The changes for tax year 2013 are already in place, but many individuals are still struggling to figure out what the new laws and regulations mean for their investments, estate plans, and businesses, says Steve Foster, a vice president and client adviser at FirstMerit. “With the 2012 tax season behind us, we’re spending a lot of time helping clients understand the significant changes that are taking place for 2013, how they may be affected, and the planning opportunities available to them,” he says.

Will anything change for taxpayers in 2013?

The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2013, signed into law on Jan. 2, averted the tax increases that would have resulted from the expiration of 2001 tax laws known as EGTRAA, or the Bush-era tax cuts. However, there are changes that will affect all wage earners, while others will impact only those taxpayers in the highest bracket. There are also a number of tax deductions, credits, incentives and tax treatments that were extended and will be a benefit to business owners.

What is the change that will affect all wage earners?

The act did not include an extension of the Social Security payroll tax reduction that began in 2011. As a result, the tax rate for the wage earner reverted from 4.2 percent to 6.2 percent, so in 2013, taxpayers are taking home 2 percent less than they did in the previous two years.

What are some of the other significant provisions of the act?

While the income tax brackets enacted in 2001 — ranging from 10 to 35 percent — are now permanent, a new 39.6 percent income tax bracket has been added for high-income earners. In addition, those in that higher tax bracket — singles with taxable income over $400,000 and joint filers with taxable income in excess of $450,000 — will now have capital gains and qualified dividends taxed at 20 percent, compared to 15 percent previously. Other changes include reinstated phase-outs of personal exemptions, new limits on itemized deductions and increased adjusted gross income limitations for deducting medical expenses. In summary, it will primarily be the higher income earners who will feel the pain of both higher tax rates and reduced tax deductions.

What provisions could positively affect taxpayers?

In addition to maintaining existing income tax rates for the majority of taxpayers, numerous credits and exemptions were also extended or made permanent, including the alternative minimum tax exemption amount, which has been permanently patched and will be indexed for inflation. Additionally, the child tax credit was also made permanent, as well as a number of tax incentives pertaining to higher education.

In addition, the estate tax exemption remains at $5 million per person and $10 million per married couple and will be indexed for inflation. The exemption amount also remains portable to spouses, who previously had to use it or lose it. The downside is that the top estate and gift tax rate will increase from 35 to 40 percent. Lastly, the act extended the provision allowing tax-free distributions from individual retirement accounts directly to public charities through 2013.

How does the act affect business owners?

The act extended a number of tax deductions for businesses that were set to expire, including the enhanced code Section 179 business expensing and 50 percent bonus depreciation on qualified property. Both provisions allow businesses to take larger deductions now rather than waiting until future years.

Are there any other tax changes in 2013 that are not part of the act?

Yes. In 2013 taxpayers may now be subject to an additional income and capital gains tax under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) — a.k.a. Obamacare. Under PPACA, there is an additional 3.8 percent surtax on capital gains, dividends and other investment income for certain taxpayers — singles with more than $200,000 in modified adjusted gross income and joint filers with more than $250,000 — which also includes trusts and estates. Therefore, the effective top rate on capital gains and dividends is now 23.8 percent.

For more information, contact Steve Foster at steve.foster@? FirstMerit does not offer tax advice. Please consult your tax professional.

Published in Chicago

A good salesperson can sell anything to anyone once, but when mutually beneficial relationships are formed and nurtured, a client or customer will walk away happy and keep coming back. So what are some essential steps you can take in your business to ensure customer satisfaction?

Consistently Provide Exceptional Quality and Timely Services

The relationship you cultivate with your customers should not subscribe to the slogan, “You get what you pay for.” Instead, you should always strive to provide clients with a far more valuable experience than the price that they pay. When we enter into any client relationship at our firm, we do so with a commitment to meet the needs of that client’s engagement, regardless of size and the potential fees generated. We become proactively involved in an advisory capacity with our client relationships by meeting more frequently with their team of professionals or connecting them with additional service professionals.   As a business leader you should actively work with your clients to provide only the services that they truly need and do not over-sell in order to build confidence and a trusting relationship.

Also, even though technology has given businesses helpful innovations that are used on an everyday basis, do not underestimate the power that human interaction still holds. When a client calls your office, they want to speak directly with a real person, not navigate through a hopelessly complex voicemail system.

Attract, Hire and Retain Employees with the Necessary Customer Service DNA

Even a highly qualified individual with years of experience may not have the right tools to maintain your company’s customer service brand. A thorough process of interviewing, reference checking, and introductions to members of your company’s team can help your staff develop a consensus of whether an individual is truly the right fit for your clients and business.

Internships and internal training programs are integral components in helping employees build meaningful, long-term careers with your company. Since an effective learning experience is both formal and informal, have new employees shadow more experienced staff members to learn the “soft skills” necessary to effectively communicate with and service clients in order to meet their needs in a professional manner.

Create a Culture Where Customer Service Flourishes

Unsatisfied employees can do much more damage to your company’s brand than one unsatisfied customer.  A staff that consistently receives support and education will be significantly less stressed, allowing them to maintain superior levels of customer service even during the busiest workdays. For example, we implemented a Wellness Program for our staff to focus on physical and mental well-being during the hectic months of tax season. Encourage your staff members to get involved in organizations that are important to them, so they can fine-tune leadership and networking skills while serving the community.

