Alliance Bus Group Inc. has become the largest bus dealership in the United States by embracing its service and support philosophy, “Along for the Whole Ride,” and by delivering comprehensive customer care.
Guided by CEO Doug Dunn, Alliance differentiates itself from its competition by supporting its customers throughout the entire term of their bus ownership from purchase through disposal, rather than merely selling the least expensive product and leaving customers to figure out for themselves how to service and support the vehicle.
Alliance has invested heavily in its seven dealerships and in its support staff, and these investments enable the company to service, repair and take care of any bus-related matter. Alliance has a 60,000-square-foot refurbishment facility with a full paint booth, its service facilities have as many as 10 service bays, and the company’s national service network, parts warehouse and on-site inventory allow it to perform every service buses need, from basic oil change to full refurbishment and paint with complete warranty.
“I have been a customer of Alliance Bus Group for four years and purchased multiple vehicles from them” says David Hindman, owner of Kids’ Zone Learning Center and Daycare in Marietta, Ga. “I have been extremely happy with their dealership and particularly their customer service. Every time I’ve had problems with a bus, Alliance has gone above and beyond in making sure I was taken care of and that my business didn’t suffer due to these issues.”
In July 2012, Alliance was named the fourth fastest-growing large middle-market corporation in Georgia by the Atlanta Chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth. “We are honored to have been nominated and recognized,” CEO Doug Dunn says. “It’s a great accomplishment and reflects on our quality personnel and their dedication to seeing Alliance Bus Group succeed.”
How to reach: Alliance Bus Group Inc., (866) 287-4768 or www.alliancebusgroup.com
Farmers play a crucial societal role — obviously, the healthier everyone eats, the better — and AGCO Corp. dedicates itself to supplying the tools to help farmers fulfill that role. Headed up by Chairman, President and CEO Martin Richenhagen, AGCO provides tractors, combines, sprayers, forage and tillage equipment, implements and hay tools, as well as machine parts, technical service support, financial solutions and practical advice for farmers.
“I deal with many clients, but AGCO is one of a kind,” says Benton J. Mathis Jr., managing partner with Freeman Mathis & Gary LLP. “If every American manufacturer did business like AGCO does with its customers, in terms of building a quality product and providing exemplary customer service, we would be in a far better economy in this country.”
In 2011, AGCO continued to refresh its equipment lines with a focus on high horsepower. In North America, the company introduced a number of high-technology tractors equipped with selective catalytic reduction engine technology. The new SCR-equipped tractors deliver improved fuel economy and cleaner exhaust for a healthier environment.
Toward the end of 2011, AGCO introduced its first self-propelled forage harvester, the Fendt Katana. The Katana is being marketed mainly to farmers already loyal to the Fendt brand, and AGCO expects that the product will open sales opportunities in the feed and silage sector and in harvesting biomass crops.
AGCO’s frequent advances in technology and design necessitate regular training updates. To address this, the company provides training to its network of independent dealers via AGCO Academy, a program offering up-to-the-minute training technology and instructor-led coursework.
The international team of employees who work for AGCO are the driving force behind the company’s success. To help meet the needs of its growing global business, in 2011, AGCO implemented a global talent acquisition process across all of its regions. Talent acquisition and development are two pillars of the company’s human resources strategy.
How to reach: AGCO Corp., (770) 813-9200 or www.agcocorp.com
There is little question that one of the big challenges for any organization is the ability to differentiate itself from the competition. Rising above the din isn’t easy. And as the race to compete on price becomes a losing proposition, the focus has shifted to providing an extraordinarily high level of service in order to stand out.
Smart Business is pleased to recognize 25 organizations as part of the 2012 World Class Customer Service Awards program, presented by Comcast Business Class and sponsored by Northwestern Benefit Corp. of Georgia, Freeman Mathis & Gary LLP, The DiJulius Group, Atlanta Pro AV and The Country Club of the South.at
This group embodies what it means to not just deliver world-class customer service, but they also understand how to develop internal cultures structured around service and teams of people who think “customer first.”
As you read the profiles of these innovative organizations, think about how you deliver service — internally and externally — and how your ability to rise above the din provides a competitive advantage.
The World Class Customer Service awards honor companies for their superior customer service. The program serves to raise awareness of the importance of customer service in the business world, recognize organizations that demonstrate exceptional customer service and share best practices in customer service from those that do it best.
Learn more about the class of 2012:
The 2012 World Class Customer Service Awards are presented by Metro Lexus and sponsored by Smart Business, Blue Technologies, The Brewer-Garrett Company, Cleveland Clinic, SummaCare, John Robert's Spa, Colortone Staging & Rentals, and Executive Caterers at Landerhaven.
