Chris Dalton, president and CEO of Acquity Group, co-founded his company after he saw that the evolving business environment demanded highly tailored, integrated solutions that were both creative and technologically sound. He led the company to meet this demand and helped develop the firm’s forward-thinking approach to integrating strategy, technology and design services to create comprehensive end-to-end digital solutions for clients.
Not many technology professionals would have started an IT consultancy in the immediate aftermath of the burst of the dot-com bubble, but Dalton and his partners felt it was the perfect moment.
“I had seen enough examples of what didn’t work and knew that if we put together the right kind of consultancy, based on what defunct dot-com firms had not done, we couldn’t lose,” says Dalton.
Eight years later, with a compound annual growth rate of 60 percent and nearly 300 employees, Dalton’s gut instinct is proving right on the money. Acquity Group has thrived in a competitive arena that averages a high failure rate and has been profitable since day one.
Dalton’s leadership and his focused vision have helped the firm build an impressive client list that includes Motorola, General Motors, Ritz Carlton, Kohl’s, Procter & Gamble and American Express. He is focused on helping these companies compete in today’s digital marketplace by implementing holistic, strategic solutions.
Dalton’s drive, determination and commitment to excellence and community carry through in his establishment of the Acquity Cares program, a public outreach initiative.
Also, in 2007, Dalton was inducted into the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Institute for Entrepreneurial studies Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame.
How to reach: Acquity Group, www.acquitygroup.com
Private Equity/Venture Capital
Ira Boots has spent the last 30 years working his way through the ranks at Berry Plastics Corp.
Now, as chairman and CEO, he’s focused on making sure Berry continues the success he’s contributed to through the years.
Working his way through the organization has given Boots a deep knowledge of the plastics packaging industry and allowed him to share his progressive business style. The result is a highly focused, knowledgeable and motivated management team.
His business concept of placing employee needs first, coupled with his engineering drive to be the low-cost manufacturer with highly innovative products, has been a formula for success.
Boots and his management team are well recognized in the plastics industry’s mergers and acquisitions arena as the result of the successful acquisition and integration of 28 companies in the last 20 years. His philosophy of absorbing the best practices of the new businesses, growing not just in size and reach but in skills, has contributed to the success of the mergers. Boots stresses the importance of fully integrating each acquisition by educating new companies in the Berry program and stressing the importance of looking for the best practices within acquired companies.
Through disciplined acquisitions and new product development, Berry has grown rapidly in the past decade. Long a well-respected name on Wall Street, Boots has been able to interface with top financial institutions and has leveraged top investors to help fuel large stages of growth. Boots has also built Berry’s marketplace reputation by offering top-of-the-line customer service and product quality as well as competitive pricing, which has given it a competitive advantage within the industry.
For More Information: Berry Plastics Corp., www.berryplastics.com
Daniel Arnold has forged his own path as an entrepreneur and is a true visionary.
Arnold, founder, owner and president of Road Ranger LLC, is rarely swayed by conventional thinking and often garners negative initial reactions from conservative business professionals, only to later have them acknowledge the genius in his foresight. He fears no decision other than that of making no decision, and he has a voracious appetite for attacking problems and adversity.
He originally founded Road Ranger with $5,000 in 1984, and for the next six years, he fought against stiff competition and put all of his resources at risk to take market share from established competitors. He gained notice, selling the operating assets of the company in 1990 to Phillips Petroleum. But his interest in mastering the industry didn’t go away, and he jumped back into the business in 1997, when it was struggling and began growing Road Ranger again.
Today, those who choose Road Ranger as an employer are people who are attracted to and fed by the entrepreneurial spirit that Arnold conveys in every interaction with employees.
He has a deep desire to lead and to be the first to market with new offerings at Road Ranger, which runs convenience stores. It is not enough for him to execute successfully on proven concepts; instead, he drives the company to offer products and value to the customer that it has not seen before.
In addition, Arnold has created a unique image with Road Ranger that the public recognizes and that sets it apart from its competitors. The company has gained regional name recognition and influence by selling Road Ranger proprietary coffee, drinks and fast-food items.
Going forward, Arnold is pushing Road Ranger toward national influence through continued expansion ideas and exciting new image presentations.
