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Mark Reynoso could hear the rumble approaching on the horizon, and he knew it spelled trouble for Belkin International Inc. Competition was growing fierce in the consumer electronics industry and if he didn’t act fast, he and his business were going to get run over.

Belkin launched as a seller of computer cables and surge protectors. But the business evolved into products that make electronic devices such as laptop computers, iPods and eReaders easier for consumers to use and easier to integrate with other devices.

As the calendar turned from the 1990s to 2000, the company of more than 1,000 employees found it wasn’t alone anymore in this realm. Belkin was facing more and more competition and Reynoso needed to respond to help his company stay ahead of the pack.

“We saw that the retail market, the shelf space that our products lived on, was becoming more competitive,” says Reynoso, the company’s president and CEO. “Not only were we competing against other brands like Belkin, but retailers began to develop their own private brands to compete with people like Belkin.”

Companies such as Best Buy and Circuit City were now in the market offering their own specialized electronic connectivity solutions. Reynoso feared that without quick action, his products were at risk of being moved to the back of the shelf or even getting bumped off completely.

“It became really clear that we needed to push our organization upstream in terms of our innovation capabilities to really continue to put ourselves in a space that was ahead of the commoditization curve so that we’re bringing new products to market and creating new categories that would allow our brand to maintain its relevance and strength,” Reynoso says.

“Our goal was not just to sustain our business; it was to grow and expand our business. The only way we would be able to do that was if we were bringing differentiated solutions to the market that people really cared about and that consumers loved.”

Make a commitment

Reynoso reached out to his people and explained the dire circumstances. He told them that they all needed to work harder to come up with new and innovative products that would excite consumers and help Belkin stand out from the competition.

The plea did not go over well with his employees.

“Initially what we discovered when we tried to inject this way of thinking into our business was that it was really hard to get it to take hold,” Reynoso says. “People were running their day-to-day businesses. It was hard to get them to change gears and change focus and begin to develop some of these new strategies.”

The response underscored the fact that the increased competition wasn’t due to a lack of effort from his employees. They were working hard and didn’t have much capacity to take on additional tasks.

“So then to say to somebody, ‘Hey, I want you to go kick off this new initiative because we’ve discovered a customer need,’ it would be really difficult to make that successful,” Reynoso says.

He had shown them that he understood the environment in which they were working and was willing to adapt that environment to make this new initiative possible.

“You have to have the conviction to stop doing certain things if you want to do new things,” Reynoso says. “One of the CEO’s primary responsibilities is to set priorities for an organization. Something is going to have to fall off the list. The biggest thing you can do is remove barriers.”

Innovation was desperately needed at Belkin. Reynoso knew he had the talent on hand to be innovative and develop new products that would excite consumers. It was time for him to give that talent a chance to blossom.

His idea was to create an entrepreneurial program in which selected leaders in the company would be given a chance to take an idea conceived by the consumer insights team and develop it into a great product for Belkin.

“Every company has their bureaucracies that are designed to make them more process-driven, efficient and effective,” Reynoso says. “Start-ups succeed in part because they don’t have any process. Everything is done pretty much in an ad hoc, entrepreneurial fashion. The best thing you can do for somebody in that situation is to put them in an environment that liberates them from a lot of the structures in your organization and truly gives them the freedom to be completely entrepreneurial.”

This program would solve a big problem for Reynoso. Employees chosen to take part in it would be freed from other responsibilities and given a chance to dedicate all their time to the new project. The excuse of not having enough time or resources would no longer be valid.

“We’re going to allow entrepreneurs within Belkin along the lines of this vision and future that we’ve talked about really push the needle of our innovation profile,” Reynoso says. “We’re going to fund those ideas, we’re going to fund those entrepreneurs and we’re going to allow them to work within our corporate development group. We’re going to cocoon or isolate them so that they can really focus in exclusively on nurturing their specific idea.”

Connect with your customer

With the framework of his entrepreneurial program in place, Reynoso needed a great idea to hand off to one of his fresh-faced entrepreneurs. A scan of the marketplace revealed that laptop computers might be a good place to start as they were becoming really popular, particularly for home users.

