Customer service has always been a priority at Invacare Corp. But the lack of a defined career path for the company’s customer service representatives was resulting in the loss of good employees.
Some decided to pursue other positions in the company while others left Invacare altogether. It was a problem that Gerry Blouch, the company’s president, knew needed to be addressed.
So in 2009, he began to look at how new and existing associates were being trained, tested and promoted in the customer service department. They looked at job descriptions and reviewed the training curriculum and set clear definitions for advancement at the company.
These steps created a more defined career path that helped give people a better sense of what they needed to do in order to grow. It also helped enhance a culture that drives home the message to every employee that customer service must be a priority.
Whether it’s the weekly team huddles to discuss timely informational updates or fun activities that build camaraderie between employees, Blouch, who added CEO to his title in January, asks Invacare personnel to constantly work hard in search of a better way to do their jobs and help the company’s customers.
That connection between employee and product is perhaps best exemplified by Invacare’s “A Day in a Chair” program. Customer service reps get firsthand experience as to what it’s like to be dependent on a wheelchair and the challenges that presents. The experience helps the products to be more than just something that Invacare makes, but something that customers depend on.
By emphasizing a level of compassion and the important role that employees can play in helping customers and showing how much the company values what employees do to that end, Invacare continues to raise the bar on customer service excellence.
How to reach: Invacare Corp., (440) 329-6000 or www.invacare.com
More than 6.5 million people nationwide get their benefits programs through Hyatt Legal Plans, and that’s not by accident. From the company’s inception, Hyatt Legal Plans has built the business by focusing on quality service. In fact, “Quality Service Always” is the mission statement of the company’s client service center.
It’s not the mission statement that CEO William Brooks is proud of. It’s the way his employees constantly follow through and even go above and beyond that mission statement. The service provided by Hyatt Legal Plans starts from the first phone call to their call center. Employees at Hyatt strive to provide service that ensures callers of their coverage plan, explains how their plan can benefit them and sets their minds at ease about the plan they are initiating.
To do those things, Hyatt Legal Plans hires only the best people to answer the phones. Only friendly, caring, compassionate people answer calls because they feel the call center is the showcase of the organization and the difference between them and the competition.
The biggest difference between Hyatt and the competition is that clients will always reach a client service representative when calling, typically within three seconds. Hyatt staffs for peak volumes of calls and ensures a live person will answer.
To further distinguish themselves in a highly competitive market, they focus not only on hiring the best people but providing an environment that encourages employees to stay. Hyatt has a program called Bravo awards. The program rewards customer service skills for client service representatives on a monthly and annual basis.
Employees earn Bravo cards for providing great service and for meeting monthly performance goals. Each month the people with Bravo cards and the top performers are rewarded with special prizes.
Hyatt views this program as an integral part of its strategy of focusing on quality issues and exceptional customer service.
HOW TO REACH: Hyatt Legal Plans, (216) 241-0022 or www.legalplans.com
While “going the extra mile” is a phrase often used to describe top customer service, to Great Lakes Integrated, it means all that ? and adding an extra full-time employee to make sure the job gets done right.
A major customer in Texas was looking to consolidate its print, fulfillment and distribution facilities. Great Lakes Integrated showed how it could bring potential savings. The company was concerned about the distance between the two firms, however.
To overcome the challenge, Great Lakes Integrated hired an employee to work on site to coordinate the work flow between the home and remote offices. The result was an impeccable experience that exceeded all expectations and the confidence that this type of partnership could handle the job demands with seamless, consistent effort from start to finish.
Jim Schultz, chairman and CEO, knows that such customer service does not happen by luck. Rather, it is learned through daily interactions among peers and through an example set by management. It starts with a thorough screening of job applicants, including behavioral interviews. All through the process, efforts are made to find potential employees whose beliefs complement the customer service philosophy.
The company has developed a number of systems to help build and provide world-class services ? from standard operating procedures on client interaction to quality delivery standards for products. For large-scale commercial print runs, customers are encouraged to monitor quality at the printing press in an executive suite complete with WiFi and TV.
Now in its 80th year, Great Lakes Integrated was built on the belief that excellent craftsmanship coupled with exceptional customer service would create a company heads above others in the communications industry. Many staff members have been with the company for 10 or more years, which translates to higher levels of service and a profound understanding of customer needs.
How to reach: Great Lakes Integrated, (216) 651-1500 or www.gll.com
People can golf and dine anywhere, but as Mark Gore puts it, they join a private club for the experience of incredibly personalized service, which makes cost insignificant.
As general manager of Firestone Country Club, Gore has seen firsthand the impact of excellent customer service. While many clubs around the country struggled in the difficult economic climate during the past few years, the fact that Firestone has prospered is a testament to the service it provides its members.
All of the club’s employees have a servant’s heart, and their goal is to make every person — member or guest — feel welcome and comfortable by creating a home-away-from-home experience. The club’s goal is to build relationships and enrich lives, which it does through three steps of service: warm welcomes, magic moments and fond farewells.
