When someone asks Main Street Cupcakes co-owner Sarah Forrer what business she and fellow co-owner and founder Kimberly Martin are in, she always responds that she’s in the customer service business, and their product just happens to be cupcakes.

But behind that tasty product is a team of people who will do anything to make sure that their customers are satisfied — even a single customer. For instance, one customer loved one particular flavor of cupcake that the store served, but with 230 flavors of cupcakes and only 12 to 20 that are made each day, that customer’s favorite flavor wasn’t always on the menu. When an order is placed for it, the owners contact this customer to tell her they have it available that day. The first time they called, she was shocked they had remembered her and delighted to treat herself — and she came in on a day she wasn’t planning to.

Another customer is attempting to eat all 230 flavors in a year, so whenever a flavor pops up on the menu that she hasn’t tried, the owners contact her on Facebook and let her know a new flavor is available.

But customer service comes with challenges, too. When the Cavs contacted them to order 100 dozen cupcakes, it was a great order, but each dozen had to go to a different location. This was a challenge for a company that doesn’t normally deliver, but Forrer and Martin wanted to wow the Cavs and show the team that they could service above and beyond the normal protocol. The company rallied together and 10 people headed out with 10 deliveries each, which took each driver about seven hours to complete because the orders went from Columbus to Youngstown to Mentor to Elyria. Despite the challenge, it went well, and now the company has a great relationship with the Cavs. Stories like this make Main Street Cupcakes sweet to eat and sweeter to work with.

How to reach: Main Street Cupcakes, (330) 342-0833 or (440) 331-3661 or www.mainstreetcupcakes.com

Published in Cleveland
Tuesday, 31 May 2011 20:01

Servant leaders

Imagine for a minute if how much your physician was paid was based on how happy you were with your doctor’s visit. While it sounds odd, the health care organization Emergency Medicine Physicians is just more proof that tying incentive into customer satisfaction makes a difference.

As changes abound in the health care industry, it’s more important than ever to find ways to make the patient experience as positive as possible. However, EMP’s commitment to patient satisfaction isn’t something that’s forced on the organization’s employees, and that’s because EMP employees are actually their own bosses. EMP is 100 percent physician-owned all the way up to CEO Dr. Dominic J. Bagnoli. Operating as owners, the physicians of EMP see the value of maintaining the highest standards of medical care. As business owners and doctors, they possess the know-how and experience of medical practitioners, giving EMP an insider advantage both in recruiting and in adapting successfully to industry changes and standards.

One factor that contributes to EMP’s success is its decision to start paying a percentage of physicians’ compensation based on their individual patient satisfaction scores. Beginning in 2000, EMP authorized that 30 percent of physician pay would be based on individual productivity and patient satisfaction. While many other medical facilities don’t even measure patient satisfaction scores, EMP uniquely rewards physicians with incentive to build trust with patients and optimizing communication between patients and doctors. Today, EMP partners with 60 locations across 12 states, and 60 percent of its physicians rate above the 90th percentile in their patient satisfaction score.

An “owner’s mind” is just one of the four core values that drive EMP, along with servant’s heart, teamwork and integrity. As a values-based organization, EMP extensively trains and educates its physicians to live the service culture through classes in its Physician Satisfaction Academy.

How to reach: Emergency Medicine Physicians, (330) 493-4443 or www.emp.com

Published in Akron/Canton
Tuesday, 31 May 2011 20:57

Rock solid

While you might want to reminisce about the days of old and rock ‘n’ roll, that’s only a part of what Rock the House Entertainment is all about. Offering concierge-class customer service for occasions ranging from corporate events to weddings, Rock the House wants to create an experience that CEO Matt Radicelli and staff want customers to remember for a long time.