For More Information: Road Ranger, www.roadrangerusa.com
From a standing start, John Rutledge, founder, president and CEO of Oxford Capital Group LLC, has created a highly scalable and flexible business model.
That model allows him to remain lean at the corporate headquarters level while overseeing assets worth billions of dollars and employing thousands. It also allows him to lead, coordinate and employ hundreds of project-level people who work on his large-scale real estate developments without having to dramatically staff up at the corporate office. As a result, the efficiency, productivity and profitability per employee at Oxford are unusually high.
Rutledge has adapted his company for numerous opportunities as he developed momentum over the years. He started in Chicagoland, then expanded into a national footprint. He has continued to challenge himself and his team by taking on increasingly large-scale and complicated adaptive reuse projects, including converting high-rise office buildings and apartment buildings into hotels, as well as developing and investing across the spectrum, from the upper-midscale to luxury, branded to boutique and full-service to extended stay. In each case, he looks at the best way to optimize a piece of real estate, and he describes himself as commercially agnostic, priding himself on having no ego in terms of whether to develop or acquire a moderate or a higher-end product.
Oxford’s projects have become renowned for their visionary creativity in seeing opportunity where others see only obstacles for success and for executing complicated, multidimensional projects, frequently where other people fear to tread. Oxford has also gone green, opening its first LEED-certified hotel in Chicago.
Rutledge’s team is also known for its keen aesthetic eye and sense of detail, the quality level of the final physical product, and ultimately, for the service its guests experience from all of the operating team members and associates. He also believes that he and his team should be tough on the issues but soft on the people.
For More Information: Oxford Capital Group LLC, www.oxford-capital.com
Health Solutions Inc.9490 Priority Way W. Drive Indianapolis, IN 46240 (317) 573-2700 www.advantageplan.com Vicki Perry President and CEO About ADVANTAGE Health Solutions Inc. was founded in 2000 with less than 20,000 members and today is one of the fastest-growing health plans in Indiana. ADVANTAGE is owned by four area Catholic health systems. The company provides a broad range of products from HMO to consumer-driven health plans. Key products Health care, dental, vision, pharmacy, wellness
Anthem Blue Cross
and Blue Shield220 Virginia Ave. Indianapolis, IN 46204 (800) 331-1476 www.anthem.com Robert W. Hillman President and general manager About Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield serves more than 2 million members in Indiana. Parent company Anthem Insurance Cos. Inc. and its subsidiaries offer a multipronged approach to providing insurance that includes offering a large regional network, educating members about preventive screenings, and providing programs and information on chronic health conditions. Key products Health, dental, vision, disability, pharmacy
CIGNA HealthCare of Indiana Inc.11595 N. Meridian St., Suite 500 Carmel, IN 46032 (317) 208-3203 www.cigna.com Sue Podbielski President About CIGNA HealthCare provides medical, pharmacy and dental care services to employers. The company also offers employees services in health and wellness and behavior change, including behavioral health benefits, medical management and assistance with work-life support programs. CIGNA Corp. received the Best Overall Employee Assistance Program according to Business Insurance’s annual Readers Choice Awards. Key products Medical, pharmacy, dental, life, behavioral health benefits
CorVel Corp.800 E. 96th St., Suite 100 Indianapolis, IN 46240 (317) 816-6996 www.corvel.com Rhonda Moran Area vice president About CorVel Corp. is a national provider of workers’ compensation solutions to employers, third-party administrators, insurance companies and government agencies. In terms of health care, CorVel offers employers PPO provider lookup, pharmacy networks, ancillary services and MCO services. CorVel has more than 2,000 clients, including United Airlines, Fireman’s Fund and Travelers. Key products Medical, claims management, case management, medical bill review, disability management programs
The Healthcare Group LLC8802 N. Meridian St., Ste. 100 Indianapolis, IN 46260 (317) 571-5300 www.thcg.org Alex Slabosky President and CEO About The HealthCare Group is Indiana’s largest provider-owned managed care organization and is owned by Clarian Health Partners, Community Hospitals and Deaconess Hospital. The HealthCare Group provides five health plans and health networks that are available throughout the state. It’s M-Plan, geared toward small businesses, is the second-largest health plan in Indiana. Key products Medical
