Singular focus Featured

9:44am EDT July 22, 2002

Applied Laser Technologies was growing fast and Dov Nisman was losing sleep.

Despite nearly a decade of solid success, the owner of the Garfield Heights-based toner cartridge recycling company often found himself wondering if his employees were treating ALT’s customers the same way he would.

“Obviously, as business owners, we were always concerned about customer service,” says Nisman, who owns and operates the company with his wife, Judy Harshman. “We’ve always wrestled with the idea of how do we take our culture, our feeling about how we should deal with the customer, and spread it to our employees so they can carry our vision.”

So 18 months ago, the couple embarked on a new customer service strategy. They enlisted consultant Jeanne Coughlin of the Cleveland-based Coughlin Group Inc. to help them draft a plan to bring everyone in the organization on board with their vision.

Though Nisman readily admits it is difficult to gauge exactly how effective these kind of initiatives are, sales rose 35 percent in 1999, far surpassing his goal of 15 percent.

“I really attribute our customer service to a big portion of this,” he says. “There has really been a tremendous improvement in our company pulling together as a team.”

The plan was multifaceted, but here are four ways Nisman and Harshman focus their employees’ attention on customer service.

Share your vision

To launch the plan, Nisman set up a meeting for his employees at a local hotel where they could escape the usual office distractions. They ate dinner and socialized before diving into an educational program focused on the importance of customer service.

“It was a social gathering where you’re out of the day-to-day rat race of the office,” explains Nisman. “This whole process helped us with not only providing better service, but it also helped us to be together as a team.”

Reinforce the message

As a result of the initial success, Nisman and Harshman now schedule an off-site meeting once every 90 days, where employees and management gather to discuss different customer service strategies.

“We learn about relationships and people and a lot of the different psychology that goes into customer service,” says Harshman. “It’s not one of these seminars where you go downtown for three hours and learn about customer service. These things need to be repeated over and over again. That’s why we continue this and we learn more and more every time.”

Give your employees a voice

Nisman uses these quarterly meetings to ask his employees what ALT could do to improve customer service. Workers are also encouraged to make suggestions at any time if they see something that could be done better.

“A lot of the ideas come from employees rather than just us,” he says. “We discuss together what we can do to improve customer service.”

Reward good work

Nisman and Harshman reward their staff for positive feedback from clients, but it is not always monetary. Individual recognition in the weekly company newsletter often inspires employees to put in the extra effort necessary to make a customer happy.

“People aren’t always happy in their jobs by how much money they receive,” says Harshman. “It’s how they’re appreciated.

“When employees see these (comment cards) come in, they are really inspired and motivated to do an excellent job.”

How to reach: Applied Laser Technologies, (216) 663-8181

Jim Vickers (jvickers@sbnnet.com) is an associate editor at SBN magazine.