Barbara Linville was very frustrated when after three months, nothing had been done to repair her mother’s portable oxygen concentrator, which she had taken in July 2010 to a medical repair company in Apex, N.C. Her mother had been using a loaner unit in the meantime, but she was still upset that none of her phone calls were being returned.

She finally decided to call the manufacturer, Invacare Corp., and talked to Kandee Koleski, a customer service supervisor. Koleski called the repair shop and after much persistence, had the shop send the unit to Invacare where it received priority attention for repair. Linville’s mother had her unit returned in time for her trip to her winter home in early November.

“We still would not have my mother’s unit if it were not for the persistence of your good employee,” Linville says in an e-mail to Invacare, a manufacturer of medical products from beds to wheelchairs.

At Invacare, under the leadership of President and CEO Gerry Blouch, customer service representatives promote and live an “E4” mantra: exceptional service, every time through employee empowerment. CSRs subscribe to this philosophy with the goal of providing customers with the level of service that makes it easy to do business with them. By introducing this philosophy early in the training of new hires, it lays the foundation for exceptional service and provides the team with the awareness and support to be self-directed. In addition, team members learn to have confidence in their own abilities to do what is right on behalf of the customer and the organization.

The Invacare culture empowers and rewards employees as part of a team which enjoys competition and winning. Continued personal growth is encouraged by fostering a close relationship with the leadership team whose main responsibility is to coach and mentor.

The company has been frequently recognized for its qualities of leadership, compensation, training, workplace flexibility and diversity.

How to reach: Invacare Corp., (440) 329-6000 or www.invacare.com

Published in Cleveland

Industrial Heat Sources faced a situation where it appeared as through one of its customers was in the wrong. While welding together samples of one of its products using a tool bought from Industrial Heat, there was an explosive short.

Since the tool was two months out of warranty, IHS had a seemingly legitimate reason to not solve the problem. But it would have left this customer in a bad spot and forever tainted their relationship going forward.

So IHS did what companies do when they truly value their customers and want to do whatever they can to help them do their job. The company looked at the nature of the problem, looked at the machine’s low number of work hours and said it would cover the costs of the repair, even if the manufacturer would not.

The thoughtful gesture made a big impact on the customer and that is what Ken Paine, the company’s owner and president, strives to do all the time.

“We have referred many customers your way since purchasing the two pieces of equipment from you and we will certainly continue to do so,” states the customer testimonial. “However, it will be with renewed confidence that we are referring our customers to a reputable firm that understands that the sale is not the end of the transaction or the business relationship.”

This philosophy of doing what’s right all the time, whether it’s by the book or not, has earned IHS kudos from customers at all levels. The company makes it a point to always be there, staffing a person at all times during office hours to make sure that customers have a real person to talk to when they make a call.

Training is constant to make sure that not only employees are up to speed on the latest tools, but that customers have all the knowledge they need to get the job done.

How to reach: Industrial Heat Sources, (216) 661-5000 or www.ihshotair.com

Published in Cleveland

It can happen in an instant. An employee is sitting at their desk and a call comes in from a frustrated customer. This customer begins talking about a very complicated and difficult situation that needs to be resolved right away.

Suddenly, this employee is faced with trying to process the words of an emotional customer on the fly in hopes of developing a solution that will meet their needs. If the employee isn’t trained the right way, the company’s got a big problem.

Fortunately for CEO William Brooks and his team at Hyatt Legal Plans, the training of customer service representatives is a constant aspect of firm operations. And that led to a 96.7 percent client satisfaction rate for the firm’s call center, according to a 2011 customer survey.

CSRs are trained to be able to handle virtually any situation they might encounter. They are trained on “red flags,” words that when spoken indicate a certain type of problem. When Hyatt is looking to hire customer service representatives, personality is a major factor as the firm needs people who have a pleasant demeanor and won’t lose their cool in what can be an emotional situation.

The conversations that take place between CSR and customer are constantly reviewed and studied for ways to improve the service. The goal is to be proactive and to find as many solutions as possible before they are even found to be a problem.

When employees do provide great service to customers, they are recognized for it. There is a level of pride that comes with helping customers and it’s a feeling that permeates every level of Hyatt Legal Plans.

If there is a means to make it better, every effort will be made to do it. It’s not the satisfaction of the firm that matters most. It’s the customer.

How to reach: Hyatt Legal Plans, (216) 241-0022 or www.legalplans.com

Published in Cleveland

At Firestone Country Club, members pay the premium of a private club membership in lieu of golfing and dining in public facilities because they value personalized customer service. The club, led by General Manager Mark Gore, strives to maintain the utmost in customer service, because if it doesn’t, people won’t perceive the value of their membership.

For this reason, Firestone Country Club regularly evaluates how it can improve its members’ experience of the club. The organization’s leaders believe that continuous improvement will keep the club at the forefront of customer service.