Indiana Health Network8330 Allison Pointe Trail Indianapolis, IN 46250 (317) 284-7181 www.ihnppo.com Bruce Smiley President About Indiana Health Network provides a PPO service for residents in Indiana and portions of surrounding states. The company offers the largest PPO network in the state and regional and national networks. Indiana Health Network promises customer service with the average call hold time less than 20 seconds and 87 percent of calls answered personally. Key products Medical, workers’ compensation
St. Francis Health Network Inc.112 N. 17th Ave., Suite 120 Beech Grove, IN 46107 (317) 782-6671 www.sfhn.stfrancishospitals.org Jennifer Westfall Regional executive director About St. Francis Health Network unites St. Francis Hospital & Health Centers with affiliated physicians and ancillary health service providers to offer health insurance products to employers and individuals in south central Indiana. The network offers HMOs and PPOs health plans as well as medical management, disease management and third-party administration services. Key products Health care, wellness programs, third party administration services, Medicaid
UnitedHealthcare of Indiana7440 Woodland Drive Indianapolis, IN 46278 (800) 385-5445 www.uhc.com Dan Krajnovich CEO About UnitedHealthcare is a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group Inc., which serves more than 73 million individuals. UnitedHealth Group offers flexible products to employees and individuals. Fortune magazine named the Minneapolis-based company No. 1 in the industry for innovation in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Key products Health, vision, dental, life, disability, pharmacy
Many leaders talk a good game when it comes to building relationships with their employees, but Denny Sponsel says that talk without action is cheap.
Sponsel, president and owner of RJE Knoll Business Interiors Inc., says that you can talk all day about connecting with your employees, but the real test comes in how you seek that connection.
You can engage your employees over something as simple as a coffee-break conversation, but you have to actively seek opportunities to speak with them and give them an opportunity to ask questions.
“Some of our warehouse employees, if the president of the company is willing to sit down, have a cup of coffee with them and talk about their families, that is the biggest thing for them,” Sponsel says. “You have to make communication very personal for them.”
Smart Business spoke with Sponsel about how to build positive relationships with your employees and how to make your communication personal.
Set a positive example. You have to set the tone and the example very early on, meaning that you cannot bark at people when they come in the door, you can’t be irritable, you have to have a very open demeanor. But also, you’ve got to demonstrate that all the time so that people feel you are approachable.
It’s one thing to have your door open or tell people that you want them to feel free to come in, meet and speak and share their ideas and thoughts. But when you demonstrate that, not only with the words but with the deeds, I think that makes a world of difference because people will feel safe again. So you set that tone, and people will get it.
They may not be used to it if they’re coming from an outside organization, but they quickly get it inside the organization. And it’s reinforced by our veteran employees that it is your style and our way of doing business.
There are a lot of ways you can set that example, far beyond words. But No. 1, you do it with a strong presence. I have a very strong accessibility and visibility in the business. We have a 31,000-square-foot facility, and 10,000 of that is showroom and offices. Every morning when I come in, it’s instinctive and natural for me to say good morning to everybody.
I’m making sure that I have a very upbeat attitude and set the tone in a positive way. Even if I have a lot of things on my mind, that is a high priority for me to make people feel welcomed.
Create your own opportunities. I am a big believer in eye-to-eye contact with the team. With an individual or a group, whether a message is good, bad or indifferent, meet with that group and be honest with them, because they have to trust you. In order to keep that very safe environment, they have to trust you.
Sometimes, you have to get off the e-mail and make sure you’re giving voice-to-voice and person-to-person communication. You have to be involved and engaged with your people. You just can’t be the person in the corner office or the ivory tower.
Giving a person or a group constructive criticism, critiquing them in a constructive way, it comes back to sharing information, giving them areas in which they can grow but also giving them a pat on the back when they do something right. They have to know that the leader really cares about them.
People are not dummies. They know when someone cares about them, and they know when they’re just a number. As the leader of the business, your employees will know whether you really care or not.
How can you show them you care? I’ll give you an abbreviaton: DWWSWWD. “Do what we say we will do.” When I bought this business in 2000, I drove that home. And I have to demonstrate that, as well. If I make a promise to someone, I come through with that promise. You set that tone.
