Tuesday, 31 May 2011 20:01


How does your organization make customer service a competitive advantage and price less relevant?

Our customers care about far more than price as they are focused on the value we bring them through our provision of exceptional, personalized customer service while focusing on their health at times when they need us to care the most. We provide them access to the best care possible through our broad network of providers and educate them on what their options are so they can be in control of their health care decisions.

How have you created a culture of customer service in your organization?

A culture of service and quality permeates our organization. Our president speaks at every new employee orientation, emphasizing the importance of service and employees’ contribution to our success. We focus on the ‘moments of truth,’ which are those interactions between a customer and a product, service or employee that results in the customer forming or changing an impression about our company. In addition, every employee is trained in M.A.G.I.C., which stands for ‘Make a Great Impression on the Customer.’ M.A.G.I.C. is a philosophy and training tool. It creates a culture of service and provides a positive and memorable customer experience. We have also embraced the lean methodology to improve efficiency and eliminate waste in an effort to better serve our customers.

In addition, SummaCare has really differentiated itself through its focus not only on service but also on the quality of service and overall customer experience. We have adopted customer experience characteristics that are applied to our day-to-day operations and interactions with our customers. These characteristics are the adjectives used to define the ‘optimal customer experience,’ such as hassle-free, timely, accurate, consistent, personalized, etc. Furthermore, the Service Quality Committee, a multidisciplinary corporate committee, drives the service culture throughout the company. Each area within SummaCare is accountable to measurable service indicators and process improvements to facilitate excellent customer service.

How do you go above and beyond?

SummaCare utilizes an empowerment program that provides service departments with discretionary authority to resolve customer issues and create the ‘wow factor.’ Service representatives are empowered to use skills and strengths to satisfy the customer. As a result of empowering service representatives, we have gained customer loyalty, customer referrals, increased employee morale and more efficient work processes as we strive to not only provide excellent service to our customers, but also to build lasting relationships.

How to reach: SummaCare, www.summacare.com

Published in Cleveland
Tuesday, 31 May 2011 20:14

Staying the Course

Since 1993, John Robert’s Spa has been one of Northeast Ohio’s great success stories, growing from two employees and 900 square feet to a collection of upscale salons and spas. It has been selected multiple times as one of the top 20 salons in America. During one of the most difficult business climates, Stacy DiJulius, co-owner of John Robert’s, was tragically killed in an automobile accident March 2009. All of this led to questions of whether this company would be able to survive the loss of their visionary leader? Would John Robert’s close? Would they have to sell?


“It rallied an already close team even more, to not let Stacy down and honor her legacy, to make sure we continue what all of us have been working for and believing in for so many years,” says Eric Hammond, who started back in 1998 as a manager of the front desk and, today, is the managing partner of John Robert’s Spa.

This is no small feat, considering the loss of their leader, and every business seemed to be reeling from the economic crisis.

John Robert’s had to focus on uniting its leadership team, reinforcing the buy-in of Stacy’s vision and ensuring the guest experience remains something that everyone is fanatical about.

It meant sharing the original business plan of John and Stacy, which was a couple of napkins they wrote on when they were out to eat, the months and days leading up to them starting John Robert’s.

“If everyone gets our vision, then being fanatical about the guest experience takes care of itself,” says John DiJulius.

The results

While most of the beauty industry and other industries were seeing significant drop off in business, sometimes in excess of 20 to 35 percent the last two years, John Robert’s Spa fared substantially better than most. Sales remained even from previous years. How is 2011 looking?

“We are having one of our strongest years in our company history, we are up over 10 percent,” DiJulius says. “It is such a testament to our incredible team. Everyone stepped up, their commitment to the company, Stacy’s legacy and their passion for what they do is so inspiring. I don’t understand when leaders complain about employees today having little work ethic. We have such an exceptional group of motivated employees who do the right thing, all on their own, for each other, the guest and give back to the community.”

What’s next?

“Our plan has always been to open more locations, reach more markets in Northeast Ohio. We are always looking for opportunities to expand our brand,” Hammond says. “We also have a goal to open a cosmetology school that will be called the Stacy DiJulius Academy.”

When asked if there was ever any truth to the salons were up for sale, DiJulius says: “No way; I love this business, and I love my entire team. We haven’t finished what we started 18 years ago, we still have plenty more to do, provide more opportunities and be an escape for our guests from the day to day stresses of life.”

Published in Akron/Canton
Tuesday, 31 May 2011 20:01

The answer is yes

Employees at PartsSource Inc. know that customer service is what their company is all about. From the first day they begin work at the medical parts supplier, they are given two weeks of intensive classroom customer service training.