“We recognized that we were going to need to understand consumers’ needs and preferences in order to create new solutions or categories that would allow us to drive growth,” Reynoso says. “A real direct result of that discussion was our commitment to begin to disproportionately invest in and become experts in our consumer research and consumer insights.”

Reynoso made it clear to his employees that ideas would be given the opportunity to breathe and grow at Belkin. In order to do that and begin the entrepreneurial process, he and his consumer insights team had to identify an idea with great potential. He had to reach out to consumers and figure out what would get them excited.

If he was lucky, the team would stumble upon an idea that consumers didn’t even know they needed.

“That’s really the gold mine for us,” Reynoso says. “It’s a need that a consumer can’t articulate because we’re solving a problem that they didn’t know they had. When we’re mining for unarticulated needs, you can’t ask them direct questions. You need to spend time understanding broadly how they live and how they use the product and the pain points they have with it.”

Whether you’re reaching out to people through a database of customers who have bought products from you or you’re flipping through the Rolodex on your desk, you need to get inside the heads of the people who use your products.

“If we’re learning about laptops, what do you love about your laptop?” Reynoso says. “How do you use your laptop? Where do you use your laptop? What is it you don’t like about how you use your laptop? The more data you gather in that respect, certain trends and themes will begin to emerge that will give you a hypothesis to begin to innovate around. That’s how you tackle unarticulated needs.

“It doesn’t need to be complicated. The key is less about the sophistication of the system versus the sincerity of the conviction to make it a priority for your business. What you need to figure out is the best way for you and your company to engage your customers.”

You’ve got to show customers that you’re genuinely interested in their feedback and that their responses will play a key role in the product decisions you make.

“Be really clear in communicating your sincerity of your objective of what you want to achieve,” Reynoso says. “Then make sure you listen and deliver. There’s nothing worse than taking up somebody’s time and then effectively ignoring their recommendations.”

It’s the kind of thing that will drive your customer to a competitor.

Through its commitment to intensive research, Belkin came up with an idea that Reynoso and the consumer research team believed laptop users would love.

“We understood some very simple dynamics in terms of user experience and we started to build products around that,” Reynoso says. “Within any organization, every organization should ask itself: Who is our customer? How well do we know our customer? Are we serving that customer better than anyone else? Those are some really big questions. If someone in the organization doesn’t own the customer and doesn’t own driving those answers conclusively, that’s a great moment of reflection.”

Find the right person

It was now time to find someone to lead the initiative to develop a product related to laptop computers that would excite Belkin consumers and serve as a springboard to even more innovation.

“You have to identify a vision and you need to go make some quick wins so people can see that direction is a good direction,” Reynoso says. “When people see it, they’ll follow suit. It’s like Roger Bannister and the four-minute mile. Until somebody does it, it seems impossible. Then as soon as somebody does it, people can see that it’s real, it’s achievable and it’s possible. You have to go from something that appears to be not possible to something that was done so they can see that it can be repeated.”

In order to make the initiative a success, you need to think beyond just the technical expertise in whatever realm you’re asking this person to work in. You need to look at their ability to work in an entrepreneurial fashion.

“Somebody who is very structured, process and rules-driven is not somebody who you want in start-up environment,” Reynoso says. “There are people who thrive on innovation, thrive on the ups and downs and don’t require a tremendous amount of management to work through the hiccups that you’re inevitably going to have. They recognize it’s part and parcel of the path that needs to be taken.”

Use your HR team to identify people who have the personality and temperament to take on leadership roles.

“If your HR organization is focused on developing your people and caring about your people, usually that tends to be a correct recipe,” Reynoso says.

Once you put the person in place, you have to live up to your promise and your intent to let the person be a leader in developing the initiative.

“You can tell somebody, ‘Hey, we’re going to be supportive of you when you make mistakes or when there are failures,’” Reynoso says. “OK, great. But they are going to test it when it happens. They are going to want to see that when a failure occurs and there is a setback, you truly are willing to support them. We have a good track record of being able to say, ‘OK, you fell down. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move forward.’ Don’t nickel and dime them.”

You should also understand that any plan is likely to go through changes and perhaps even complete transformations over the course of development.