It all starts with the initial contact ? 80 percent of business is through word-of-mouth ?  as the RTHLive software keeps track of all e-mails, conversations and other interactions with customers so that all departments are on the same page. Each customer is paired with a go-to person for the event; it’s the company’s “single point of contact” strategy. All full-time staff members are trained in assisting with every aspect of the business. This strategy is designed to build brand loyalty with the entire company so customers will trust the whole machine and not just the person with which they work most often.

New employees ? energetic staff members with good hearts ready to get with the program ? go through a detailed orientation program that includes company history, customer service philosophies, and mission and vision statement discussions. Then they receive training specific to their role supervised by seasoned staff members who have been recognized as sincerely embracing the customer service philosophies.

Rock the House even employs “wildcards,” staff members that stand by to relieve an ill team member, deliver replacement equipment and perform other duties as needed. As a result, there haven’t been any unresolved event-related issues in five years. Customers take notice that it is truly the company’s pleasure to be of service.

Highly satisfied customers are clearly the goal at Rock the House. The refund policy underscores that with the simple statement, “If you don’t get what you asked for, expected or paid for, it’s free.”

How to reach: Rock the House Entertainment, (440) 232-7625 or www.rthgroup.com

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

A service quest

When one customer went into Dave’s Markets, she was anticipating only getting a few items quickly, but a half-hour later she left with a full shopping cart and feeling quite special. In those short 30 minutes, many employees had asked her if she needed help and a cashier even opened up for her and then asked her if she needed help getting to her car. Even as she left the store, an employee in the parking lot said he would take her cart for her. All of these experiences culminated in one thing: an extremely satisfied customer who will return to the store.

Under the leadership of Dan Saltzman, Dave’s Markets recognizes that good customer service isn’t enough these days. Instead, he and his team aim to go well above and beyond customer expectations.

The company is in the middle of a customer service initiative that has started at six stores and have the other eight stores on board by the end of the year. The company works through this initiative through mystery shops, store visit summaries and certifying all of its associates in the elements of customer service. The initiative encompasses four basic principles: the company’s customer service mission statement, the company’s customer service attitude, its going-the-extra-mile philosophy, and its commitment to service recovery.

The last part of the initiative, service recovery, can often mean the difference between someone coming back or not if they have a less-than-stellar experience. Employees are trained to first listen to the customer attentively and completely without interrupting and make eye contact. They then apologize to the customer and not place blame. Then they ask what they can do to make it right and do what the customer says. Then they thank them for bringing the situation to their attention. Finally, they correct the problem to prevent similar situations from happening again.

This approach keeps Dave’s Markets’ customers coming back.

How to reach: Dave’s Markets, (216) 763-3200 or www.davesmarkets.com

Published in Akron/Canton
Tuesday, 31 May 2011 20:53

Class act

With a heritage that goes back to César Ritz, nicknamed “the hotelier to kings,” The Ritz-Carlton upholds his belief that guests come first and that the customer is never wrong. What makes service so distinctive is the hotel’s ability to perceive, empathize, anticipate and respond and to share something in meaningful ways with guests.

When employees are hired, they go through multistage interviews so that the executive team will be able to determine skills, work personality and their ability to respond to theoretical situations. In short, people who have a vested interest in wanting to engage guests and exceed their expectations make the cut; the rest do not.

New hires go through a two-day orientation to learn the history, culture and service expectations of The Ritz-Carlton. Training and development is an ongoing effort and includes a commitment to lateral service ? assistance from a person in one department to another department. It’s all part of the belief of The Ritz-Carlton and General Manager Joseph Mattioli that guests’ needs are important over other needs.

Four statements set the guidelines for world-class service: the motto, service values, credo and employee promise. From the motto of “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen” to the 12 affirmations of the service values, the service philosophy resonates in each experience at The Ritz-Carlton.

A positive experience depends greatly on the heart of the organization, the ladies and gentlemen, as they are called. They are the ones who help promote open, clear communication, who are empowered to impress a guest, and are internal guests who offer their time to help each other while upholding the company’s service values. As the first value states, “I build strong relationships and create Ritz-Carlton guests for life,” and with the team focused on a common goal of creating exceptional customer service, it is only natural that lasting memories will be fashioned.