Firestone Country Club regards every person that walks through its doors, whether member or guest, as a VIP. staffers aim to impress everyone with their personalized service and attention to detail, including the club’s three steps of service:

-          Warm welcomes: Recognizing all members and guests by name.

-          Magic moments: Random acts of kindness and the resolve to make people’s day.

-          Fond farewells: Leaving a lasting impression and extending a warm invitation to return.

Each of Firestone Country Club’s front-line employees must pass a select test that ensures that they have the personality, work ethic, and “servant’s heart” necessary to work and excel in the private club industry. The employee’s attitude is key, so the club hires only people who demonstrate a positive attitude and an outgoing personality.

Firestone Country Club encourages employees to provide first-class customer service by recognizing them when a member or guest compliments them or when another employee notices them giving exemplary service. The club’s STAR Recognition Program enables employees to earn rewards via a point system. When employees receive rewards under this program, it underlines for them the importance of the service culture that Firestone Country Club strives to maintain.

HOW TO REACH: Firestone Country Club, (330) 644-8441 or www.firestonecountryclub.com

Published in Cleveland

When Findaway World was founded, the leaders wanted employees to feel empowered to act on their own to solve customer problems. So they created a list of core values that they hoped would serve as the foundation for the business.

This philosophy has served the company well and is a big reason behind the success of the world’s first self-playing audiobook.

Co-founder and CEO Mitch Kroll wanted a company that creates products that are simple for customers to use and one that has systems in place that make it simple to resolve problems.

Employees are asked to take responsibility and give respect, to exceed expectations at all levels and always do what’s right. They are hired because of their ability to embrace change and pursue growth and do so with a high level of passion. As the company’s name implies, they are asked to always, ‘Find a way.’

Kroll doesn’t believe in the idea of a few VIP customers. Rather he views all his customers as being worthy of that kind of exemplary service. That applies whether you’re buying a few products from his company or you’re a library purchasing thousands of units every year.

When problems do occur, a study is undertaken to determine what happened and why it happened. The idea is to find out what can be done to prevent the problem from happening again.

This is all possible because employees don’t have to wait for their superior to give the OK to take action. They have been trained to handle situations on their own and they know what to do. It creates an environment where people believe things will get done rather than wondering if they can be done.

It’s a big reason why the company has become such a success.

How to reach: Findaway World, (440) 893-0808 or www.findawayworld.com

Published in Cleveland

When a policyholder calls Family Heritage Life Insurance Co. about a claim, the company’s employees know that the person on the phone is probably going through a tough time. As a provider of insurance policies for catastrophic illness, accidents and fatalities, the company deals with customers every day who are overcoming personal obstacles, whether it’s the loss of a loved one, a serious accident or relative that’s been diagnosed with cancer. Sifting through policy questions and concerns is one more added stress. Now more than ever is the chance to make that customer’s life easier.

Family Heritage’s founder, chairman and CEO, Howard Lewis, has worked hard to make sure his company defies the cliché of the big, impersonal insurance company that is more concerned with its sales than customer needs. Recognizing the stress the company’s customers are dealing with, he and the company’s management team take a much different view of customer relationships, one where “above and beyond” service is the norm.

At Family Heritage, treating customers like family is a company standard, which is why customer service is one the five pillars of the company’s corporate culture. In the hiring process, every claims department employee is carefully selected based not just on skill set but also personality and attitude. With two sets of customers — policyholders and independent agents —  it’s even more important that all team members be equipped with both a friendly attitude and customer service skills to keep the claims process easy and efficient.

By extending employee training beyond just basic job knowledge and skills, Family Heritage has developed a culture where employees genuinely empathize with customer needs. Representatives are provided with ongoing opportunities to put a face on policyholders and learn about their unique challenges, whether it’s taking classes in stress management or shadowing a sales agent to see how policy sales work.

How to reach: Family Heritage Life Insurance Co. of America, (440) 922-5200 or www.familyheritagelife.com

Published in Cleveland

When a company celebrates its 250-year anniversary that means you have done something right by way of customer service. In 2011, Faber-Castell USA Inc. celebrated 250 years.

Faber-Castell USA, a maker of creative and writing products, manufactures many quality items, but it has been its customer service philosophy that has allowed for the company’s longevity and success. CEO Jamie Gallagher knows that people are important to the company, and he often will personally reach out to customers to let them know their voice is being heard.

Gallagher and his team at Faber-Castell know how important the customer service experience is to a company since they too have firsthand experience being consumers. Customer service plays a big role in the perception of and loyalty to a company and its brands. One of Faber-Castell’s mottos is, “Doing ordinary things extraordinarily well,” and is a motivational driving force within the organization.

In today’s business environment more and more system automation can become the standard. Responses become generic and human contact is limited leaving customers in the dark not knowing if anyone really cares. This often results in customers coming out of the experience more frustrated than when they went in.

Faber-Castell has found ways to extend the exact opposite to its customers and does everything it can to add the extra gestures that make a huge impact. The company stands behind all of its products, from a $5.99 craft kit to a $4,000 limited edition pen. Customers will get a one-on-one experience and VIP treatment whenever they contact the company.