“I don’t recall what the initial assumptions and expectations were for the laptop at home business when we initially put together the business plan,” Reynoso says. “But I can promise you what ended up being successful was only half of what we originally wrote down. We just had to give our leader the freedom and the empowerment to go to make mistakes.”

What Belkin came up with was the Cush Top, a product that would help laptop computers keep their legs cool while using their computers.

“It’s an ergonomic, comfortable laptop stand that you put on your lap whether you are in your bedroom or your living room or wherever you are,” Reynoso says. “That was one example of innovation driven through consumer insights that was a huge home run for us.”

The work also produced a product called Home Base that would connect computers, printers and any other USB device in your home. Consumer research discovered that connectivity was a big issue for many people.

“Collectively, those insights drove our laptop at home initiative that basically allowed us to create a new business that is now in excess of $100 million,” Reynoso says. “Had we tried to drive that through our existing businesses, it probably would have failed because everybody was so busy with everything else they were doing. That dynamic is more true now than it was seven or eight years ago.”

How to reach: Belkin International Inc., (310) 751-5100 or www.belkin.com

The Reynoso File

Born: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Education: Bachelor of arts degree, law and society, University of California, Santa Barbara

Who has been the biggest influence on your life?

My parents. They just really taught their kids to understand what right and wrong was and tried to make sure they behaved accordingly. Just a real ethic, a moral grounding was what they brought to us.

Reynoso on making the right personnel choice: You don’t want to pick somebody who is doing really well and put them in a job where they struggle because now you’ve made two big mistakes. You’ve taken somebody who was successful and made whatever they were doing less successful because you pulled them out of that.

Then the initiative you wanted to do is now not going to be successful because you put somebody in there who isn’t going to be successful. And now you’ve got an employee who was feeling really good about themselves being successful who is now struggling. It’s a real disaster in that respect. You just want to be really careful you don’t misalign opportunities with roles.

What one person would like to have a conversation with?

Nelson Mandela. For somebody to go through the life that he did, to be imprisoned by his own country because of the color of his own skin, to be willing to struggle for freedom and to then embrace the society that imprisoned you and lead that country as he did out of apartheid, it requires a depth of a person that is really hard to understand. He would be an incredible individual to be able to spend some time with.

Published in Los Angeles
Wednesday, 31 August 2011 20:01

Heart-felt service

Most guests wouldn’t come away from a hotel experience where their car had been broken into, resulting in a shattered front passenger window and stolen GPS, with a positive attitude. Even fewer would write a letter of thanks and praise to the establishment.

But Debra, a guest at the Hotel Equities-managed Fairfield Inn by Marriott, did just that.

She wrote about how the “outstanding” general manager not only granted her stay for free after learning of the incident, but also arranged for maintenance to vacuum the glass from the car before personally trying to tape plastic over the broken window.

“He put himself in my shoes immediately and realized the stress and frustration I had gone through,” Debra wrote in her letter. “He was professional, thoughtful, considerate, compassionate, caring. He did whatever he could to help send me on my way with confidence restored in the hotel.”

Hotel Equities founder, CEO and President Frederick Cerrone expects employees of all 50 hotels to provide excellent world-class customer service that exceeds expectations. By hiring service-minded associates who are then extensively trained in the vision “Excellence in Hospitality,” Hotel Equities aims to give guests a positive, personal experience.

Employees take pride in learning and remembering guest names for personal greetings, as well as remembering guest preferences such as pillow firmness and room location. They cater to special requests, such as cakes for birthdays, and will even call a doctor or deliver soup if a guest becomes ill. The Hotel Equities Associate Representative Team responds to spiritual needs or hardships among the hotels, performing random acts of kindness for fellow associates and guests alike.

Through individualized care from a service-oriented staff, Hotel Equities excels in quality, memorable customer service. The company believes that true world-class customer service comes from the heart.

How to reach: Hotel Equities, (678) 578-4444 or www.hotelequities.com

Published in Atlanta
Wednesday, 31 August 2011 20:01

Ongoing quality management

Just about every company claims to deliver the highest level of customer service to its clients. However, not all of them make customer service the biggest aspect of an employee’s job quite like Global Payments Inc. does. The electronic payment processing company makes sure all of its employees understand the level of customer service that’s expected from them from the first day they start.

