Tuesday, 26 May 2009 20:00

The taste of service

When a young couple was excitedly planning their wedding, they were also getting discouraged by the caterers they visited until they met with Bill Rini and his team at A Taste of Excellence.

The couple had a South African background and wanted to incorporate some of their ethnic foods into the reception menu, but thus far, nobody had been able to do so. While it was something new and different, he wasn’t going to let them down, so he researched the cuisine and put together a selection of local dishes for them to taste. When they arrived and started trying each food, they were delighted at how well he had done and chose A Taste of Excellence to handle their reception needs.

This is just one way that Rini, president of the catering company, and his team aim to please their customers. While providing the freshest food with the highest quality ingredients is one goal, they also strive to provide everything their clients could need for their event, such as linens, utensils and tents, so the clients can relax and enjoy their event. In one situation, a woman was having a large cookout, and it was suggested she reserve a tent, but she didn’t want to ruin the look of her yard, so she opted not to. As it got closer to the event, the weather forecast called for rain, so she decided to request one after all. The problem was that all of the tents were already booked, but an employee found one available in Michigan, so the employee drove a company truck there and brought the tent back for the client. It did end up raining that day, and thanks to the company’s service commitment, that customer’s event wasn’t ruined.

With everyone on the team committed to pleasing customers in these ways, it’s helped A Taste of Excellence gain an outstanding service provider reputation.

How to reach: A Taste of Excellence, (440) 845-0800 or www.taste-food.com

Published in Akron/Canton
Tuesday, 26 May 2009 20:00

Beyond the basics

Many CPA firms offer their clients the basic services of financial planning, but Howard, Wershbale & Co. works with its clients to ensure that nothing slips through the cracks. The company understands that people appreciate special treatment, and it makes certain that clients feel they are the most important person, no matter what.

This starts with the firm choosing to hire people who are interested in a career, not simply a job. With the right people, President and CEO Stephen E. Stanisa and his team have put rules of practice in place to ensure that they always provide their customers with world-class service. These rules focus on client services and teamwork. Current and potential clients can expect a commitment to quality, integrity and professionalism. They can also expect the service to reflect an appropriate understanding of the client’s business and personal needs, as well as an embracing attitude to changing technology, the client’s growth and profitability goals.

HWCO initiates regular client surveys to keep track of client expectations. To stay on the leading edge of technology in order to provide world-class service, HWCO provides employees with ongoing training. It also uses benchmarks and comparables to keep the company and employees aware of the industry best practices, which play an important role in providing extraordinary service.

In order to provide first-class customer service to its clients, the company’s employees have to be knowledgeable and motivated. An example of this is HWCO’s pink slip program, where each busy season, the principals and senior managers nominate employees on a weekly basis for going the extra mile for customers. Each Friday, two names are drawn and the winners receive gift certificates for restaurants, movies or other fun things. The dollar amounts for the prizes vary each month, but regardless, it keeps employees motivated to provide strong service.

How to reach: Howard, Wershbale & Co., (216) 831-1200 or www.hwco.com

Published in Akron/Canton
Tuesday, 26 May 2009 20:00

Building on service

When a client contacted Fortney & Weygandt Inc. nine years after its work had been completed, Bob Fortney, the company’s owner and president, didn’t have any responsibility to do anything to help that client. Yet even though it was long after the one-year guarantee period had expired, Fortney & Weygandt sent a team of people to look over the situation and arranged for a subcontractor to do the needed work. It was just one way that the construction services company goes above and beyond for its clients.

This level of service starts at the top with Fortney himself and extends down to every employee. Before a project even starts, employees are trained to educate customers and provide them with value engineered alternatives to ensure that they receive the best project possible at the best cost available.

Then every project has the highest levels of service, and jobsite superintendents are armed with mobile communication tools, such as laptops, cell phones and digital cameras, to ensure that they and their teams are able to address problems and answer questions quickly and efficiently. This is especially important given that in the construction field, problems can arise weekly, so having capable people who are able to assess the situation quickly, see the solutions and then deliver on those is absolutely critical to the company’s success.

Fortney & Weygandt has done such a good job over the years that one of its clients said he would rate the firm among the top contractors he had ever worked with in his 35 years of experience. In another project, the firm received a letter from the city building inspector complimenting it on how professional, courteous and enjoyable the company was to deal with despite his high demands, inclement weather, subcontractor issues and inadequate construction documents from the architects. Letters and compliments like these show that the firm is building a solid service foundation.

How to reach: Fortney & Weygandt Inc., (440) 716-4000 or www.fortneyweygandt.com

Published in Akron/Canton
Saturday, 26 May 2007 20:00

A step above

While some professional services firms are only in touch with clients during tax season, Skoda, Minotti & Co. takes a proactive customer service approach, giving it valuable opportunities to recognize tax-savings opportunities for its clients throughout the year.

This allows it to identify common needs among clients and acquire the capabilities to fill those needs. In addition, it allows Skoda Minotti — led by Greg Skoda — to keep clients up-to-date on the latest developments in industries related to their business.