After a new hire has completed training, he or she moves on to a designated area of the call center where a training and development manager oversees and helps with customer interaction. Twice a week, the company also conducts training classes for both new hires and existing account managers to make sure they are clear on the company’s product offerings and processes.

Even President and CEO A. Ray Dalton gets involved in customer service training. He gives each new hire a simple message, but one that drives the entire philosophy of the company. He tells new hires that they are the ones that own the customer experience.

Any situation or problem must be tackled by the account manager as they are closest to the problem and have the most power to rectify it. Before any account manager is allowed to go out on his or her own, he or she must know the company’s expectations of consistently excellent customer service.

With all the training and preparation time given to each new hire, it’s no wonder PartsSource is known for its customer satisfaction. Anytime a customer orders a part, that client is contacted on the day that part is scheduled to arrive and asked five questions.

Did the part arrive on time? Was the part in the condition we represented it to be? Did the part fix your problem? If the customer answers yes to those questions, PartsSource will be pleased but not done. The company will ask if there is anything else it can help find or get done. If a client answers no to any of the previous questions, PartsSource will always ask how it can correct the situation until the client is satisfied.

No matter what service a client asks for, the answer at PartsSource is always yes.

HOW TO REACH: PartsSource Inc., (330) 562-9900 or www.partssource.com

Published in Akron/Canton
Tuesday, 31 May 2011 20:01

Grant Thornton

What is your organization’s philosophy of customer service?

For more than 85 years, Grant Thornton’s service philosophy has been providing personalized attention and delivering the highest quality service through hands-on involvement by our partners and managers to our public and private clients in more than 100 countries.  Grant Thornton has a reputation for integrity, objectivity, and professional excellence which is built on solid relationships with our clients.

How does your organization make customer service a competitive advantage and price less relevant?

To deliver a distinctive level of client service, we provide a relentless focus on personalized attention, responsiveness and accessibility. We feel our approach to serving clients is a distinguishing factor in building relationships.

We have built our client service priorities around a five-point model which we refer to as The Grant Thornton Experience. This model ensures easy access to us and our resources, with an emphasis on value for fees, quality and the highest level of personal attention.  These five points include: (1) Understanding and meeting their expectations through regularly planned discussions (2) Delivering quality service; (3) Providing valuable ideas and recommendations; (4) Demonstrating a personalized focus on them; and, (5) Showing a passion for what we do.

How have you created a culture of customer service in your organization?

While we strive to deliver the Grant Thornton Experience for our clients, we also implement the Grant Thornton Experience for our employees through continuous programs such as extensive training, incentive compensation, mentoring, coaching, and a focus on work/life balance.

The training covers industry, business and accounting issues, and courses to promote professional development, elevate leadership skills and customer service through specific techniques and objectives.

How do you go above and beyond?

As part of the relationship with Grant Thornton, our clients are asked about their experiences. The Service Quality Measurement process, led by an independent, third-party, assesses our clients’ satisfaction and loyalty. We annually send a brief survey to our clients, asking key contacts to evaluate our performance and their overall service experience. This feedback enables us to: Tailor future service delivery to their preferences and priorities; increase efficiency and value; understand what we are doing well and how to improve; resolve any issues; and strengthen our relationships within their organization.

Grant Thornton’s overall client satisfaction rating in this program consistently exceeds 8.5 (0?10 scale) – the benchmark for world-class service. While ratings are important as an objective metric, developing open, trusted relationships is what matters most to us.

How to reach: Grant Thornton, www.grantthornton.com

Published in Cleveland

There are an estimated 1.5 million people in the U.S. who use a wheelchair, not including those who are in nursing homes and other medical facilities. Approximately 12 million people can’t independently walk more than a city block without some type of mobility aid or assistance.

That’s why customer service at MobilityWorks is about more than just a smile and a handshake. It’s about taking care of a vulnerable segment of society.

MobilityWorks, led by President and CEO William Koeblitz, has invested more than $250,000 in a new customer relationship management system specifically designed and modified to track customer service appointments, vehicle information and communications. The company has also created a client care center with three full-time employees for receiving phone calls and e-mails from customers to make sure they are being provided with accurate, timely information, and that every phone call is answered instead of going to voice mail.

The CRM database also allows the company to quickly notify customers if a manufacturer recall notice or service issue has been sent out for any product.

MobilityWorks also recently invested $12,000 to have an outside consulting firm perform a detailed customer satisfaction study, with the goal of improving customer service throughout the company in several key areas. The firm randomly interviewed 220 customers of different ages and backgrounds with in-depth questions about every aspect of their experience with the company — before, during and after the sale.