Paul Garcia, chairman and CEO, and his team at Global Payments strive to provide the most trusted payment service in the world, and it starts with the organization’s training program. The company builds its training program around employees fully understanding what behaviors and actions generate excellent service as perceived by its customers. The organization’s employees understand the bigger picture and the importance of growing brand loyalty through extraordinary service.

New employees of the company endure multiple-week training sessions where they learn the ins and outs of the industry, internal systems and everyday skills. That training is followed by a one-week intensive coaching unit or ICU. During ICU, new hires are given real calls to handle and are provided additional support from seasoned agents to provide real-time assistance.

Global Payments doesn’t end the training there, it is an ongoing process for all employees. The company wants every employee to stay sharp, cross-train and remain focused on the customer. Unit managers, quality specialists, senior analysts and training specialists regularly provide team and one-on-one coaching.

The company also makes sure that the organization’s mission and values are known and taken seriously by all employees. That too is taught to them on their first day. Each employee is expected to know what the mission and values mean to them as well as why they’re the foundation of the daily behaviors and decisions made throughout all facets of the business.

Ongoing quality management with high standards and well-understood criteria is crucial to the company’s service culture. This dedication to quality is what helps each employee grow to become better and is what makes the company adhere to constantly improving its service to customers.

How to Reach: Global Payments Inc., (770) 829-8000 or www.globalpaymentsinc.com

Published in Atlanta
Wednesday, 31 August 2011 20:01

Hard deadlines

When Kennesaw State University decided to build a new soccer complex, it expected strong customer service from Choate Construction Co., as the university has had Choate build 15 different projects throughout its campus.

But in addition to strong service, it also had a very tight and hard deadline: eight months in length so that the inaugural game for the Atlanta Beat women’s soccer franchise could be broadcast on Fox Sports Soccer Channel from the stadium.

“The original project schedule of eight months seemed challenging enough,” says Bob Heflin of the KSU Foundation. “Then consider, after several years of drought, we entered an extreme wet period in addition to freezing temperatures and snow causing us to lose 69 days to adverse weather. Many days it was difficult just to get to the job site trailer.”

Despite these challenges, Choate was able to apply innovative techniques to dry the soil and pour concrete in freezing temperatures in an effort to maintain the schedule. Additionally, crews worked nights and weekends to get the job done.

“The dedication of Choate people not only to the project but to the owner remains most impressive,” Heflin says. “From estimating to financials to on-site management and scheduling, their care and concern is reassuring. Add to that, the personal calls and visits from [the project manager] and [principal in charge] demonstrate that our project matters to everyone at Choate and is not just another project number.”

Founder and President Millard Choate wouldn’t expect anything less than this type of service. Strong customer service is one of the key values to the organization and its motto is “Reputation is everything.” By providing the best service, it has earned a strong reputation of quality, and 60 percent of its clients are repeat customers.

How to reach: Choate Construction Co., (678) 892-1200 or www.choateco.com

Published in Atlanta
Wednesday, 31 August 2011 20:01

Protecting what’s valuable

Chesley Brown International Inc. refuses to be another “polyester guard company” when it comes to the reputation it holds with communities and the customers it serves. That’s why in addition to supplying high-caliber security for clients and their multimillion assets, the security management company gives every employee the added role of ambassador of superior customer service.

Led by Brent Brown, who is the company’s founder, chairman, president and CEO, Chesley Brown’s culture of customer service excellence begins with training, so employees come to think of customer service as not just part of the job but the priority.

From the first lesson plan, the mission of providing customer-focused security management programs is a theme throughout the company’s training. Employees are trained not just in security protocol but with skills such as how to communicate with positive language, act professionally in difficult situations and handle mistakes. Completing training also requires employees to do a series of situational exercises in which actors portray hostile or verbally disruptive individuals who treat them with disrespect, so employees become adept at remaining calm and acting professionally in whatever circumstances they face.

