VIP. This exceptional treatment of its guests is standard practice and Joseph Mattioli, general manager, makes sure that level of service is consistently being offered.

In fact, customer service is woven right into the hotel’s credo, which reads, “The Ritz-Carlton is a place where the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission. We pledge to provide the finest personal service and facilities for our guests who will always enjoy a warm, relaxed, yet refined ambience. The Ritz-Carlton experience enlivens the senses, instills well-being, and fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.”

Every employee of The Ritz-Carlton uses the credo as a guide to providing top-level service. Each employee is empowered to make a guest’s experience special in a personal way. For instance, by noticing a guest’s interest in music, an employee can arrange for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tickets to be delivered to his or her room or if a guest has obviously had a rough travel day, a glass of his or her favorite wine is sent to the room.

The anticipation of needs also plays into how the hotel recognizes guests. If a guest only orders Diet Coke while dining in the hotel, wait staff will have a Diet Coke poured and brought over to the table prior to the request or even have a personalized beverage amenity in their guestroom awaiting their arrival. Even children get special attention and are offered toys during the check-in process. For guests that frequently stay overnight, milestones are recognized by the staff through cards signed by staff they have been in contact with.

The customer service provided transcends the physical product of hotel guest rooms and meals. The Ritz-Carlton strives to deliver a unique, memorable and personal experience to people visiting the hotel, making them Ritz-Carlton guests for life.

How to Reach: The Ritz-Carlton, Cleveland, (216) 623-1300 or www.ritzcarlton.com

Published in Cleveland

Rock The House Entertainment was founded on the principles of concierge-class customer services. It’s that willingness to go above and beyond customer expectations that has helped build the company’s customer base through word-of-mouth referrals.

About 80 percent of Rock The House’s customer base comes from referrals, according to founder, owner and CEO Matt Radicelli. Unsolicited testimonials from customers to family, friends and colleagues have helped to increase the growing reputation of Rock The House as a customer-oriented company.

Rock The House also puts a great deal of control in the hands of its customers. Once a potential customer makes contact with the company, they are in control of the flow of information they receive and how quickly the next steps — if any — are taken. Customers may choose to have preliminary information sent to them via e-mail, elect to have an event professional come to their home or place of business for a private presentation or visit Rock The House’s facility in Oakwood, Ohio, for a personal consultation.

Rock The House takes a high-tech and high-touch approach to maintaining its superior customer service program. At every turn, the company’s staff works to keep customer interests first.

The company’s RTHLive software platform allows for a high degree of efficiency from the initial collection of a customer’s contact information, all the way to an automated post-event satisfaction survey. Every e-mail and phone call, along with other correspondence, is electronically documented to better assist all departments in serving the customer.

In addition, Rock The House has implemented a single point of contact strategy when working with customers. It minimizes stress for the customer and increases accuracy when communicating a client’s wishes, needs and preferences. Additionally, clients are provided cell phone numbers of the company’s full-time staff, allowing access to assistance outside of normal business hours.

How to reach: Rock The House Entertainment, (440) 232-7625 or www.rthgroup.com

Published in Cleveland

As Seeley, Savidge, Ebert & Gourash Co. LPA has grown from its humble beginnings in Avon Lake to a dynamic and successful law firm that helps clients across Northeast Ohio, one thing hasn’t changed a bit.

The firm’s attention to detail when it comes to customer service is as sharp as it has ever been at SSE&G. Jim Pshock, founder and CEO at Bravo Wellness, can testify to that personally.

“We never get the impression that the clock is ticking or that the service we receive is fee driven,” Pshock says. “It is evident to Bravo that it is SSE&G’s mission to live up to their values of hard work, responsiveness and efficiency while consistently bringing innovative ideas to the table.”

The firm makes it a point to ensure that when calls come in, they are returned in less than a day. Technology has upgraded the firm from a tickler system of 3-by-5 index cards, but the personal touch is still as evident as ever when clients need support from the firm.

The firm’s founder, Gregory D. Seeley, wants clients to understand that the firm is working for them and that they have a right to ask questions about how that service is provided. So if they believe too much time was spent on a project, adjustments are made. If there are concerns about the way a situation is being handled, Seeley wants to hear about that too.

He’s a firm believer that when you let concerns go unaddressed; they fester and end up creating bigger problems in the long run.

Seeley says the firm has a formula that works and sees no need to change it. While he makes sure SSE&G has the latest in technology to do its work, the act of providing great customer service is truly timeless.

How to reach: Seeley, Savidge, Ebert & Gourash Co. LLP, (216) 566-8200 or www.sseg-law.com

Published in Cleveland