Someone who doesn’t do that, whether it is a customer or one of your associates working with you, they see that you aren’t genuine.
Make it personal. In a nutshell, you need to make communication personal — know your employees by name, meet with them regularly and on a personal basis.
We have a lot of things we do here. No. 1 is we have regular company meetings. For example, the office and showroom staff meet every Thursday morning for an hour and a half. We have company meetings three times a year, where our warehouse and installation group meets with our office group and admin staff. We meet for formal company meetings three times a year.
But what I think is most powerful is the fact that we have 54 employees, and I have met with every employee over a four-month period, for 30 minutes at a time, one on one, in my office — not to talk about performance reviews or how are they doing in their job but to talk about them and their family, their dreams and vision for their life.
I met with every employee for 30 minutes, but I made it personal, where they realize they are a person in this company, not just an employee or an associate.
How to reach: RJE Knoll Business Interiors Inc., (317) 293-4051 or www.rjefurn.com
Born: Hamilton, Ohio
Education: Technical associate degree, biomedical engineering, Ivy Tech; bachelor’s degree, business, Indiana Wesleyan
What was your very first job?
Baling hay on a farm when I was 14. I went from baling hay to being a general farmhand and driving the wagons and doing all that kind of stuff. To be able to work and see what you do and produce, I wanted to be a farmer for years. When I was getting toward the end of my high school years, I graduated in 1975, home loans were about 16 percent. You had to have a farm to be a farmer, so I didn’t become a farmer.
I learned a good work ethic. Farmers can sit around and teach you all kinds of things if you sit and listen to them. Working hard and the reward of that and the feeling of sitting on the porch and drinking an iced tea at the end of the day after you’ve worked hard all day long (is a good feeling). There’s a lot of people that you find through casual conversation that worked on farms, too, and they usually have incredible work ethics.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
He was an ex-GM senior HR person who came back to work for us. It was maybe two years into the company’s national development. I was sitting at my desk one day, and he was sitting in here with me, and I was just going on about all the problems we were facing and why this was happening and why that was happening.
He looked at me and said, ‘The bread crumbs come back to your desk.’ That was probably the most eye-opening thing anybody has ever said to me, because it does end right here. It made me take ownership and start to see what I needed to do and change to deal with this stuff.
When Bob Dillon bought Unique Home Solutions in 1993, it wasn’t because he had a great desire to own a business. Instead, he just wanted to be part of a company that cared for its employees.
Since then, Dillon has evolved that philosophy into a process of empowering employees to reach their full potential. And that starts with realizing you have to delegate responsibility, teaching employees, talking them through problems and rewarding them for a job well done, says the president of Unique Home Solutions, who, along with his 125 employees, has grown the home improvement company to 2008 revenue of $15 million.
Smart Business spoke with Dillon about how to empower your employees.
Q. What are the keys to empowering employees?
First of all, be willing to do it. That can be the hardest part, being willing to delegate it.
Look at the benefits. A lot of small business owners I see, they are underpaid and overworked. They work 100 hours a week for less of a paycheck than some of their employees get. The reasons they do that is that they don’t want to empower or delegate.
So first of all recognize, if you have any sized company at all, you cannot do everything. Second of all, identify your key employees, then start showing some trust in them. Ask them questions. ‘What do you feel you can do just as well without me being involved?’ Then build on that. Have constant education and training.
I think a lot of businesses do a highly inadequate job of education and training. That’s where they fall short.
Q. How do you educate employees?
We have initial written training and certification in all of our departments. We have monthly and quarterly re-evaluations that are in writing or, in the case of installation, not only written but field, hands-on.
(Evaluate) attitude, although that’s subjective — more of a willingness to go the extra mile to get the job done. Performance — if you do a sales call, do you do it the way we want you to do it 70 percent of the time, 80 percent, 90 percent?
First, you have to analyze the job. You’ve got to know what the job is that you’re asking them to do. You’ve got to know how you expect them to do it and why you expect those things.
When you have that written out, then you can come up with questions that will evaluate their knowledge of each part of it.
The first person that needs to know it is you because you can’t evaluate anybody else if you don’t know what your expectations of them are.