This starts with welcoming members and guests by name. E-mails are sent to the staff each day so they know who will be arriving and who has birthdays that day. Staff is expected to greet people by name and to make every attempt to be the first to say, “Hello,” “How are you?” or “How can we help?” Firestone keeps a MemberPride database that has information about every guest, including name, title, educational background, birthday, anniversary, interests, etc. The club also has a picture profile book for each department where every member is listed with his or her picture so staff can learn to recognize people.
Magic moments are random acts of kindness in which staff members look for ways to make someone’s day. It may mean leaving a note or something special for that person with his or her golf clubs or at another location within the club. And then the fond farewells start with always saying thank you and we appreciate you. It also means extending an invitation for guests to return.
This approach makes members and guests alike feel like VIPs every time they arrive.
How to reach: Firestone Country Club, (330) 644-8441 or www.firestonecountryclub.com
At Findaway World, customer service starts with the notion that employees aren’t called employees or associates or team members. They are findawayers. Not surprisingly, “Find a way” is one of the seven core values of the company that manufactures and distributes the Playaway, a self-playing prerecorded audiobook.
Findaway’s CEO Mitch Kroll and his team have a multilayer recruiting process to ensure that when they bring in new employees, they fit the company’s DNA. Each new findawayer learns how to prepare the product for customers and is taught the importance of making things as close to perfect as can be obtained. Then, findawayers are given expectations on how the company would like to treat customers both internally and externally.
As a result, every customer is treated in the best way possible. Each is a VIP customer, and there is no difference how a quantity shopper is treated from someone who buys only a few units. Customer experience specialists take the lead on being the friendly voice customers talk to if they ever experience difficulties. Flexible ordering, a simple return policy and billing solutions are offered, as is help on title recommendations from librarians on staff.
Thanks to an emphasis on empowerment and engagement, findawayers are entrusted to make decisions on behalf of the company
While in many companies customer service is a separate department, at Findaway World customer service is an idea and responsibility that permeates every aspect of the company. In each transaction, Findaway’s reputation is at stake and success is based on the ability to sell each customer exactly the product they requested and within the fastest time possible.
Even better things are ahead for this year with the creation of a new quality team and the hiring of the first quality assurance manger to ensure Findaway exceeds customer expectations.
How to reach: Findaway World, (877) 893-0808 or www.playaway.com
Buying an insurance policy can be daunting, partly because if the insured scenario never actually happens, it can result in a losing financial scenario for the investor. However, Family Heritage Life Insurance Co. of America shows its clients that buying insurance can actually be a win-win.
Family Heritage has grown more than 30 percent annually since Howard Lewis, its chairman, president and CEO, founded the firm 22 years ago. Under Lewis’s leadership, the firm has continued to deliver on its mission to provide financial security and peace of mind for customers through its customer-driven programs and systems, many of which are unique to the insurance industry.
One example is Family Heritage’s zero-risk premium return policy. The return of premium benefit gives people peace of mind in knowing that they are insured in case they need it, but if it turns out they don’t use the insurance, Family Heritage will return their money. In either case, the money is there waiting.
When employees can empathize with customers and relate to their challenges, they are better equipped to help them. That is why all Family Heritage agents are quickly immersed in the service-driven culture from day one. The firm also encourages its agents to educate themselves about the issues facing current and potential customers, for example, by participating in sales calls to find out more about different customer experiences.
Another way Family Heritage provides peace of mind for customers is by offering services that make handling insurance-related issues quick and easy. Instead of giving customers no option but to navigate through a phone menu, Family Heritage agents make sure customers can always get their claims issues addressed by a live person. The firm also employs speedy claims processing systems and direct deposit of claims so that clients have faster access to their claims money, which is one less thing to worry about in a stressful time.
How to reach: Family Heritage Life Insurance Co. of America, (440) 922-5222 or www.familyheritagelife.com
Luverne Skillicorn had been looking forward to this day for months. She was about to meet the Siberian tiger her family had adopted on her behalf at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.
The only problem was at 94, Skillicorn was confined to a wheelchair. The zoo tram did not go to the Northern Trek, and the long journey taken by foot would be too much for Skillicorn. It seemed as though Skillicorn’s dream was about to be dashed. But just when all seemed lost, two zoo employees appeared on a first aid cart and offered to transport Skillicorn to see her tiger.
“They are our heroes because we could not have left the zoo without getting Mom to the tigers,” wrote Ruth Skillicorn, Luverne’s daughter, in a letter to the zoo. “They went out of their way not only to get us there but to do everything they could to make Mom’s ride comfortable.”
It’s that philosophy of going above and beyond the call of duty to assist visitors to the zoo that Director Steve Taylor hopes to instill in each of his employees from the moment they come to work at the zoo.