The company also retains a full-time trainer who coaches and trains our consultants at each location in helping clients with their specific requirements. MobilityWorks approaches clients with a consulting philosophy that includes a thorough process of analyzing the needs of each client. The staff is also trained on various mobility products by attending manufacturer-sponsored training seminars and through certification exams. Online training is also provided by industry organizations.

How to reach: MobilityWorks, (330) 633-1118 or www.mobilityworks.com

Published in Cleveland
Tuesday, 31 May 2011 20:01

Lending the edge

When a customer had trouble with material delivery delays because of unique scheduling demands, Olympic Steel Inc. decided to institute a more flexible on-demand shipping process to ensure its trucking fleet could always respond immediately to that customer’s delivery requests. The new process not only improved the customer’s efficiency and productivity, but ultimately, it improved its ability to better serve its own customers, as well.

It’s this kind of tailored problem-solving that has helped grow Olympic Steel into a top supplier of flat-rolled steel products. With 16 locations nationwide, the company drives customer loyalty by consistently demonstrating its ability to anticipate and address the problems of its customers, whether it’s helping them trim expenses, streamline operations or cut costs to propel growth.

Led by Chairman and CEO Michael Siegal, the company starts by listening to customers to find out how it can help them achieve their goals. In tough economic times, how receptive and responsive companies are to their customers’ changing needs and requirements plays an even more vital role in customer loyalty. Olympic’s leadership team constantly monitors industry fluctuations in price, availability and resources. By collecting and sharing that information with its customers, the company helps businesses adapt accordingly so they can remain competitive in planning and pricing.

Ensuring its customers stay educated and informed about new options for their businesses is just one way Olympic demonstrates its consistency of service. Building that consistency begins with a 90-day on-boarding and orientation process for all employees, where they are trained extensively in the application of Olympic’s core values and service culture. The service culture is strengthened further through Olympic’s performance management program, which uses a pay-per-performance rating structure to promote quality output. And to additionally motivate employees who exceed customer expectations consistently, the AP3X incentive program is used to reward ambassadors of the service culture with quarterly cash incentives.

How to reach: Olympic Steel Inc., (216) 292-3800 or www.olysteel.com

Published in Akron/Canton

While many people complain about the work ethic of the younger generation, in world-class customer service companies, I see the exact opposite. They have cult-like cultures where their employees, many between 17 and 25, make ridiculous sacrifices ensuring co-workers and customers receive the experienced promised. Why do a few companies have these employees, while so many other companies are constantly turning over this same age group? Yes, one answer is that they select better candidates. However, I truly believe there is only a small fraction of people who burn with the service DNA to serve people. The rest are grown by great companies and their cultures.

Think about who are the most selfless, most sacrificing people you have ever come across. You will probably agree that it is anyone who has anything to do with the following groups: volunteers, charities, campaigns or high school or collegiate athletes. OK, next question: What do these groups and the people that make them up have in common? They make little or no money, and it is highly unlikely they can ever make any big money in this field, but they are part of a cause, part of something bigger. They are focused on their direct impact, and they have an abundance of pride and loyalty to their team, which is a special fraternity that they are willing to fight for. Many times, this is the same age group of young adults who we can’t get to show up for work on time. Now think of the great service businesses that have totally disrupted stale industries with a completely new model, energized by a work force on a mission to fulfill the experience promised: Southwest Airlines, Apple, Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, and Nordstrom to name a few. They created the same sense of purpose that volunteer groups, charities, political campaigns and scholastic sports have. However, they do one thing better: They pay their team members. A purpose and a paycheck.

A few years ago, my middle son, Cal, who was 11 at the time, read a book about a politician and became a huge fan and supporter. He asked if he could work on this politician’s Northeast Ohio campaign committee. I said I doubted the campaign would allow a minor to work for it, but that didn’t stop Cal. He called and called and finally got the NEO campaign director to meet with him to discuss how he could contribute. Shortly after, he was attending meetings every night, making phone calls to registered voters and knocking door to door. The local newspaper even ran a story about a youth’s rare commitment to a political campaign. His candidate ended up winning, and Cal is convinced he was the reason why. But think about his sense of purpose, his commitment and devotion for a cause — a vision. That is the type of thing I want out of my employees toward our Customer Service Vision and non-negotiable standards.

John DiJulius III is the author of “Secret Service: Hidden Systems that Deliver Unforgettable Customer Service” and “What’s the Secret.” He is also president of the DiJulius Group. Reach him at John@thedijuliusgroup.com.

Published in Akron/Canton

At Marous Brothers Construction Inc., there are no customers. There are just clients. As a family owned and operated company, Marous Brothers still runs its business with the values it was founded on more than 30 years ago, specifically a commitment to building lasting client relationships and maintaining long-term business partnerships.

