During the past five years, we have seen more than enough corporate cost-cutting, stock market blues, layoffs and outsourcing departments to the lowest bidder. As a result, customer service is at such an all-time low that if it is not horrible, consumers are relieved.
Many organizations in corporate America are starting to realize that one of the few ways to create long-term brand security is by differentiating themselves through service. Customers are tired of tolerating inferior customer service. If it is true that “the better the service, the less price becomes an issue,” then it is equally true that “the worse the service, the less price becomes an issue,” meaning that if you constantly drop the ball and do nothing to make things right for the customer, then he or she will not want to do business with you even if you offer the lowest price around.
Customers are savvy. They realize that poor customer service can be costly when you factor in the R.O.H. (return on hassle), the additional time it takes to return something, to call customer service three times, to fume on the phone waiting in queue, hoping to get an answer or a resolution, while experiencing added stress related to unnecessary issues. Customers realize that it would have been cheaper to pay more for something and have it done right the first time. Companies cannot always fall back on being the lowest price and expect to compete.
The bar is so low that companies have a real opportunity to gain a competitive advantage. Whatever your business retail, hospitality or business-to-business it has never been easier to exceed the customer’s expectation by delivering a memorable experience. The few companies that realize this and make their value proposition “service” are seeing a strong return on their investment.
They’re finding lower employee turnover, higher customer retention, increased average tickets, higher prices, more referrals and, ultimately, are making price less relevant.
There is a customer service revolution going on. Several companies in Northeast Ohio truly get it, and it is paying off for them. If you are looking to create a world-class customer service organization, then get out your notebook, because the following companies have strayed from conventional industry practices and have decided that rather than compete on price, they will create relationships with their customers, sell experiences and be a total resource for their customers.
Their systems are transferable to any industry. Take note.
JOHN R. DIJULIUS III is president of The DiJulius Group and author of “Secret Service, Hidden Systems that Deliver Unforgettable Customer Service.” Reach him at (216) 839-1430 or email@example.com.
Edward Jones’ services don’t stop at investment planning. Financial advisers and branch office administrators (BOAs) also offer hugs, instructions for reheating leftovers, and help selecting and installing flat-screen TVs.
The firm’s structure alone lends itself to providing personalized service, with 140 accessible branch locations in Northeast Ohio that scatter associates throughout local communities. So clients are neighbors and familiar faces, rather than just numbers.
In January 2007, Managing Partner Jim Weddle launched a formal Client Service Excellence initiative, assigning a partner to work with J.D. Power & Associates to conduct customer satisfaction surveys. Three months and 400,000 phone interviews later, Edward Jones began producing client ratings for each branch office across the country.
The surveys continued on a quarterly basis until spring 2009, when the firm switched to a more cost-effective, semiannual schedule.
The survey ratings are used to recognize financial advisers from the highest-scoring branch in each region with a Client Service Excellence award. Additionally, the 300 BOAs with the top ratings received a chain of gifts that led to the inaugural BOA Managing Partner’s Conference in 2007 — a congratulatory e-mail followed by a personalized letter from Weddle, a suitcase customized with the conference’s logo and then an expenses-paid, three-day trip to the event in St. Louis.
Survey data was also used — in combination with client focus groups and focus groups with leaders from high-scoring branches — to develop a best practices model, which was introduced in 2008. The online site provides reference tools for branch leaders, complete with audio narration that incorporates the survey results into strategies they can use to improve client service.
How to reach: Edward Jones, (216) 464-7930 or www.edwardjones.com
President Len Komoroski leads the team at the Cleveland Cavaliers and Quicken Loans Arena in making sure that they live out the “Isms” — the list of values — that owner Dan Gilbert expects of them when it comes to service at the arena for every Cavs game, Lake Erie Monsters match-up and special event held at the venue.
Each “Ism” represents one of the company’s operating principles and defines who the organization is. These “Isms” set the foundation for how employees treat each other, their stakeholders and every single guest or fan who walks through the doors.
Cavaliers employees find it crucial to make sure that every single guest is treated like a VIP, regardless of how much he or she paid for his or her ticket, so from the moment people enter the arena, the guest services representatives greet them with smiles and remind them which doors they entered and offer assistance finding their seats.
While employees strive their best to make every attendee feel special, they do go to extra measures for season ticket holders. The organization has client experience specialists and suite services teams to deliver high service and establish relationships with each season ticket holder and suite holder. For example, when one longtime season ticket holder had surgery, his client experience specialist delivered a DVD of Cavs players personally wishing him well. When another season ticket holder missed Game 6 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Championships because his daughter had a lacrosse tournament, his client experience specialist mailed him a framed picture of the Cavs celebrating their victory next to the picture of his daughter’s lacrosse team celebrating their tournament victory.
Service standards like these keep the employees at The Q at the top of their game.
At Achievement Centers for Children, customer service is a cause. That’s because its business is about more than transactions and selling products. It’s about bettering the lives of children with disabilities.