We go to a lot of seminars to look at industry standards — we expect to exceed industry standards — and then we look at past performance. Then, we’re constantly looking for ways to improve past performance.
Q. How do you work with employees on their performance?
Understand and recognize that once you give somebody the power to make a decision on their own, it’s not necessarily going to be what you would have done in that same circumstance.
If they do something different than you ... you have to step back and say, ‘OK, did they do it better than I would have done?’ If they do, then you have to recognize that: ‘You know, you actually did this better than I would have handled it.’
Was their situation, was their response, just different but adequate or as good as yours? Then, you say, ‘Well, here’s another way that you might have done it. I don’t know if the results would have been any different, but it gives you some flexibility the next time you look at it.’
Then, they might have screwed it up. You have to say, ‘OK, I understand you had good intentions. Here’s what the consequences of your actions were, and here are the actions that I would have wanted.’ Not making them feel bad that they made a decision, but try to teach them the processes of making a decision.
Q. How do you reward employee performance?
When I’m trying to get people to perform to the best of their ability, I have to communicate to them in short-term benefits to them.
We have bonus plans, so that it translates into money in their pocket for the better service that they do. We have a monthly bonus breakfast meeting where we pass out awards and give recognition.
But you also have to feel in control of your destiny.
If a service guy goes out and he does a little extra work, which costs us a little extra money on the service because he deems that it’s right, he doesn’t have to worry that he’s going to come back in and get yelled at for doing that. He feels in control of the service. We do surveys to make sure the customer is happy. They get bonuses on successful completion of services and good comments, so they get short-term monetary benefits.
Every system we have in place in that department is designed to support that.
How to reach: Unique Home Solutions, (317) 337-9300 or www.uniquewindowanddoor.com
As costs for business owners continue to rise, owners are welcoming new ideas and ways to reduce costs without affecting their company or employees. American employers faced with the rising cost of insuring their employees are turning to on-site clinics integrated with wellness to improve employee health, boost employee productivity and reduce their costs, says Sally Stephens, president of Spectrum Health Systems.
According to David Beech, a senior health management consultant at Hewitt Associates Inc., “A clinic serving about 1,000 employees (usually considered a minimum number for critical mass) can expect to make hard-dollar savings of $70,000 in the first year, mainly because of fewer visits to the ER and self-referrals to outside specialists. These savings can rise to $250,000 annually by the third year, when preventive savings kick in.”
Smart Business spoke with Stephens about on-site clinics and how implementing such clinics can benefit both employers and employees.
Is there a cost savings involved with on-site clinics?
According to a study published in the December 2005 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, employers can see a return of $3 to $6 for each dollar spent over two to five years on workplace health program strategies, which include medical screenings, financial perks for participation in health programs, health education classes, healthier food choices in the cafeteria and on-site clinics. Initially, such clinics are typically only opened to employees then later to spouses and dependents. Maximum savings will be generated when the entire family utilizes the clinic for health concerns that they might automatically seek through an outside provider.
What medical services do on-site clinics offer?
Employer-based clinics may offer a variety of services such as primary care, travel medicine, nutrition counseling, etc. Preventive services including health screenings and immunizations are the most common. Onsite clinics originally began by providing accident and injury care and have expanded into primary care, preventive services, disease and lifestyle education, distribution of pharmaceuticals, and some even provide diagnostic testing, such as X-rays. The level of services provided is dependent upon the needs of the client and capabilities of the clinic/wellness provider.
What are the benefits of on-site clinics?
Employers can reduce the number of visits employees make to more costly facilities, such as physicians’ offices and hospital emergency rooms. Having workplace access will also eliminate the need for the employee to miss an entire or partial day to an outside provider. Travel time is also eliminated. Wellness services can also help employees manage chronic health conditions and maintain better overall health, while reducing the amount of time they spend away from the job visiting off-site providers.
Is there ever any hesitation from employees to utilize such services?
Employees may hesitate to use the clinic if they question the confidentiality or are concerned that the employer will have access to their health information. Employees may also be reluctant to seek care from clinicians other than their own primary care physician. For those employees who might be questioning the value of the clinic, co-worker testimonials can often alleviate these concerns.