How to reach: The Ritz-Carlton, Cleveland, (216) 623-1300 or www.ritzcarlton.com

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

Staying ahead of problems

Chris Adams witnessed Cox New England-Cleveland’s exemplary customer service without even picking up the phone. A severe wind storm was blowing through his Lakewood neighborhood that ended up knocking out his power for three days. But before he or his neighbors even knew if the storm had affected their TV and Internet services, Cox was there to scope out possible damage.

“Before a customer even knew if their Cox services were out, Cox technicians were in the neighborhood, proactively checking and fixing connections and lines,” Adams wrote in a letter. “Once our power was finally restored three days later, Cox services were already there. In some ways, I didn’t even experience Cox’s customer service. I didn’t have to call them. … Excellent customer service is about not having to call a company to report trouble.”

You need to constantly be alert and aware of what’s happening throughout your business in order to be able to identify problems before your customer. But that’s just the type of commitment that Paul Cronin, senior vice president and general manager at Cox New England-Cleveland, expects from all his people.

The importance of customer service is driven home the very first day an employee works for Cox and is threaded through every aspect of the business. Customer feedback is gathered regularly and employees are measured as to how well they do.

Timeliness is a priority as the company recognizes that customers don’t want to wait until next Tuesday for a problem to be fixed. More than 90 percent of the company’s service calls are done with 24 hours or within the customer’s preferred time frame.

Once on site, employees focus on respect and doing everything they can to ensure satisfaction with their work before they walk out the door and head off to their next assignment.

How to reach: Cox New England-Cleveland, (216) 535-3345 or www.cox.com/cleveland

Published in Akron/Canton

Whether you realize it or not, you rely on the customer relationships forged by The Lincoln Electric Co. As a company that provides arc welding products and systems, Lincoln Electric serves customers that build the cars and bridges we use each day and maintain the power plants that provide electricity to our homes and businesses.

In other words, our ability to lead our daily lives is impacted by the customer service Lincoln Electric provides.

Everyone in the company, up to and including Chairman, President and CEO John Stropki, realizes it and is constantly striving to find new ways to better serve their customers.

One of the innovations implemented by Lincoln Electric’s staff include on-site welding process support through the company’s technical sales team, allowing customers’ manufacturing operations to stay efficient and profitable. The company has also introduced industry-leading training materials regarding welding safety, application support for tough manufacturing problems, welding consumables that are engineered for high productivity and advance technology equipment that allows manufacturers to weld quickly and with the highest quality, all while electronically monitoring productivity.

Lincoln Electric’s customer service philosophy is centered on responsiveness. The company’s leaders believe in the philosophy, “what gets measured gets improved.” With that in mind, Stropki and his team place an emphasis on call center phone answer times, e-mail response times, customer surveys and on-time delivery of products.

The proper training is integral to building a responsive staff, and to that end, Lincoln Electric’s sales team spends a year in the classroom with hands-on learning about the company’s products. Once in the field, the sales staff representatives are well versed in applying the company’s guaranteed cost reduction program, ensuring lower-cost and more efficient products for customers.

How to reach: The Lincoln Electric Co., (216) 383-8054 or www.lincolnelectric.com

Published in Cleveland
Tuesday, 31 May 2011 20:43

Ready to serve

It didn’t look good for The Equity Engineering Group Inc. The company was working with a vendor to install Microsoft Dynamics GP on its server, but the installation was not going smoothly.

Unsure of what to do about the problem, the company turned to Skoda Minotti. The accounting firm determined that Equity Engineering Group needed to create a test environment to safely make alterations to the application without any risk of damaging the production environment.

Skoda Minotti jumped on the challenge and soon decided that if Equity Engineering Group contacted Microsoft, it might be able to reach a quick solution to its troubles. The company did just that and a solution was indeed identified, eliminating a major headache.