To recognize and award success in its service culture, Brown conducts a monthly companywide conference call to acknowledge all security teams that have gone above and beyond for customers. Employees are also given ribbons for their uniforms in recognition for their accomplishments. To keep employees striving to achieve, Chesley Brown also places great value on employee recognition with its awards and recognition program.

Every new hire at Chesley Brown is instilled with the company’s service philosophy starting on day one. Yet instead of emphasizing to employees that they are security professionals who deliver premium customer service, the company’s approach is to show them they are actually customer service professionals who specialize in security. Chesley Brown’s dedication to its service culture has continued to earn it business with new and existing clients.

How to reach: Chesley Brown International Inc., (770) 436-3097 or www.chesleybrown.com

Published in Atlanta
Wednesday, 31 August 2011 20:01

Happiness by design

In addition to designing cell phone cases and accessories for mobile devices, Case-Mate is in the business of “designing” happiness. The company’s customer service philosophy is to make sure everything it does is designed to bring happiness to customers, partners, consumers and its communities.

Shashi Reddy, the founder and CEO of Case-Mate, leads the service philosophy at the company from the top down. In fact, Reddy often gives away his own, personal cell phone case to people that he meets in passing. Understanding that cell phones are actually personal extensions of their owners, he works to further a culture where that personal experience extends from the employees and the company itself. That is why the company’s customer service team is called the Customer Experience Group, their motto being: “making happiness happen.”

The Customer Experience Group is a close-knit community, and that family culture begins with training. While there is no manual that can teach the Case-Mate philosophy, there is two-week, one-on-one training session for every new employee. The training is broken up into four areas, beginning with product training, then systems training, policies and procedures, and shadowing. Throughout the training process, every new hire is given a training mentor to work with during all phases of training, which helps employees fully understand and embrace the tenets that form Case-Mate’s service culture.

The goal of the customer experience team is to make sure anyone who visits a Case-Mate location leaves with their expectations exceeded. Every employee focuses on making sure customers, many of which return time and again, are always met with quality products and quality service. Whether it’s offering special extras to repeat customers as a thank you or just because or adding a few complimentary items in with an order for service men or women overseas, team members treat every customer with the personalization of a VIP.

How to reach: Case-Mate, (770) 888-9965 or www.case-mate.com

Published in Atlanta
Wednesday, 31 August 2011 20:01

Team spirit

Each year, Philips Arena — run by Atlanta Spirit LLC and President Bob Williams — receives 2,000 applications for roughly 200 positions. Hiring the right individuals to provide a world-class customer service experience is the company’s main priority, so Atlanta Spirit has developed an extensive, robust training course designed to equip each new employee and existing employee with the necessary tools to achieve their service brand promise.

Once new employees are hired, they must attend a four-hour orientation that covers all necessary information for arena operations, and trains them on how to elevate simple tasks to create an even better experience for the customers who attend events in the area year-round.

After orientation, each employee works a four-hour shift with an existing employee, who becomes the new employee’s mentor. During a new employee’s tenth shift on the job, the person’s mentor shadows them to ensure that all processes and procedures are being observed.

Atlanta Spirit hires employees based on their desire to add value to the customer service experience at Philips Arena. Employees must quickly identify customer needs, find ways to create a shared experience and discover new ways to develop a “stickiness” factor that will get customers wanting to come back to the arena for future events.

But as much as the company expects its employees to provide in regard to the customer service experience, Atlanta Spirit strives to do the same for them. The company has implemented an employee retention program that rewards employees on an ongoing basis, based on the belief that recognition is a motivator to providing great customer service.

The Philips Arena customer service department has created a recognition program that includes recognition for one employee each month, who is selected to receive a gift for their work. The department also recognizes star performers each year at a staff banquet.

How to reach: Atlanta Spirit LLC, (404) 878-3000 or www.philipsarena.com

Published in Atlanta
Wednesday, 31 August 2011 21:01

A personal touch to business

Ashton Staffing has used service as a competitive advantage within its industry, emphasizing a personal approach to connecting associates with companies.

President and CEO Melissa Hulsey’s company focus on individualized connections has ensured a high rate of customer retention. After matching a candidate with a job, an Ashton representative checks in on the first day, second day and weekly to confirm both the client’s and employee’s satisfaction with the position. Results of these quality assurance calls are recorded, as well as customer feedback and suggestions for improvement, to ensure the company is providing high-quality customer service.