Marous Brothers President Adelbert “Chip” Marous Jr. uses this relationship-based sales model to drive the company’s goal of 100 percent client retention. In fact, 90 percent of the firm’s work is generated either through referrals or repeat business. With such strong client relationships, it’s no wonder Marous’ employees prefer using the term “clients” rather than “customers” to describe businesses that seek the company’s services.

In running a family business, the Marous brothers know that fostering strong relationships is the key to keeping clients coming back again and again. So one way they do that is by making sure every client of the company is treated like family. As a client of Marous Brothers, you are always in business with family, whether it’s working with Chip or one of the company’s other principals — his brothers Scott and Ken Marous are COO and vice president respectively — throughout the sales, pre-construction and construction processes.

But to make sure employees can deliver top client service, you have to give them the right resources, as well, which is why Marous Brothers provides a strategic relationship-management tool called the Marous Way for its 650 employees. The tool outlines steps for employees to manage and meet client expectations in all phases of a project. Client input is invited and evaluated throughout a project’s timeline, with client evaluation surveys provided in intervals to find out any issues proactively and ensure continued client satisfaction. Even between projects Marous Brothers team members are always in touch with clients, whether it’s extending them invitations to seminars, checking on their satisfaction with past projects, sending articles about industry updates and events, or inquiring about new project ideas.

How to reach: Marous Brothers Construction Inc., (440) 951-3904 or www.marousbrothers.com

Published in Cleveland
Tuesday, 31 May 2011 20:01

Icing on the cake

The demanding owner of some well-known restaurant chains was running out of fondue and apricot grilling sauces. When the account manager could not be reached, a Nestle USA order coordinator stepped up to the plate. After conference calls and working long hours into the night, she solved the sauce shortage and kept the restaurants from running out. The coordinator drew compliments from the restaurant owner for her cooperation.

Stories like that tell how important relationships are to Nestle USA and Michael Coburn, director of customer service.

The customer is the No. 1 priority at Nestle USA, and building a personal relationship with him or her helps build strong partnerships. Each customer is assigned to a particular customer service representative and interacts through phone, e-mail and occasional personal visits.

To enhance the level of customer service even more, the company has launched the Nestle Xperience program, which sets up daily team huddles to focus on delivering customer service, sharing experiences and reviewing progress. It also lists non-negotiable standards/expectations for all new and existing employees, for instance: “Never say no ? always tell them what we can do,” and “Never multitask while dealing with a customer ? always be present/focused on the customer.”

These non-negotiable items are reviewed by job applicants to ensure that they are willing to follow the requirements. Applicants are also asked how they would react in theoretical situations to gauge how they would perform on the job.

All customer service employees take online courses each quarter geared toward continual training on world-class customer service. A grade of 80 percent must be attained to pass.

And to keep matters in focus, each employee has a Nestle Xperience-branded mirror in front of the phone to remind them that a smile can be heard through the phone and that the Xperience branding reminds them to continually look for opportunities to better serve customers.

How to reach: Nestle USA, Customer Service Department, (440) 264-5720 or www.nestleusa.com

Published in Akron/Canton
Tuesday, 31 May 2011 20:04

Staying on top

Great customer service never goes out of style, but there are times when it’s even more appreciated than normal. SS&G has learned that recessions are a time when clients are thirsting for expertise to help them get through financial challenges and come out the other end in good shape.

It’s why Gary S. Shamis, the accounting firm’s managing director, pushes the idea of building partnerships with his clients. He wants his people to be like family to clients and his firm a place where they can turn for answers rather than red tape and more headaches.

The firm is always looking for new ways to provide that little something extra to clients to help them manage through stressful times. Free seminars are held regularly to discuss an array of subjects that directly relate to issues that clients are dealing with. The best part is they are most often held in the morning so as not to disrupt the rest of their busy day.

Often, the seminars are hosted by SS&G personnel. But when they aren’t the expert, the firm finds someone who is and taps into his or her expertise. The goal is the same either way: to provide topnotch insight and advice to help clients prosper.

SS&G has also introduced a secure client portal that offers clients access to important documents that they might need free of charge. The goal in these and other offerings is to always provide clients with what they need before they even have to ask for it.

Shamis encourages close working relationships with clients and an attitude of consistently looking for better ways to satisfy clients and provide them with even better service.

Between great service and tremendous expertise, SS&G leaves little to chance when it comes to delivering for its clients.

How to reach: SS&G, (440) 248-8787 or www.ssandg.com

Published in Akron/Canton