This ability to track down solutions and ease customer stress is a hallmark of the philosophy of service that exists at Skoda Minotti under the leadership of Gregory J. Skoda, the firm’s chairman. What makes it special is that the firm does not limit itself to dealing with accounting problems.

Skoda preaches a commitment that goes beyond the task at hand and helps to develop lasting relationships that benefit both parties.

While the firm’s core business is accounting, requests are also made for advice and counsel on business recommendations and personal matters and other areas that fall outside of that core. It’s part of being a company that people can count on and one that rarely, if ever, utters the words, ‘We can’t help you in that area.’

By emphasizing this approach to customer service through all aspects of the business, Skoda Minotti’s culture is one where solutions are always being sought. It empowers employees to want to help their clients and to make sure they do their part to protect the reputation and the tradition of Skoda Minotti.

How to reach: Skoda Minotti, (440) 449-6800 or www.skodaminotti.com

Published in Akron/Canton

Customer service has always been a priority at Invacare Corp. But the lack of a defined career path for the company’s customer service representatives was resulting in the loss of good employees.

Some decided to pursue other positions in the company while others left Invacare altogether. It was a problem that Gerry Blouch, the company’s president, knew needed to be addressed.

So in 2009, he began to look at how new and existing associates were being trained, tested and promoted in the customer service department. They looked at job descriptions and reviewed the training curriculum and set clear definitions for advancement at the company.

These steps created a more defined career path that helped give people a better sense of what they needed to do in order to grow. It also helped enhance a culture that drives home the message to every employee that customer service must be a priority.

Whether it’s the weekly team huddles to discuss timely informational updates or fun activities that build camaraderie between employees, Blouch, who added CEO to his title in January, asks Invacare personnel to constantly work hard in search of a better way to do their jobs and help the company’s customers.

That connection between employee and product is perhaps best exemplified by Invacare’s “A Day in a Chair” program. Customer service reps get firsthand experience as to what it’s like to be dependent on a wheelchair and the challenges that presents. The experience helps the products to be more than just something that Invacare makes, but something that customers depend on.

By emphasizing a level of compassion and the important role that employees can play in helping customers and showing how much the company values what employees do to that end, Invacare continues to raise the bar on customer service excellence.

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

Published in Cleveland
Tuesday, 31 May 2011 20:41

Making raving fans

When the Ohio Buckeye Chapter of the National MS Society came to The Shamrock Cos., it brought a challenge to the company, which does marketing communications and project management.

The chapter needed to devise a new option for producing race event participant materials for its Pedal to the Point fundraiser, and it needed to save time and money while creating efficiencies on and before race day. Shamrock, under the leadership of CEO Robert Troop, was ready and able to assist. The company was able to create a final product that completely eliminated the need for manual assembly and any chance of error with race day materials. It also saved time, money and increased accuracy.

This is just one example of how Shamrock creates “raving fans,” which is its ultimate goal with every customer. It does this by adding value and delivering above and beyond, and customers are well aware that the company wants to go the extra mile for them. The raving fan theme is present in every department and customer service procedure.

Shamrock also believes that to create raving fans, its day-to-day performance must be stellar, and they must continuously improve processes and push the envelope in terms of quality, turnaround time and customer relations. To make sure this happens, the company has a statistical method it requires of all employees called the Problem Solving Analytical Technique. This requires them to identify the problem, identify all possible reasons for that problem, measure occurrences against the possible causes, determine the real root cause, implement corrective action and monitor results to determine that the corrective action has been effective.

As a result of all of these efforts, the company regularly receives unsolicited praise from its customers about how its team members satisfied them. That feedback, in turn, is then shared with employees, which yields continued dedication to delivering plus-one service and a continuation to exceed expectations.

How to reach: The Shamrock Cos., (440) 899-9510 or www.shamrockcompanies.net

Published in Akron/Canton