Customer service at Achievement Centers for Children — which is headed by Executive Director Patricia Nobili — begins with the hiring process for new employees. Various family scenarios are posed to applicants, who are then asked questions based on those scenarios and their answers are subsequently assessed. Applicants must not only have the requisite skills for the job, but they must also possess a passion for serving children with disabilities and their families.
New hires are trained by the company’s quality assurance manager and the clients’ rights officer — a staff member who advocates for client families. The training includes an education in the agency’s expectations that employees will, when necessary, go the extra mile when assisting a client.
Achievement Centers has put a number of quality control measures in place to ensure a high level of customer service is provided to all clients. The agency has undertaken a performance improvement plan, overseen by three committees: the quality assurance committee, the agency management team and the president’s committee. The agency’s quality assurance manager coordinates the combined efforts of the three committees, so that high-volume, high-risk or problem areas are quickly identified and addressed. When problems do arise, they are quickly identified, investigated and reviewed, and an improvement plan is put in place.
The agency also continually tracks and compares client satisfaction surveys, which helps keep everyone focused on the best interest of the clients and their families.
With an extensive screening and training process and a strong culture, Achievement Centers for Children makes customer service everyone’s business, from new hires all the way to the top of the organization.
How to reach: Achievement Centers for Children, (216) 292-9700 or www.achievementcenters.org
Good is not enough for Staffing Solutions Enterprises.
So six years ago, the company reviewed its customer service philosophies and made a commitment to surpass expectations, offering a “WOW Experience” with every client interaction.
Founder and CEO Carmella Calta corralled employees under a set of service standards. Now, to keep that commitment fresh as the company celebrates its 35th anniversary, plaques in employees’ offices ask if they created a WOW Experience today.
The commitment starts with Calta, who is involved in service objectives daily. She even created a C-level position focused on clients: chief customer officer.
But Calta empowers other employees, too. She explains the company’s mission, vision and WOW culture to new hires over lunch. They also learn the WOW standards from the CCO and are cross-trained on all of the customer service offerings so they can personally respond to customers’ needs from start to finish.
Each client is assigned to a customer experience manager, who can grant monetary credit and provide complimentary services without upper-management approval.
Staffing Solutions Enterprises is both high-tech and high-touch. The company thanks VIP clients for their business with flower bouquets on the first day of spring, edible fruit arrangements in the summer, hand-delivered candy trays and cards during holidays, and catered breakfasts to recognize achievements throughout the year.
Employees can nominate each other for weekly internal WOW awards as a way to recognize exceptional customer service.
To check its efforts externally, the company conducts semiannual customer satisfaction surveys. Calta and her staff aim high, measuring themselves on an above-average scale, and for the past four years, they’ve achieved it.
How to reach: Staffing Solutions Enterprises, (440) 461-1652 or www.staffingsolutionsent.com
“It takes months to find a customer, seconds to lose them. If we don’t take care of the customer, the competition will!”
That sign is posted in the warehouse of Sirna & Sons Inc., the family produce business, which has been in the food business for nearly 70 years and continues to focus on providing superior customer service.
Dedicated to their customers, President Thomas Sirna and Vice President Vince Sirna train their employees to go above and beyond for their customers to ensure that current and prospective clients are treated like kings.
During holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, awards or any other special event, Sirna & Sons likes to show appreciation for their customers by sending them cards. The owners additionally reach out to customers personally to ensure that the company is fulfilling their needs and that there are no concerns or problems that need to be addressed.
Making their customers feel like kings could not happen without a quality team of employees. Many members of the staff have been with the organization for more than 20 years, and there are other staff members whose siblings or spouses work for the company.
With such a great team, Sirna & Sons is able to meet every customer need. For example, when Edible Arrangements in Boardman prepares for the unpredictability of its Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day weeks, Sirna & Sons loans out its refrigerated trucks whenever possible to give Edible Arrangements additional storage space, and Sirna & Sons also helps with deliver special deliveries in its own van.
The service Sirna & Sons provides doesn’t go unnoticed. One client, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, noted that it has worked with many of the same people at Sirna & Sons for 15 years, and that’s a testament to the quality people and quality service that the company provides.
How to reach: Sirna & Sons Inc., (800) 824-1868 or www.sirnaandsonsproduce.com
In the ’80s, Ohio Desk faced stiff competition against two other Steelcase office furniture dealers in the market, so the company decided to shift from what it was doing to focus more on delivering outstanding customer service in order to differentiate itself. Ohio Desk realized that customers would continue doing business with a company that consistently delivered exceptional service to the customer. In 1987, the company began to survey customers and listen to what they had to say. At the same time, it began to think more long-term.
In 1998, Ohio Desk implemented a Continuous Improvement Group to review the sales process from initial contact with the customer until the last delivery. Each year, auditors are chosen to give the formal written procedures a reality test in the work environment, and they observe the employees’ performance of the process and report any discrepancies.
The company feels the CIG process helps to facilitate change within the working environment. Representatives across the board are empowered to make changes to improve how things are done at Ohio Desk. The company reviews corrective action forms, audits results and updates the formal written procedures whenever it’s necessary. Employees are also required to complete a corrective action whenever a customer isn’t 100 percent satisfied with the company’s performance. These action forms are reviewed by the CIG, and the root causes are investigated. When necessary, a team is made to provide a long-term resolution for the problem.
