SS&G Financial Services Inc. puts a high value on customer service, and it shows in 2006, more than 96 percent of clients responding to a performance survey said they were “extremely satisfied” with their overall experience with the firm.
SS&G’s commitment to customer service is reflected in its mission statement: “SS&G provides professional services of the highest quality and value that enable our clients to thrive. We promote a collaborative culture for our employees, are committed to the communities in which we operate and continue to cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit that is the foundation for our organization.”
Following that philosophy, the firm led by Gary Shamis and Mark Goldfarb believes that the formula for a successful partnership is an investment in getting to know its clients, their business and their industry, and assessing their needs both for the near future and for the long term.
And that applies to all clients, not just the biggest ones. SS&G believes that every client is a VIP, and simply because one is bigger, more accomplished, has more revenue, is more profitable or uses more services than another firm does not change the level of customer service it provides.
Client service is the foundation of SS&G’s business philosophy, and it is imperative that all employees provide the best customer service possible to clients. To do so, SS&G follows the C.A.R.E. philosophy its Customers Are Really Everything. So in addition to technology training, each office has programs that provide continuing education seminars on etiquette, workplace efficiency and being a better manager, all geared toward enhanced customer service.
And a yearly companywide retreat focuses specifically on how the firm can provide better superior client service, after which recharged employees go back to the office to practice what they’ve learned.
HOW TO REACH: SS&G Financial Services, www.ssandg.com
The mission statement of S&A Consulting Group LLP states that the firm is committed to make an upfront investment of its time and resources for its clients’ future growth and prosperity.
With a statement like that, principals Nip and Rita Singh and their team are prepared to provide solutions to their clients’ challenges at the Cleveland-based management consulting firm.
S&A’s clients range from single entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 companies worldwide, but its consultants are taught to value each client irrespective of the material transactions. They also understand that satisfied customers will not only return to the firm but refer friends and associates, as well.
The firm only takes on the work it can handle, and the consultants keep their client base to a manageable size so the delivery of service and quality of projects does not suffer.
The firm’s customer service philosophy starts with building a true friendship with its clients. Once the trust is established, the client knows its consultants will do anything for it above and beyond the boundaries of business.
As a way to maintain client relationships, S&A’s consultants routinely call clients to see if the firm can assist with anything that will ease the clients’ day-today work load. The more the firm stays in touch, the better its clients feel because the consultants are able to catch problems before they arise and work with the to avoid costly mistakes.
The Singhs say all businesspeople are in the hospitality business. They are order-takers who need to understand and listen to what clients want and deliver the right results, along with gestures of kindness. These warm feelings start at the top, and owners must set an example so employees will follow and practice the emphasis on customer care.
HOW TO REACH: S&A Consulting Group LLP, (216) 593-0050 or www.sa-consultinggroup.com
Linda Abraham-Silver believes it’s important to keep her employees’ customer service skills sharp.
That’s why some of the visitors at the Great Lakes Science Center each week aren’t really visitors at all. Instead, they’re secret shoppers.
“We continually test our team by creating scenarios to make sure our customers are happy,” says Silver, president and executive director.
The service provides feedback on every component of operations. Information is then used to refine and adjust the services and experiences GLSC offers.
GLSC’s lifeblood depends on its customers’ perceptions of the experiences they have and their willingness to return. Members are recognized as VIPs, giving them discounts and allowing them to walk up a “members only” red carpet at the box office.
A meeting each morning includes representatives of every department who analyze the day’s calendar. The meeting allows intradepartmental coordination of resources and ensures that every guest at GLSC has a memorable experience.
Further, Silver believes in being proactive provide customer service beyond expectations. Last year, G.R.E.A.T. (Guest Relations, Experience and Access Team) was created with the goal of providing beyond expectations of guests an exceptional and effective total guest experience .
G.R.E.A.T. meets as needed and has provided recommendations such as new staff uniforms that better identify GLSC staff to guests and the need for better signage and family restrooms.
And on those days when Silver’s team has not lived up to its own high standards, it’s not uncommon for GLSC to issue complimentary return tickets to guests who have had less than exemplary experiences and urge them to give GLSC another chance so the team can make it right.
HOW TO REACH: Great Lakes Science Center, (216) 694-2000 or www.GreatScience.com
Success in business is often compared to a horse race, and there is no higher achievement in the world of thorough-bred racing than winning the Triple Crown the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes.
It takes all three to claim the prize, and only 11 horses have done so in the history of the events. The winners of the 2007 Smart Business World Class Customer Service Award will have earned the first places of honor among equally rarified company.
Obviously, you must first have a horse that is sleek and beautiful and fast as the wind. We have that covered here at Metro Lexus with our stable of the world’s finest vehicles, but any product or service can be equally competitive with the right jockey in control.
The first and most important race, call it the Kentucky Derby, can only be won with a customer-centered culture. From its inception, Lexus realized that building luxurious, high-performance vehicles was just the price of admission. What would truly set its brand apart was a superb level of customer service, and Metro Lexus is proud to have been among the founding dealers that pledged to treat “each customer as we would a guest in our homes.”