Today, most employers contract third-party providers to staff and manage the clinic. This can eliminate any issues regarding confidentiality on the part of the employees. Frequent communication regarding the benefits of the clinic can continue to increase the number of employees utilizing such services. Most employers allow employees to access the clinic at no or little cost, which serves as a powerful incentive.
How does the employee’s experience with a practitioner change with on-site clinics?
Employees who use the clinic frequently get in faster and spend more time talking to their practitioner. Practitioners then have the opportunity to explain the importance of preventive medicine. Because of the convenience of the on-site clinic, employees are more likely to seek care in a timely manner, avoiding delays that can exacerbate an illness or injury. The clinic saves the employee money when they avoid co-pays and deductibles that are standard requirements of almost all health plans.
Many clinics also offer generic or over the counter drugs at discounted or no cost. This can dramatically improve medication compliance and improve outcomes as well as save money for the employer and employee.
Should all companies consider implementing on-site clinics?
It is worth investigating for all companies. Often the determining factor is the size and demographics of the organization. Historically, employers with 1,000 employees or more are ideal candidates for on-site clinics. Due to the tremendous success of such clinics, smaller employers with several hundred lives are implementing or considering on-site clinics.
SALLY STEPHENS is president of Spectrum Health Systems. Reach her at Sally.Stephens@spectrumhs.com.
If you’re looking at your budget and considering cutting back on support for customer service, you might want to reconsider. About 96 percent of unhappy customers don’t take the initiative to tell you they’re unhappy with your service, but they will tell nine other people and not return.
Customer service should be as important to you as it is to your customer, and customer service is second in importance only to product quality when it comes to satisfying customers.
The difference in today’s market is that brand loyalty isn’t what it used to be. Businesses are making a new promise every day without credible reasons for the consumer to believe the promise. Customers make purchases because they believe you’re selling something they need, but they also know they have many options. A single bad experience with you can result in your customers making purchases from the vendor down the street next week. The products may be similar but the quality of your customer service can be why they prefer to make purchases with you.
“The quality of your customer’s experience is one of the most important sustainable advantages a company can have, particularly in a competitive environment,” says Andy Bodea, senior vice president of global operations, Equifax Inc. “Senior leadership must be behind the initiative in order to provide the right tools and all elements of providing customer service need to be adopted throughout the company for it to work well. It’s OK to admit that you’re not perfect with customer service, but you should have an execution focus on how to make it happen.”
If customers have a good experience with your business, they’re more likely to return and spend money again. Positive word-of-mouth is one of the cheapest and most effective means of growing your business. It’s also much less expensive to retain a customer you already have than to attract new ones.
“Customer service overall is mediocre and inconsistent,” says Adolfo Perez, vice president of worldwide reservations, Carnival Cruise Lines. “One day you may have an incredible experience when dealing with a company, and the next time, you have an issue [and] the experience causes a headache and heartburn. You wonder how those very different people could be working for the same company. The work force has changed over the past few decades. Things an employee might say to a customer or even a supervisor today would never have occurred 20 years ago. It seems that there is an overall lack of respect in the work force, but this can be harnessed with the right mix of salary and environment.”
Customer service in today’s market entails doing business where and when your customers want. The trick is to cut costs while being flexible with your ways of improving customer service quality across all avenues, including online and by phone.
There’s an easy formula for this, yet it’s not utilized. It starts with paying better wages. Then you have to invest in your employees’ ability to perform through education and train them to respond to customer needs.
Why a customer service program is important
Your customer service representatives have unlimited access to your customers, products and equipment, yet they’re largely considered dispensable and are often treated as such. This is the wrong approach. You can’t personally know who your regular customers are or what their preferences entail, but your employees do, so it’s important to retain them. Investing in customer training and rewarding them with a pay increase upon completion of the course or offering another benefit, such as time off, makes for a more enthusiastic employee.
“Salary increase isn’t the main motivator for employees,” says Jason Few, senior vice president of smart energy and residential for Reliant Energy. “The most impactful incentive is having an ability to move forward in the company. Survey your employees in the same fashion in which you survey customers to get a snapshot of their satisfaction level and make changes where necessary to improve their job satisfaction.”
Although many customer service positions are considered entry level, giving the employee the option to advance within the company will be an incentive for the employee to stay and can help you reduce employee turnover, which on average costs businesses 20 percent of an employee’s annual salary to replace that person.