The goal is actually to identify zoo visitors who have a need and assist them before they even ask for help. Employees are trained on facts and information about the zoo and also on how to deliver that information.
They learn about body language, tone of voice, attitude and concentration, and the importance of using each of those in such a way that it enhances the experience of zoo guests. Each aspect of the training is conveyed face to face and in a handbook that helps to reinforce the knowledge. It all culminates in a tour of the zoo that helps employees take all that they have learned and prepare to apply it in practice.
How to reach: Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, (216) 661-6500 or www.clemetzoo.com
It was a project for which Think Media Studios took no money, but there is no doubt employees were richer for the experience. The video and event production house became acquainted with The Littlest Heroes while working on a paying job for another client.
The Littlest Heroes works with Northeast Ohio children who have cancer to try to improve the quality of their lives. A member of the Think Media team was so moved by the story of the organization and its cause that The Littlest Heroes’ Founder Blazine Monaco was invited to the studio. The purpose was to discuss ways that Think Media could support the worthy cause.
“Think Media’s staff went above and beyond in every phase of video production, never putting the project secondary to their own production schedule although they were donating the entire project,” Monaco says. “It was apparent that exceptional customer service was not something they had to work at but a standard part of operations.”
The effort is part of a philosophy of carrying service beyond the walls of the Think Media office and into the lives of the company’s employees, says Brian Glazen, the company’s owner and producer.
Employees work hard at Think Media and are told to prepare for that right from the outset. But the goal of the hard work and dedication to quality service is to put the Think Media Studio name in the best possible light and to go above and beyond in giving customers what they expect, and then some.
Glazen wants clients to walk away from their experience with a quality product and a feeling of fulfillment.
As for The Littlest Heroes project, it seems clear that this goal was met.
“They embraced the project, researched our needs, interviewed constituents, and the end product verifies the heart put behind the project,” Monaco says.
How to reach: Think Media Studios, (440) 995-0600 or www.thinkmediastudios.com
State Industrial Products launched a new branding program in 2007 with the commitment to “Care for Work Environments.” But that’s just a result of caring for its first priority: the customer.
At the company, which manufactures and distributes cleaning and maintenance solutions, account managers are trained to serve as a single point-of-contact for customers. New hires start under the individual guidance of a sales manager then cross-train so they can answer most questions — and even perform maintenance on-site.
The company recently purchased a handheld program for account managers that provides immediate customer information and order tracking. The system, which was implemented in 2008, was the largest technology investment in the company’s history.
President and CEO Harold Uhrman empowers other employees, as well. Customer service associates go through two weeks of training — shadowing another agent and passing progress tests — before they interact with customers. Then they’re equipped to resolve problems quickly without supervisor intervention.
At least 95 percent of orders ship within 24 hours, but the opportunity to serve extends far beyond shipping. The bulk of customer service happens through the Circle of Service after the initial sale is made. Employees install systems and train customers on their use. Account managers continue visiting customers on a regular basis to check their progress and help with troubleshooting and additional training.
Even State Industrial’s products reflect their commitment to serve customers. In 2007, the company introduced a line of certified green cleaning products. Because environmentalism is important to — and, in some cases, even a requirement of — customers, State Industrial adopted the initiative.
How to reach: State Industrial Products, (216) 861-7114 or www.stateindustrial.com
For most people, they don’t hear from their accountant except around tax time, but at Skoda Minotti, Gregory Skoda, the firm’s chairman, and his team of professionals work hard year-round to ensure that they’re reaching out to their clients.
Beyond helping their clients grow through various business and financial service offerings, Skoda Minotti also helps its clients stay up to date on industries that matter to them. The firm offers more than 200 different industry newsletters for its clients to choose from, free of charge, and sends them out quarterly. And then at the end of the year, all clients receive a free tax-planning meeting, regardless if the firm simply prepares their taxes or provides more extensive services.
But beyond just the business-to-business interaction, Skoda Minotti takes it one step further by actually partnering with its clients. When one client needs a service, it often refers another client to that business. Skoda Minotti also uses the services of its clients. In fact, when the firm added 19,000 square feet to its building six years ago, it used more than 10 of its clients for different elements of the construction.
Skoda Minotti also looks to recognize its clients for their achievements when it’s appropriate. It regularly nominates them for awards and honors in the community, and 16 of its clients have won the Weatherhead 100, 15 were recognized with the NEO Success Award and 14 won the Fast Track 50 award.
Lastly, the firm as a whole couldn’t do this without outstanding people. Skoda Minotti hires great people by having candidates interview with four different people and asking them questions about what they consider to be good client service and to explain situations in which they had a difficult client and how they handled it as well as times when they went above and beyond to meet a customer’s needs. These kinds of questions ensure the firm gets people who will fit with the culture and continue the company’s standard of excellence.
How to reach: Skoda Minotti, (440) 449-6800 or www.skodaminotti.com