This simple philosophy has served us well over the years, as evidenced by countless awards and an ever-widening circle of satisfied customers.
The second challenge, the Preakness, proves the adage, “Breed the best to the best.” In the world of busines,s this refers to identifying and hiring the best people and providing them with the best training. Metro Lexus supplements national and regional programs with in-house training to ensure the highest level of associate performance. In addition, we have implemented programs to recognize, reward and retain these valued employees. This comes from the realization that each employee is crucial to building and maintaining lasting relationships with our customers.
The final contest, the Belmont Stakes, represents the need for continual improvement. This requires an ongoing and almost fanatical level of self-examination and evaluation. Management retreats, attitude surveys and suggestion boxes can all be used to gauge progress. At Lexus, we call it the “relentless pursuit of perfection,” and it is our undying desire to optimize our customers’ experience at every level.
Owner, trainer, jockey, stable boy one thing they have in common is the desire to see their horse in the winner’s circle, race after race. How can you do it in your business? Focus on the customer, employ the best people and constantly look for new and better ways to deliver your goods or services. Those are the three secrets to winning the crown and creating a legend.
Listen carefully. Can you hear the bugle calling you to the post?
DAN PYLE is managing partner of Metro Lexus, title sponsor of the World Class Customer Service Awards. Reach him at (216) 916-6000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
When you call the offices of Barnes Wendling CPAs, you are greeted by a receptionist, not an automated system. This is just one of many client service techniques that President Jeff Neuman and his team have implemented to set themselves apart from their industry competitors.
The Cleveland-based accounting firm put several systems in place to allow them to provide top-notch customer service to their clients at reasonable rates.
The firm’s two-part client satisfaction program includes an ongoing client survey, which is analyzed, measured and reported to clients throughout the year. If any survey component is marked as “satisfied” or below, a member of the firm’s client service department contacts the client to find out how the firm can first meet and then exceed the client’s expectations.
At the end of the year, the client receives a summary of the survey results, comparisons to the results from previous years and the firm’s plans to improve scores going forward.
The second part of Barnes Wendling’s client satisfaction program is its client visitation program. Clients are randomly selected and interviewed by a member of the firm’s client service department. In getting to know more about the clients, the firm can learn ways to better serve them and determine areas for improvement.
Another key to providing exceptional client service is employing staff members who understand their role in the customer service equation. Barnes Wendling hired a full-time human resources manager two years ago to help the firm attract and retain employees who understand the firm’s vision.
During the interview process, she asks behavioral-based questions that give insight into a candidate’s true “customer and team member service DNA.” As a result, the firm has hired staff members who contribute to a much stronger corporate culture.
HOW TO REACH: Barnes Wendling CPAs, (216) 566-9000 or www.barneswendling.com
When Joe Calabrese joined the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority in 2000, his goal was to re-engineer public transportation for the commuters of Northeast Ohio by improving customer service.
GCRTA operates 108 rail cars on 34 miles of track and 654 buses on 1,666 route miles. On average, 180,000 people ride GCRTA daily.
When Calabrese assumed control, GCRTA was a large system riddled with a record of poor reliability, safety concerns and low customer satisfaction.
He went right to work.
Through the purchase of hundreds of clean-air buses, he went from having one of the oldest fleets in the nation to one of the newest. He simplified the rider’s commute by expanding GCRTA’s network of transit centers and Park-N-Rides. And by investing nearly $2 million into a state-of-theart communications center using global positioning technology, the transit authority can now pinpoint the exact location of every bus and train, information that is relayed to riders at stops and stations through electronic monitors.
As a result of these changes and an expansive advertising campaign in 2005, ridership steadily increased. Helping fill the seats was GCRTA’s expanded participation in its Commuter Advantage program, which allows people to purchase passes through a work-sponsored, pre-tax option.
Every quarter, Calabrese and his team speak with customers and generate a report card to see how they’re doing. Based on the results, GCRTA offers incentives to employees for meeting performance criteria including on-time performance, safety, customer service and reliability.
As a result, GCRTA has experienced four consecutive years of ridership gains, with nearly 5 million riders added. And over the past five years, customer satisfaction surveys have consistently risen by double-digit percentages year-over-year.
HOW TO REACH: Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, (216) 566-5100 or www.gcrta.org
The customer service philosophy at DeVore Technologies Inc. is summed up with the phrase “total access.” But behind the simple statement is an extensive strategy that offers a 360-degree approach to serving customers at the IT training, consulting and solutions provider, headed by President and CEO Lori DeVore.
The customer service strategy at DeVore contains six areas of concentration — empower staff, adopt a corporate service philosophy, create service standards, hire service-focused employees, provide technology tools and provide service training. The goals of the strategy are to provide customers with accessibility to empowered, trained staff members who have the tools at their fingertips to address all customer needs.
The accessibility aspect focuses on the three portals through which customers can receive DeVore’s services and support — in person, online and over the phone. Customers who contact DeVore over the phone can have direct access to DeVore staff instead of a call center with an automated answering service. Customers accessing DeVore via the Internet can utilize an online help desk with answers to frequently asked questions, technical support queues and a live chat.