Skoda Minotti professionals also set themselves apart by incorporating a personal touch into their service. The firm’s low employee turnover ensures clients are served by a familiar face, when and where it is convenient for them — often in the client’s home or on the weekends. And that service doesn’t extend to just the best clients — Skoda Minotti delivers on the promise of VIP customer service to every client, striving to reach the above-and-beyond level regardless of size, revenue or services used.

But despite their best efforts, the professionals at Skoda Minotti realize that mistakes will still be made. That is why, following every engagement, the team meets for a debriefing, grading its performance and discussing what it can do better next time.

The firm uses those results to encourage employees to deliver on the promise of extraordinary client service every day. This means more than just offering good client service — it means being innovative, ethical, accessible, reliable, responsible, responsive, dependable and accountable for their actions, exceeding expectations, sharing a client’s vision and communicating openly.

In addition, the firm allows employees to count time spent volunteering as part of their workday, because management feels it is as important to serve the community as it is to serve its clients.

HOW TO REACH: Skoda, Minotti & Co., www.skodaminotti.com

Published in Akron/Canton
Saturday, 26 May 2007 20:00

Whatever it takes

At InfoCision, meeting clients’ needs is the company’s No. 1 priority, and its employees are willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that clients receive the highest return on their investment.

The company — headed by President and CEO Carl Albright — doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all program. Instead, an expert team of marketers designs each client’s telemarketing program to generate results that meet or exceed goals.

To make sure employees are on board with its focus on customer service, Info-Cision hires mature, experienced communicators who view telephone marketing as a career and who have a commitment to excellence not seen elsewhere in the industry. Through intensive training — which puts a strong emphasis on excellent customer service — employees become experts in interpersonal communication skills and the product line being marketed, allowing them to give a personalized, flexible presentation on behalf of the company’s clients.

As part of that training, InfoCision encourages all employees to adopt a “whatever it takes” attitude to get it right the first time, which could mean working extra hours, traveling to various locations or helping other employees with problems.

But the culture of customer service does-n’t stop with training. InfoCision has developed a quality assurance system in which employees are consistently monitored, pinpointing concerns early and correcting them before they become problems.

This stress on customer service excellence begins at the top, with upper management preaching quality customer service and ethical behavior and practicing what they preach.

As a result, whether a person’s job deals with helping clients or supporting other employees, the entire staff understands the need to provide prompt, accurate and courteous customer service.

HOW TO REACH: InfoCision, www.infocision.com

Published in Akron/Canton
Saturday, 26 May 2007 20:00

Going the extra mile

Trying to be a small town grocery store may be a feat met with skepticism in today’s cutthroat competitive landscape dominated by national chains with extensive buying power, but Akron’s West Point Market not only competes, it thrives by delivering that small-town feel and focusing on customer service.

Continuing the legacy started in 1936, CEO Richard Vernon and his team provide a world-class customer service experience to every customer who walks through the market’s doors. It all starts with the type of people who work at West Point Market.

The hiring process is nott for the prospective employees. Applicants go through three interviews with directors and administrators. It’s a process that allows Vernon to select only the most qualified and customer-oriented for the market’s staff.

In addition, associates are required to enroll in the West Point Market Academy. At this training workshop, they are taught the importance of excellent customer service and how they can accomplish this with each customer.

From the beginning, customer satisfaction has been key. Vernon’s predecessor and father, Chairman Russell Vernon, wholeheartedly believed service and customer care were of the utmost importance. Today, the Russ Vernon Spirit Award motivates employees to follow in his footsteps.

Since the days of Russ Vernon, West Point Market has used three steps to make sure it is delivering when it comes to customer satisfaction: Find out what the customer wants, get it for him or her accurately, politely and enthusiastically, and go the extra mile.

An architecturally appealing store adds to the perfect shopping experience. Customers are welcomed promptly upon arrival and offered assistance throughout the store.

If this is not enough to entice the shopper to return, additional benefits include a Club Card for frequent shoppers, which rewards customers for their continued purchases of coffee, cheese and oven-ready entrees. Also, if a customer is not completely satisfied with West Point Market’s products, he or she can return the items, even without a receipt.

Today more than ever, West Point Market breaks through the idea that a smaller company must sacrifice quality in order to compete on price.

HOW TO REACH: West Point Market, (330) 864-2151 or www.westpointmarket.com

Published in Akron/Canton
Saturday, 26 May 2007 20:00

Competitive edge

Cleveland-based Lincoln Electric Co. is not only an expert in the design, development and manufacturing of welding products, it strives to be an expert in the area of customer service, as well.

Rick Trivisonno, Lincoln Electric’s director of customer service and community affairs, says his company wants to provide a total welding solution to its customers, so it continues to maintain technically trained field sales representatives and an application engineering department for customer support.

To further enhance customer service, the company recently incorporated industry-leading service standards that were benchmarked from some of the world’s most successful companies.

Its customer service department was reorganized, and the yearlong process incorporated operating practices from Six Sigma and training principles from Dale Carnegie, as well as leading procedures, methods and measurable reliability standards.

Technically knowledgeable customer service representatives now handle incoming calls to immediately help with cross-functional issues. Employees are equipped with the latest customer support technology and are empowered by Lincoln’s management team to make customer-focused decisions to speed inquiry and warranty processing.