The company prides itself on treating clients as people as opposed to products. Ashton employees implement small tools, such as handwritten notes, birthday cards and thank-you notes, to make a big difference with their customers. The company also emphasizes rewarding clients by contributing to things that are important to them, whether it be sponsoring a baseball team, providing a prize for a special event or contributing to a charity in their name.

Ranked as the best place to work in Atlanta in a 2005 issue of the Atlanta Business Chronicle, as well as one of the best places to work in Georgia in a 2006 issue of Georgia Trend magazine, Ashton Staffing takes a strong stance on quality, personal interactions with its own employees, in addition to clients. This internal strategy encourages a positive atmosphere of service that enhances Ashton staff interactions with clients.

The company provides extensive training for new hires, continuing education and advancement, and encourages employee growth and internal promotion. Ashton associates are also given performance-based bonuses and profit-sharing incentives, encouraging active staff participation.

The distinct care and attention given to Ashton Staffing clients, as well as the company’s own employees, have distinguished the company and bolstered customer retention.

How to reach: Ashton Staffing, (770) 419-1776 or www.ashtonstaffing.com

Published in Atlanta
Wednesday, 31 August 2011 20:01

Silver lining

Several years ago, AGCO Corp. suffered a company tragedy when its COO and another top executive were killed in a plane crash. The company had a memorial service at its headquarters, and numerous customers attended the ceremony, many driving through the night several hours to make it.

During the service, one customer after another went to the podium to speak not just about those who had died in the accident but about how many of the executives across the company had built personal relationships with them. It was certainly a testament of how well the agriculture manufacturing equipment company had treated its customers.

“I deal with many clients, but AGCO is one of a kind,” says Benton J. Mathis Jr. of Freeman Mathis & Gary LLP. “If every American manufacturer did business like AGCO does with its customers, in terms of building a quality product and providing exemplary customer service, we would be in a far better economy in this country.”

While that accident occurred several years ago and the company has changed a lot as it’s grown, one thing hasn’t changed — its commitment to strong customer service. Under the leadership of Chairman, President and CEO Martin Richenhagen, AGCO still strives to provide the best products and service possible to its customers around the world. He recognizes that one of the most powerful criteria a farmer will use in determining who to buy from is the quality of the dealer who sells and services that equipment. As such, the company provides significant support to its dealers in order to improve the quality of that network. It monitors each dealer’s performance and profitability and established programs that focus on continual dealer improvement.

By focusing on customer service, AGCO is ensuring that it continues to grow and be a leader in the industry.

How to reach: AGCO Corp., (770) 813-9200 or www.agcocorp.com

Published in Atlanta
Wednesday, 31 August 2011 20:31

Sponsors notes

Habif, Arogeti & Wynne LLP

Describe your organization’s philosophy of customer service?

Our goal is to let every client know they are important to us. We serve businesses of every size, both domestically and internationally. In every engagement, we strive to be responsive and add value, but we don’t and won’t stop there. We see ourselves as entrepreneurs, and that approach to problem-solving mirrors the way most of our clients approach business. So, in addition to competent, quality services, we seek deep relationships with our clients so that we can truly help them achieve their business goals.

Provide a case study that illustrates this philosophy?

When Closets and More needed an audit firm, the company reviewed interviewed at least six CPA firms. They selected Habif, Arogeti & Wynne based on our history of service with their CFO. Closets and More’s first audit covered two and a half years of financials. Jeffrey J. Lewis, president and CEO of Closets and More, said HA&W put together a package of services specifically tailored to meet their requirements.

“It was a challenging audit and there had been a transaction four years earlier,” he says. “Cleaning up some of the past practices took awhile. The expertise and capabilities HA&W brought to the table were very important to us.”

HA&W sought to bring value beyond the audit.

“Habif, Arogeti & Wynne are so entrenched in the community that their outside relationships are as important, or more important, to the growth and success of our business,” Lewis says. “There are continual seminars, webinars and opportunities to meet and greet other people in the industry. The opportunity to continue to work with those people has led to the point where we’re running two-thirds of our business on repeats and referrals.”