Personal service at DeVore begins with the hiring of new associates. Each new hire is educated in the company history and corporate philosophy and is also required to have a working knowledge of all customer service systems.
After a 30-day assessment period, all new hires have a service development plan customized for them by their direct supervisor. The plan includes a number of customer service training classes, such as advanced communication skills, communicating across cultures and managing conflict.
The initial training is combined with ongoing training, frequent updates and weekly evaluation of the company’s customer service performance by top management. It all helps to ensure that DeVore’s customers get total access and total satisfaction.
How to reach: DeVore Technologies Inc., (440) 232-3846 or www.devore.com
One day, a customer called the Chick-fil-A at Westgate Mall and said that his drive-through order was missing an item. Instead of simply apologizing and telling him to come back in if he wanted the item, store owner Daniel Curran drove the order to the customer’s home with free desserts and coupons for free meals on his next visit. It made Curran feel great when he saw the wonder on the customer’s face when he pulled in the driveway.
That type of customer service doesn’t just pertain to Curran. All employees are asked to deliver world-class customer service — and they do.
On a rainy afternoon in June 2008, the restaurant received a call from a distraught customer who had forgotten her purse there. Since her friend drove, they had already left, and the customer was already 25 miles away from the restaurant before she noticed she didn’t have her purse. Her friend had dropped the woman off, and now she was stuck with no ride and no purse. To make matters worse, the customer had an appointment later that day and needed her car keys, which were in the purse. The on-duty manager immediately took it upon himself to find the purse and drive his personal vehicle round-trip 50 miles to return the purse to the guest.
However, the service doesn’t stop with just customers. On a very hot August afternoon last year, nearby condominiums caught fire. Due to the size of the fire, first responders would be working past dinner, so employees filled coolers with Chick-fil-A sandwiches and made gallons of lemonade and iced tea. They delivered the food to the site much to the delight of the first responders.
It’s apparent through these actions that Chick-fil-A greatly values its customers and is willing to go the extra mile to prove that fact.
How to reach: Chick-fil-A Westgate, (440) 356-2030 or www.chick-fil-a.com
Every company wants to meet the expectations of its customers. Most organizations even strive to do what they can to exceed customer desires.
Robert Troop wants his employees at The Shamrock Cos. Inc. to go even deeper than that. Troop, the company’s CEO, believes the best customer service is delivered when you have a personal understanding of your customer and can then work collaboratively to find a solution.
Troop’s goal is to get employees to create strong and lasting business partnerships with each one of their customers so that Shamrock can meet current needs, anticipate future needs and be ready for anything else that may come up in between.
Employees in all departments take part in the Raving Fan Feedback System, which is an intricate method of analyzing service quality, turnaround time and customer relations. Using an electronic Raving Fan Feedback form, employees report any product or service that does not meet the Raving Fan standard. Once the problem is identified, the next step is to figure out all the possible reasons that could have caused the problem, which one actually caused the problem and then implementing a corrective action.
The RFF system has evolved from the spotting of major events, such as an incorrectly produced form, to simple service issues, such as how a phone is answered or the appearance of an invoice. On-time performance has increased from 96 percent to 99 percent since the program was implemented, and the average manufacturing turnaround has dropped from 15 days to seven days.
Beyond the actual act of service, Troop wants employees to be cognizant of their attitude and always be looking for ways to make Shamrock customers feel special. Doing so creates energy, promotes good will and provides for a constant flow of positive feelings.
How to reach: The Shamrock Cos. Inc., (440) 899-9510 or www.shamrockcompanies.net
With consumers and businesses looking for ways to cut costs and save money, it’s now even more important for SS&G Financial Services Inc. to focus on providing high-quality customer service to make price less relevant and create additional value.
The company established a seminar series to support clients though the downturn in the economy. The series entitled, “Tips for Turbulent Times,” was designed to help its clients stay on track during the recession.
The complimentary breakfast seminars featured a professional from SS&G Wealth Management LLC, who focused on how sound investment strategies can help your portfolio survive the times. In addition, Gary Shamis and Mark Goldfarb, the managing directors of SS&G Financial Services, discussed the costs and opportunities of doing business in this challenging economy as well as general financial survival techniques.
The company follows the seminars with supplementary information sent via the Tips for Turbulent Times biweekly e-mail. The e-mail features considerations, such as “Pinpointing unnecessary business expenses” and “How to renegotiate lease terms.” The e-mails are blasted to more than 2,000 recipients nationwide and have experienced a consistently high open rate since their inception in November.
The company ensures it provides clients with the best possible service by following its service standard. That includes returning phone calls in the same day or within 24 hours, completing client work on a timely basis, taking joint responsibility for transferred work, keeping the receptionist apprised of each professional’s whereabouts and calling into the office when not scheduled to be there.
The employees’ commitment to customer service is reinforced through the signing of a client service agreement that states the employee agrees to follow the company’s mission to provide the highest quality service.
How to reach: SS&G Financial Services Inc., (440) 248-8787 or www.ssandg.com