Lincoln Electric also has programs to address service defects. It monitors fill rates for products, promise and delivery dates for shipping to customers, and warranty fulfillment times for immediate equipment repair. When a customer orders replacement parts that are out of stock, the company offers free upgrades for next-day shipments.

To recognize its VIP clients, Lincoln Electric offers incentives to its top distributor customers as a way to reinvest in their future growth. The Chairman’s Reward for Performance Excellence also recognizes its top distributor customers.

HOW TO REACH: The Lincoln Electric Co., (216) 481-8100 or www.lincolnelectric.com

Published in Akron/Canton
Saturday, 26 May 2007 20:00

Supporting role

As a national provider of supplemental health insurance products, Broadview Heights-based Family Heritage Life Insurance Company of America serves two primary customer groups: its policy-owners and its agents.

Ed Rocheck, senior vice president of administration at Family Heritage, says policyowners — individuals and families who purchase the company’s products — receive value, convenience and security from the company.

The company’s products are designed with a winwin approach. Its Return of Premium feature provides a return of all premiums paid, less any claims received, to the policyowner after a specified number of years. This allows policyowners to have the insurance coverage in case they need it and returns all premiums to them if the coverage is never used. This feature allows Family Heritage to make price less relevant in the buying decision.

Family Heritage wants employees to treat policyowners the way they would like to be treated, and new employees are encouraged to spend a day in the field with an agent to watch the sales process. This training not only puts a face on the policyowners but also helps employees appreciate the agent’s role within the company.

The company also treats its independent contractor agents as customers, and they receive speed, quality and support from the company.

Agents who have questions are welcome to call anyone at the corporate headquarters, including the executives, and responses are provided as quickly as possible. Speed also comes into play with customer applications, which are processed within 24 hours.

When agents visit the home office, they are treated with the utmost respect. Meetings are scheduled with the executive team, and employees to gather so the agent can meet them. This, in turn, promotes a spirit of teamwork and shared vision.

HOW TO REACH: Family Heritage Life Insurance Company of America, (440) 922-5200 or www.familyheritagelife.com

Published in Akron/Canton
Saturday, 26 May 2007 20:00

Proactive solutions

When you think about the vendors that support a business and make it successful, you tend to come up with a long list of payroll companies, employee benefits providers, financial planners and wealth management firms.

Cleveland-based CBIZ Inc. prides itself on being able to offer those professional services and more to its clients and their employees. By offering combined services through one trusted adviser, CBIZ has a competitive advantage because it allows company owners to focus on their core competencies.

CBIZ President and COO Jerry Grisko says having member offices in major U.S. cities allows his firm to offer the resources of a national company while providing the personal services expected from a local business partner.

Satisfied clients are the goal of great customer service, and every CBIZ client receives a guarantee: If it is not satisfied with the work provided by CBIZ, the firm will correct the situation to the client’s satisfaction.

The firm also offers a service promise to its clients that includes a commitment to professionalism, trust, and the highest level of personal and professional integrity; immediate response to the client’s needs; and understanding the client’s goals to provide proactive solutions to improve and grow the client’s business.

Grisko supports his associates who, in turn, support the level of service they provide to their clients. The firm motivates its employees by providing competitive benefits, rewarding staff members for outstanding performance and offering them opportunities to expand their career path.

Personal and professional growth get top billing at CBIZ, where its human resource professionals are certified to train its employees in enhancing their leadership and customer service skills. The firm implemented a sales academy program that has led to better client relationships and a more educated understanding of their needs.

HOW TO REACH: CBIZ Inc., (216) 447-9000 or www.cbiz.com

Published in Akron/Canton
Saturday, 26 May 2007 20:00

Sky high

When former Continental CEO Gordon Bethune introduced the “Go Forward Plan” in 1995 that helped turn around the airline, he made the following quip: “Get the customer from point A to point B on time, safely and with their underwear every time.”

Results and rewards quickly followed, and within five years Continental went from worst to first in customer air travel, service and satisfaction.

Today, under the leadership of Larry Kellner, Continental remains a customer service-oriented airline and has stayed focused on keeping passenger amenities intact while offering clean, safe and reliable travel.

Robbie Anderson, senior director of Continental’s Cleveland hub, ensures his team delivers on the company’s promises and that travelers receive the full benefit of the airline’s Customer First Plan. The plan contains 12 service commitments was designed to ensure the best possible experience for customers and lays out how Continental will deal with any service failure.

For example, the commitment on delays, cancellations and diversions promises that all passengers will be notified quickly about changes to their travel plans and updated “every 20 minutes, or any time an update is received.”

Anderson says two key items contribute to Continental’s ability to satisfy its customers — a rigid hiring process and consistent, ongoing training. Hire the right people, train them well, communicate the company’s mission and let them deliver are the four elements necessary to success, Anderson says.

As a result, Continental has been named one of the 100 best places to work and received high rankings customer service satisfaction surveys.

HOW TO REACH: Continental Airlines, www.continental.com or (800) 523-3272

Published in Akron/Canton