Lewis says the key to Closet and More’s success is taking care of every customer every day. “There is no question that Habif, Arogeti & Wynne is the correct choice for us.”

Learn more at www.hawcpa.com.

Northwestern Benefit Corp. of Georgia

How have you created a culture of customer service in your organization?

At Northwestern Benefit, our culture is intentional and purposeful. It is the foundation for our success. We place emphasis on our core values, the way we build lasting relationships and exceeding our clients’ expectations.

Before we can create an intentional service culture, we must be clear about the business we are in, which is client advocacy, plain and simple. Without a clear service vision and written service strategy, it would be impossible for us to have an intentional service culture. We are not a company that expects just our ‘customer service’ representatives to uphold extraordinary customer service; we expect all of our associates, from our CEO to our front receptionist, to provide world-class service.

Through our leadership team, we are teaching, training and measuring our associates every day against these standards. In the regular practice of our 25 Tenets, we teach our associates to recognize all opportunities to exceed customers’ expectations, regardless of the circumstances, and to practice blameless problem-solving. Also, it is important that all of our associates clearly understand our nonnegotiable standards, those actions and practices that we will always do, and those we should never do.

Our service brand promises are at the forefront of every decision we make, both with internal and external clients:

•          Create a feeling

•          Keep it simple

•          Drop it in their hands

•          Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do

In order to maintain a resilient service culture, we must empower our associates to take all necessary steps to make Northwestern Benefit easy to do business with by continuously scrutinizing our customer service cycle, which is all the points of contact and interaction that our customers will encounter when doing business with us. It is important to us that associates are given the authority to fully engage and take action to quickly resolve problems; we believe empowerment shouldn’t just be in the hands of management.

Learn more at www.nbcga.com.

Freeman Mathis & Gary LLP

What is your philosophy of customer service?

Freeman Mathis & Gary LLP strongly believes in certain core values that always govern our conduct in the practice of law and representation of our clients. And one of those core values is a true commitment to delivering the highest level of support and service to our clients and doing so with integrity, honesty and superior competence.

‘Client-Centered — Results Driven’ is not only our motto, but it also is our philosophy. We understand that clients, like people, have different needs. That is why we tailor our representation of client matters in the manner most appropriate to the client’s needs. Every client is important to our firm, and we strive to make them feel that way in our communications with them. Whether it is responding to phone calls promptly or e-mailing our client with the latest development, we excel in communicating with our clients in a timely and efficient manner so they can make practical and effective decisions. Or, in many instances, our client-driven philosophy is highlighted when we are asked to get involved in a time-sensitive matter that requires the immediate attention of our lawyers and staff.

Can you provide an example in action?

One of our clients, a national logistics company, called us worried when one of their employees left and began using confidential information in the solicitation of current customers. As one of our client’s customers already had left to go with the former employee’s new company, lawyers from our labor and employment team quickly put together a complaint and filed a lawsuit where we asked the court to enjoin the former employee from using confidential information in the solicitation of customers. After the lawsuit was filed, the former employee voluntarily agreed to pay our client a sum of money and, most importantly, agreed to stop her unlawful solicitation of customers and to comply with her contractual obligations in the future.

Another example of our customer-driven commitment is highlighted by a unique service offered by our Transportation Law Practice Group. This group, which has extensive experience defending trucking companies in motor vehicle liability claims, maintains a 24/7 emergency response team. Through the ERT, our firm provides clients with immediate around-the-clock access to our attorneys and network of qualified investigators and experts. So, if a truck swerves and hits another car and we get the call about the accident, the ERT immediately moves into action and coordinates the various delicate aspects of the accident investigation in preparation for the defense of a future lawsuit.

Simply stated, whether it is an employment issue, a trucking accident or another matter for a client, our commitment remains the same. We are your partners in the law.

Learn more at www.fmglaw.com.

BlueWave Computing

What is your organization’s philosophy of customer service?

Many companies are forced to view IT services as a black box. There is little accountability or visibility into the process and little information provided about how the organization can better manage costs and IT performance. We excel at providing complete accountability for what we do and putting control back into the hands of the customer. We believe that by providing transparency into our actions and taking complete accountability for the outcomes that it forces us to continually be better at what we do and provide outstanding customer service.