“If you have different levels of customer care positions in your business, those who are working at the lowest level get bored easily because their job entails performing simple tasks,” Bodea says. “These positions are typically filled by the newest hires and have a 20 to 60 percent turnover rate. The next tier requires more knowledge and has a lower turnover rate. The third tier is considered specialists that have special knowledge of the company’s workings. This position has less than 5 percent turnover.
“If the workers are interested in advancing and given the opportunity, they will make the best employees because they’ll have gathered the most information on your business and your customers. These employees are very valuable and may not be with the company if not provided the opportunity to advance.”
When you are looking at data, make sure you are getting the whole picture.
“When you are considered a provider, you must maintain communication while meeting and exceeding expectations,” says Robert Smith, senior vice president of marketing and membership, American Management Association, a professional development firm. “You must always take into consideration that your actions are being done profitably, but when speed is the only measure you are looking at when analyzing an employee’s performance in solving a customer’s problem, you’re looking at the situation wrong.
“If an employee gets off the phone with a customer in three minutes but hasn’t answered all of his or her questions, good customer service wasn’t performed. The customer may have to call back or decide not to use your services again. Another error is customer service representatives asking the customer if there’s anything else they can help them with. For the most part, the employee should be able to provide the customer, without him or her asking, everything they can offer them to resolve the issue. What do you train your employees to say if a customer asks, ‘I don’t know, what else can you do?’”
You may see investing in customer service training as a luxury in today’s economy, but experts warn that not doing so could lead to your company’s demise.
What you can do
The biggest error you can make is getting too caught up in cutting costs and other internal workings to see your business from the customer’s point of view. Customer service is what keeps the lifeblood of your business customers coming back. Even when inevitable mistakes are made, customers return if the error is handled properly.
“Make it easy to do business with your company,” Perez says. “Layers upon layers of rules, multiple layers of escalation, poorly trained and unempowered employees make for a poor customer service experience and negatively affect your sales. Simplify your business process and obsessively train your staff upon hire and on a reoccurring basis. Empowered employees can handle customer’s issues directly. You don’t have to give up all the control, but it’s better to trust your employees, than manage exceptions.”
Another mistake is investing money in loyalty programs focusing on drawing in new customers, while losing focus on appeasing your current customers. If you don’t ask customers about their experience with your business, they’ll likely not tell you but they will go home and tell others. If you stay flexible and listen to what they say by acting on their feedback, you can best design a customer service program that works for you.
“If you get to know your customers like Amazon does, for example, you’ll be able to make suggestions to them on purchases based on their past experience with you,” Smith says. “Customer service has improved dramatically over the years in the sense that businesses have a better idea of how to understand their customers and the competition to win their loyalty, [which] makes it an essential business practice.”
What many companies don’t understand is that good customer service is rare. If you already have brand recognition, you can further your competitive advantage by listening to customers’ concerns and acting on them. You need to define what good customer service means to your specific set of customers before you can best meet their expectations. This can be achieved by polling them in a variety of ways comment cards, e-mail or an online form.
Even with well-trained employees and a list of customer recommendations, you still need your managers to be an integral part of your program. They should point out positive behavior and not just the negatives. Successes should be noted to encourage employees to do more than the bare minimum, and negative incidents should be handled immediately instead of waiting for an evaluation.
“Employees may repeat a behavior they’re not aware is undesirable,” says Liz Tahir, an international marketing consultant and speaker. “Having the proper communication with employees is essential. If you treat them well on a regular basis, they won’t react negatively when a manager points out an area that needs improvement.
“Employees treat customers the way you treat them. Ask yourself if you greet employees enthusiastically, interact politely and try to accommodate them in their requests.”
Making sure employees have the correct set of tools to perform their jobs is another important step in ensuring good customer service. Proper training and empowering employees to handle customers’ concerns or problems will build employee confidence while expediting the customers’ requests.
“Always putting yourself in the customer’s shoes when determining how to best resolve issues or respond to a request is the best way to resolve issues,” Tahir says. “All of the great companies have incorporated customer service in their core business philosophy, helping to brand their business as one known for great customer service.”