David Forsthoffer makes the customer king at Safety Solutions Featured

8:01pm EDT August 31, 2011
David Forsthoffer makes the customer king at Safety Solutions

It was late May last year that David Forsthoffer was informed that two major customers had accepted his company’s bids to open on-site safety apparel stores at their manufacturing plants ? but there was one major concern.

Both companies wanted the stores opened by June 15. That gave Safety Solutions Inc. about three weeks to assemble and install what usually takes six to eight weeks. To top it off, they weren’t even close to each other. One was some 600 miles from the other.

The challenge was handed to the management team, made up of the CEO and three upper-level executives, and an existing group that handled these types of projects,

“We had to mobilize and get everything from the technology, all the computers and software designed as well as everything from the store fixtures to the racking plus inventory,” says Forsthoffer, president and CEO. “It was quite a challenge, and the way we accomplished all that was by pulling in all our resources.”

Here are some pages from Forsthoffer’s playbook on how to meet such tight deadlines.

The first concern is to have an implementation team. You’ll be ahead of the game if you already have one in place that slide right into action, but at the least, you’ll need people like the CEO, director of sales and director of operations in the group.

“I’m part of it,” Forsthoffer says. “When we have these deadlines, we all sit down and ask, ‘How are we doing to do this?’” This has to be systematically answered. Each department’s role needs to be defined.”

The customer service and sales departments can make a list of all the contacts needed at the customer’s site to ensure that communications get to the right people. The IT department can purchase the necessary computer hardware and program the customer-specific software. The procurement department will manage the acquisition of physical goods and fixtures. The operations center will need to handle logistics.

“From there, do a lot of delegating,” Forsthoffer says. “Delegation is key.”

Once the assignments are made, it’s a matter of constant monitoring so that each department meets its deadlines. That can mean overtime and weekends to get the work accomplished.

“We had a lot of people in the company involved in duties that they didn’t traditionally do to solve the challenge,” Forsthoffer says.

When the moment arrived to open the stores, all was in place.

“We ended up with very satisfied customers, and I think that’s the whole moral of the story,” Forsthoffer says.

Satisfied customers don’t happen by accident. Forsthoffer’s approach to providing exceptional customer service is a combination of attitude and culture.

“Service your customers with care, sincerity, enthusiasm and a passion, always giving them more than was expected,” he says. Find employees who want to do business and like to do business with people.

Always have a positive, “can-do” attitude. Never compromise on ethics or integrity. Treat associates, customers and suppliers with the utmost respect. Maintain a healthy work-life balance.

“That’s for everyone in the company,” he says. “Put the customer’s best interest first and you’d be amazed at what happens later.”

What happens later? For Safety Solutions in 2011, it’s being on track to sell $54 million in products.

While those five points solidify the mission, it doesn’t end there.

“To add to that, it’s one order or one person at a time,” Forsthoffer says. It is comforting to customers that the company cares enough about them to commit a specific person to their account.

“Understand what is important to them, all the details from products to packing slips ? become an extension of their company,” he says. “Do things their way. Provide exceptional customer service from the start to the finish.”

How to reach: Safety Solutions Inc., (800) 232-7463 or www.safetysolutions.com

Don’t sweat collections

An exceptional customer service approach needn’t be limited to the sales department. David Forsthoffer says even the accounts receivable department, traditionally cast in the role of bill collectors, can see effective results.

“Let them know they are part of the customer service process,” he says. “It’s never easy to collect past-due funds, but when you are collecting them, collect them with the attitude that you’re in customer service.”

One of the keys to customer service success is to be a relentless communicator.

First, send out a friendly reminder. Make it clear that it’s a reminder and not a notice.

The next step should the reminder not help is to make a personal phone call.

“The phone call again will be handled in a very respectful manner,” says Forsthoffer, president and CEO of Safety Solutions Inc. “Again, with a customer service flair to it.”

From there, continue to be patient, sometimes even to a fault. But if you stick with it, your collections, past-dues and write-offs can be minimal.

“It’s really a great way to maintain customer relationships because some customers, like many companies, have ups and downs,” he says. “Try to help see those people through those down periods again, treating them respect and again with that customer service mindset.”

How to reach: Safety Solutions Inc., (800) 232-7463 or www.safetysolutions.com