From customer service calls to helping repair a product, Faber-Castell aims to leave every customer happier than they were before and for 250 years that philosophy has worked as well as the writing utensils customers use to write their thank you letters.

How to reach: Faber-Castell USA Inc., (216) 643-4660 or www.fabercastell.com

Published in Cleveland

When an out-of-state chef wanted a specific bowl for his culinary presentation, he was dismayed to find that no event rental company in the area could provide it on short notice. Other companies weren’t willing to be put out just to supply a single bowl and no promise of subsequent business. But after Event Source received a call requesting the item from its inventory, the company wasn’t so quick to dismiss the opportunity.

Even though the single item order wasn’t exactly a fit for the business and the request was six hours outside its service area. But by keeping the door open and promptly responding to the request, Event Source ended up securing a $20,000 order for the event and a long-term client to boot.

As a party equipment rental company, Event Source can’t afford not to be reactive to its customer needs. In the fast-changing industry, every detail can make or break the success of an event. The nature of the business rests on immediate response time and the ability to anticipate a client’s needs at any given moment. The family-owned company, led by President John Bibbo Jr., is only able to achieve this level of execution by making every customer the center of attention — there is no request too small to handle.  

With an inventory of 2,900 different products, in 645,000 variations, the company provides comprehensive employee training on product recognition and operations to ensure every member of its team can give a speedy response to any customer request. New team members attend training at Event Source University as well as ongoing training and bi-monthly sales meetings to learn the subtle differences in products, seasonal trends and industry news affecting their customers. By listening closely to each customer’s preferences, interests and life milestones, the company can proactively help customers execute their vision for an event.

How to reach: Event Source, (216) 901-0000 or www.eventsource.net

Published in Cleveland

Customer services is at the very heart of EmployeeScreenIQ’s business. The company is an industry leading global pre-employment screening firm providing clients with the information they need to make proper hiring decisions through the use of background checks.

With client assistance and protection at the core of their business, EmployeeScreeIQ’s team of managers and associates — led by President and COO Jason Morris — have had a great deal of practice in providing great customer service.

The company makes every effort to create an enjoyable user experience for customers, and their efforts have been well-received by clients, who have provided positive feedback on the company’s performance. The team at EmployeeScreenIQ builds trust among customers by offering simple and flexible screening options customized to meet a client’s needs.

The company can create customized packages by position or preload reference codes so invoicing can be tailored to customer specifications, and the team can format the company’s internal processes to best meet a client’s requirements, both on a daily and long-term basis. In addition, the company’s leadership uses responses from annual surveys and account reviews to help shape future strategies.

EmployeeScreenIQ’s approach to personalized service is a market separator for the company in what has become a highly regulated and complicated industry. The company’s representatives realize that a personal touch is often the difference between a one-time transaction and a long-standing customer relationship. With that in mind, EmployeeScreenIQ’s representatives will often contact clients for casual, conversational check-ins. The company’s philosophy is to engage customers and build familiarity and loyalty whenever possible.

The company’s leadership believes its customer service philosophy has to center on the word “trust.” With trust as a pillar of the customer-company relationship, the relationship develops into a partnership that can last for years and decades.

How to reach: EmployeeScreenIQ, (216) 514-2800 or www.employeescreen.com

Published in Cleveland

Historically, the Council of Smaller Enterprises — COSE — has made its name as a health insurance provider for small businesses, relying on discounted rates to provide value to its members.

But over the last decade, as the health insurance market has become more commoditized, COSE has differentiated itself by providing excellent health insurance-related customer service.

COSE, which is led by its president and executive director, Steve Millard, has a member service department consisting of 10 professionals based in the organization’s call center. When members have a question or problem, they call on COSE rather than calling the insurance company directly. COSE thereby serves an advocacy role for its members, working directly with the insurance provider so members don’t have to.

The health-insurance-related services that COSE offers its 14,000 small-business members include:

-          Access to Ohio licensed health insurance professionals through a members-only dedicated telephone hotline.

-          A dedicated e-mail address that provides members a guaranteed response from a staff member to all inquiries in 24 hours or less.

-          A live online chat service through which the COSE member service team interacts with members and provides real-time resolution to their questions.

-          Free benefit review sessions in which members meet with a COSE staff member to review their health insurance coverage and needs. Last year, COSE conducted more than 900 benefit review sessions with its members.

-          Free information and consultation on issues related to health care reform.

COSE has also begun to provide a higher level of service to customers for items outside the health insurance sphere, including networking, education and advocacy. Serving its members in these new areas has forced COSE to step up its game in the area of customer service. COSE now takes what it calls a “concierge’s approach” to serving its members’ needs, with staffers taking ownership of individual members’ inquiries, following them through to complete resolution.

HOW TO REACH: COSE, (216) 592-2222 or www.cose.org

Published in Cleveland
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