How does your organization make customer service a competitive advantage and price less relevant?

BlueWave has invested years of research and development into creating a Web-based IT management system that allows us to fully manage and monitor our work and our customers’ networks. Clients can log on to an IT dashboard where they can monitor service levels, network status, their IT budget and spending levels, IT assets and much more. Our exclusive IT quality management system ensures continuous improvement of the customer’s IT infrastructure. The Atlas Dashboard provides unprecedented visibility into support call status, network uptime, monthly budgets, team performance, spam/virus filtering, asset management and more. The bottom line — BlueWave keeps technology highly reliable, cost efficient and under control to meet our clients’ evolving IT needs.

How do you go above and beyond?

We see ourselves as partners with our customers in their businesses. We are their IT department and take that responsibility with the utmost sense of urgency and importance. To ensure their critical systems are always available, we provide around the clock support for our customers’ critical infrastructure. For example, if a customer’s server should go down at 2 a.m. on a Sunday night, we will have an engineer working on it within the hour to get it back up and running before their employees arrive at work on Monday morning. The dedication of our team to this mission goes above and beyond normal support on a regular basis.

Learn more at www.bluewave-computing.com.

Country Club of the South

How does your organization deliver world-class customer service?

We deliver world-class service by ensuring our team — at all levels — delivers above and beyond any expectations.

This starts with our club and golf course. Opened in 1987, The Country Club of the South is an Atlanta-area club and golf course that is graced with unsurpassed natural beauty. Of all the Jack Nicklaus golf courses in Georgia, this Atlanta golf course presents one of the most challenging layouts. Lush pines and hardwoods, rolling hills, lakes, streams and granite outcroppings were preserved to provide spectacular natural hazards and scenery. Voted one of the ‘Top 20 Best Courses in Georgia’ by Golf Digest, our 7,000-yard, world-class championship Atlanta golf course hosted the Champions Tour Nationwide Championship from 1991 to 1994. All of these features and more combine to make The Country Club of the South the best of all Atlanta golf clubs.

It then extends to the homes where people live. Nestled away on more than 900 acres of beautiful countryside, the community hosts more than 700 homes in an unmatched lifestyle. Residents can find not only a perfect home but also a perfect family environment, highlighted by a quaint community center, basketball and tennis courts, swimming pool, as well as two well-maintained playgrounds and scenic vistas throughout the year.

And then there is the club, itself. The Country Club of the South is the perfect club for the busy family. We provide an unparalleled level of service. Our people and world-class facilities combine to create a fun and relaxing environment for family and professional activities, including business functions, weddings and other private events.

Learn more at www.clubcorp.com/Clubs/Country-Club-of-the-South.

The DiJulius Group

What is your customer service philosophy?

At The DiJulius Group, we believe in anticipating what our clients needs are. We do this by really listening to what people tell us and using ‘secret service’ to personalize our relations at all levels. Our clients are people who we get to know at a deep level and whom we trust as much as they trust us. Family, occupation, recreation, dreams are the types of information we look for in our interactions with our clients which help us create long-term bonds.

How do you make training an integral part of this?

As the leading customer experience consulting firm, we have to walk the talk every time. There are many organizations out there who do everything from customer service training to consulting. We differ from them not only by teaching world-class principles, experiences and systems but also by creating wonderful experiences in any and all touch points. This is only possible by being a team of certified customer service specialists willing to serve at all times. Though our culture is trained heavily on what are some of the fundamentals of becoming world-class, our rigorous hiring is what truly sets us apart. You have to love to want to serve others, to help and to go above and beyond. We can't train for this. Yet these people do come to surface during our hiring process. We can't train for attitude but we can train for technical skills.

These same people become the heart of The DiJulius Group. And together we set goals and objectives allays aligned with an ultimate cause. It’s the cause that makes teams move mountains and it’s a cause that makes people go above and beyond by their very own nature. Our cause is simple really: to change the world by creating a customer service revolution.

Learn more at www.thedijuliusgroup.com.

Published in Atlanta