At Ohio Desk, President David Humphrey understands that the existing, experienced staff is critical to customer satisfaction, and for the last five years, its turnover rate has been below 6 percent. The employees’ dedication — in addition to the company’s foundational values of integrity, their team, community concern, growth and profitability — are reflected in the exceptional experience they give their customers.
How to reach: Ohio Desk, (216) 623-0600 or www.ohiodesk.com
We’ve all been left hanging before. You leave a voice mail or send an e-mail needing information and then hear nothing for a few days.
That won’t happen at Herbruck Alder, which is led by Chairman and President Mark Alder. The company has a corporate policy that all calls and e-mails need to be returned the same day that they were received.
You wouldn’t expect anything less from a company that believes it’s in the service business and not in the sales business.
The employee benefits firm seeks long-term relationships with clients and their employees.
That’s why the company not only provides them with the services promised but also goes above and beyond by keeping clients informed on all fronts of the employee benefits industry.
Herbruck Alder offers several informational seminars and webinars throughout the year to help educate clients on industry trends and changes.
When President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, it included changes to how COBRA is administered. Those changes significantly affected many of Herbruck Alder’s clients. Instead of keeping clients in the dark, the company had two webinars and two seminars scheduled for clients within a week of the president signing the act.
In addition, the company conducts two surveys each year for clients to benchmark their company’s benefits and wellness programs to others in Northern Ohio and the U.S.
Of course, the service that the company provides can’t be excellent unless employees are doing their part.
Herbruck Alder created a companywide service plan that each employee is expected to follow for each client. The client service plan includes specific target dates, which account executives, account managers and service representatives are required to follow.
The service plan also describes ongoing services and value-added services that are available to clients.
How to reach: Herbruck Alder, (216) 623-2600 or www.herbruckalder.com
At Family Heritage Life Insurance Co. of America, customer service starts when the phone rings. Instead of an automated menu that demands navigation to reach a representative, a live person answers the phone.
Speed, convenience and simplicity define the customer experience at the company, which is headed by Howard Lewis, Family Heritage Life’s founder, president and CEO.
Family Heritage Life aims to process claims within 10 days. If claims examiners need more information, rather than sending a request to the customer, they track it down themselves from the hospital or doctor.
Policy files used to be stored in a central file room, so when policyholders called with questions, representatives had to retrieve the file before they could provide answers. In 2008, the company invested in new software that allowed employees to scan policies into the system, speeding the retrieval rate.
For the convenience of their policyholders, Family Heritage Life offers direct deposits of claims payments as well as direct deductions of premiums. But the company noticed policyholders were changing bank accounts and forgetting to notify representatives of the switch. So in 2008, Family Heritage Life created the position of conservation specialist who contacts policyholders whose premium payments weren’t drafted into their accounts. Last year alone, the new role protected 355 policyholders with a simple phone call.
The concept of treating customers like family is introduced during employees’ initial training. In 2008, the company implemented its Inside Track program, in which managers and supervisors from each department provide overviews of their responsibilities to new hires. During these lunchtime meetings, the department heads also share examples of their customer service experience.
Reinforcement of this philosophy continues throughout employees’ careers. For example, whenever a testimonial is received, it’s e-mailed to all employees to illustrate how their efforts impact the lives of customers.
How to reach: Family Heritage Life Insurance Co. of America, (440) 922-5200 or www.familyheritagelife.com
When an automotive supplier in Canada was desperately behind on its production schedule, it contacted FedEx Custom Critical for help.
The Akron-based subsidiary of global giant FedEx committed as many vehicles as it could to make round-trip runs from Canada to two production facilities in the U.S. FedEx Custom Critical CEO Jack Pickard also sent team members to Canada to manage the FedEx loads and manage shipments being handled by additional carriers.
The customer, says Pickard, was thrilled to get back on schedule.
As an organization whose mission is to provide freight shipping solutions throughout the U.S. and internationally, that example is all in a day’s work. The very nature of FedEx Custom Critical’s business emphasizes service over price. And the company’s “Purple Promise” says, “I will make every FedEx experience outstanding,” setting the tone for a high level of customer service.
Each month, the company conducts 150 customer satisfaction surveys through an independent third party. Scores from these surveys determine bonus pay, and comments are made available to all team members so that they can see exactly what customers say about the company’s services.
Among the systems Pickard has in place to ensure the company delivers on its promises is a rigorous screening process for new hires, combined with a detailed training program. And a 15-month leadership development program helps aspiring leaders to gain knowledge through experience.
Part of FedEx Custom Critical’s Purple Promise is Pickard’s dedication to empowering every member of his team to “do the right thing for the customer every time.”
And, when extra efforts provide an outstanding experience, the company shares the story with all employees so that customer service remains a key component of its lifeblood.
HOW TO REACH: FedEx Custom Critical, (800) 762-3787 or www.customcritical.fedex.com