“We live in Greater Cleveland, we work in Greater Cleveland, now we are working on making Cleveland even greater!” was the beginning of a recent marketing campaign for Metro Lexus. Well, after having the privilege of participating on the panel of judges for this year’s WCCS Awards, you can rest assured that the business community around Northeast Ohio is striving daily to raise the bar and establish new standards of what it means to be “world-class.”
Before I share with you what emerged for me as the common thread that runs through the fabric of the DNA of each of these inspiring organizations, I must first ask you to take a deep breath and try to pull yourself away from your desk and into one of those meditative states of mind. Summer is here, the birds are chirping, and you just finished mowing the lawn. It’s a perfect 85-degree Cleveland day and you have decided to reward yourself with a cold beverage and reflect on life. It has become a perfect “sit on the deck” moment” that we all cherish so much. Unfortunately, the buzzing of a little gnat gets into your ear, annoys you and effectively kills the mood. Your obsession soon becomes squashing the gnat. But regardless of the enormous size disadvantage for the gnat, it keeps coming at you — relentless and fearless. It is willing to continue its pursuit until you either go inside or it ends up on the wrong side of yesterday’s newspaper.
This tenacity, gnat tenacity, for customer service and customer experience resounded through the presentations. It left me both inspired and reminded of what sustains and evolves the great companies — a tenacious commitment to world-class excellence and customer service. As I challenged myself to find new ways to inspire that type of culture within my own organization, I realized that, in many cases, it was already happening. If we recognize those who already have this special approach and allow them the flexibility to make the right decisions for the customer, it will ultimately result in a contagious culture of customer service. Do you just want good customer service within your organization, or are you willing to take on the sometimes seemingly insurmountable challenges that come along with being the best? You may have a competitor that is tenacious and passionate about being the best.
John Spearry is the general manager of Metro Lexus. Reach him at John_Spearry@metrolexus.com or visit www.metrolexus.com.
It’s not an easy task to become a new associate in Moen’s consumer service department. Every new hire spends 500 hours in intense classroom training to learn about Moen products, processes, warranties, and much more. This dedication to customer service detail is exactly what President David Lingafelter and Moen Inc., strive for.
Moen Inc. is the No. 1 faucet brand in North America, manufacturing kitchen and bath faucets, showerheads, accessories, bath safety products and kitchen sinks for residential and commercial applications. The company puts an increased focus on consumer service training so new hires understand the importance of a satisfied customer and one that continues to come back to Moen products.
Much of those 500 hours of training is delivered in a classroom setting of small groups of 10 or less associates to ensure excellent one-on-one training. Following that initial training each new hire goes on to spend one year in a training/mentoring program focused on understanding who the Moen customer is and how to best serve their needs.
This process is tough and the company realizes that not everyone can be part of the consumer services department. The company hires a third party service to recruit and screen potential applicants. Once hired, new associates work at Moen on a temporary basis for the first six months to ensure a good fit. If the employee does what is expected and more, they are moved to full-time employment.
Providing best-in-class customer service is one of the pillars on which Moen is founded and continues to thrive. Beyond just new hires, Moen encourages all existing employees to visit the consumer services department on an annual basis. Those who do find the experience priceless, as it reinforces the reason why Moen has been established — to create Moen advocates for life.
How to Reach: Moen Inc., (800) 289-6636 or www.moen.com
Within a mile radius of the Marriott Cleveland East, there are at least 10 other lodging establishments where a guest can stay. But those 10 aren’t Marriott hotels.
“We know that if we don’t provide world-class customer service, our guests can choose another lower-priced alternative,” says General Manager Kenny Didier. “By following our mission statement and providing genuine care to our guests, they will keep coming back.”
Marriott’s mission statement is about serving the associates, the customer, and the community. Marriott's fundamental beliefs are enduring and are key to its continued success.
“We make it our mission and goal to give both business and leisure travelers the extra warmth and hospitality that makes staying at the Marriott Cleveland East like being at their home rather than at a hotel,” Didier says.
To facilitate the empowered associate culture at the hotel, a Guest at Risk program has been established to resolve guest inconveniences and problems. A guest at risk is a guest who has been identified as being at risk of having a less than perfect experience. Accordingly, the hotel makes a point to deliver absolute resolution regardless of the severity of the problem. The issue is documented into a computer program called Guestware. The guest receives follow-up calls to make sure there are no further needs.
After six months of this program, the hotel is proud to say it started 2012 consistently ranked in the top 5 percent of all Marriott Hotels when ranked for overall satisfaction by guests.
To deliver world-class customer service, it all starts with hiring the right person with the right attitude. After a careful selection process that includes testing conducted by the Gallup organization, successful candidates are brought on board and mentored by a seasoned trainer. Customer service hires receive additional training to develop their skills, including lecture, role play, multimedia and guest testimonials to instill the Marriott’s world-class culture even more.
How to reach: Marriott Cleveland East, (216) 378-9191 or www.marriott.com
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
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
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