Susan D. Krantz, CPA, is a partner at Zinner & Co. LLP. Reach her at (216) 831-0733 or

Published in Cleveland

WCCS 2013 – Zinner & Co. LLP

"Your success is our business" is the motto at Zinner & Co. LLP, an accounting and management consulting firm. This motto underscores the firm’s commitment to doing whatever is necessary to help clients achieve their goals, regardless of what they happen to be. Zinner understands that only through this commitment to its clients’ success, will the business achieve its own success.

Managing Partner Robin Baum ensures Zinner constantly strives to stand behind its tagline: the right ideas, the right results, achieved with the right firm. To deliver on that promise, all members of Zinner’s professional staff are required to adhere to rigorous standards and participate in training at different levels, beginning when they first arrive at Zinner and continuing throughout their term of employment.

Known as “Zinner University,” this training is an integral component to the success of the firm and a launching pad for employees in building a meaningful, long-term career with Zinner. Through this program, new employees go through an introduction to firm policies and procedures, as well as their initial technical training.

Upon “graduation” from the introductory level of Zinner University, new employees are better prepared to offer clients the high level of service long-provided at Zinner & Co. Meanwhile, the teaching process reinvigorates their “professors,” resulting in their continuing to provide Zinner’s trademark personal touch.

How to reach: Zinner & Co. LLP, (216) 831-0733 or

Published in Akron/Canton

The service promise at Visual Marking Systems Inc., a manufacturer of pressure sensitive decals, nameplates and markings, is easy to remember if you think of three O’s:

Outlast. Outshine. Outperform.

That simple motto helps define the employees’ mission to be there for customers and to produce products they are proud to display. It’s part of the culture of VMS, which includes awareness programs such as Employee of the Month and Caught in the Act to support these principles.

Both of those programs serve to show the commitment the company has to continuous improvement that impacts the customer fulfillment process. Caught in the Act is a peer recognition effort while Employee of the Month is driven by management input.

Founded more than 50 years ago by a father and son team, Hermann and (now CEO) Dolf Kahle, VMS hosts weekly meetings to discuss current corporate culture issues, to learn from each other, and to plan for the future. Every month, one of 12 core values of the company are highlighted which reminds associates on a daily basis why they give great customer service above and beyond the competition.

VMS promotes a positive, fun and satisfying experience for all team members as well. Celebrations, activities and Spirit Week add to the fun atmosphere.

How to reach: Visual Marking Systems Inc., (330) 425-7100 or

Published in Akron/Canton

At Staffing Solutions Enterprises, there are four steps to spell the word “WOW” — it takes a focus on a courteous, responsive, accurate and proactive approach. The company, led by President SueAnn Naso, teaches that to each new hire and reiterates it to existing employees. And the results are impressive.

Not only does the “WOW Culture” build productivity, friendliness and courtesy among the internal staff, it sets an example of how customers likewise should be treated. Employees follow specific standards for courtesy (such as greeting each person with a smile), responsiveness (like returning phone calls within two hours), accuracy (matching qualified talent with excellent workplaces) and a proactive approach (being able to anticipate and plan ahead to meet clients’ and candidates’ needs).

Naso believes these key elements of the “WOW Experience” create a positive internal company culture and provide an effective system that allows the company to continuously deliver world-class customer service.

Another sign of responsiveness involves frontline staff members — those empowered to solve service issues on their own. Customer experience managers have the authority to grant monetary credit, provide additional complementary services or other measures to meet the clients’ needs and achieve their satisfaction. About 80 to 90 percent of any service related issue is resolved by the customer experience managers on the same day.

How to reach: Staffing Solutions, (440) 461-1652,

Published in Akron/Canton

Ashley Sedorovich and her grandmother have a very close relationship that began when she was very young. Her mother had become terminally ill, and so it was Ashley’s grandmother who essentially took on the role of being her “mom.”

Now an adult, Ashley’s emotions turned to concern when her grandmother was admitted to Summa Health System’s Akron City Hospital with difficulty breathing and tightness in her chest. Shortly after that stay, her grandmother had to return to be treated for an infection and coincidentally found herself back in the same room.

It’s never easy to have a loved one in the hospital, but Ashley’s grandmother was in good hands. She had formed an emotional bond with her nurse, Brittney, who got to know her grandmother’s personal preferences and made sure she was always comfortable.

When she was moved to a skilled nursing facility after her second stay, Brittney took time out of her own schedule to visit her there, bringing a puzzle book, a get-well card and her favorite flowers.

The special gesture gave Ashley’s grandmother that much more incentive to focus on her rehab. It’s the way things are done at Summa, led by President and CEO Thomas J. Strauss.

How to reach: Summa Health System, (330) 375-3101 or

Published in Akron/Canton

wccs_logo_0613Executive Caterers at Landerhaven


What is the best example/case study of how your organization provides world-class customer service to clients?

Executive Caterers has been in business for more than 50 years. We believe this is our greatest example of Executive Caterers’ world-class customer service.

The culture of our company was built by serving our community. We personalize each event with a one-of-a-kind experience, great food great service and great hospitality. We believe we have a responsibility to the community. Every customer deserves to have the best event possible.

Executive Caterers has a public trust: people come to us, corporate or social, and entrust us to the most important events of their lives. It’s a trust we take very seriously and a trust we live up to. We treat our employees as family, and we believe in good citizenship by giving back to the community.

We are a catering company and an entertainment facility. Our quality is not just reflected in our food, but in our unprecedented hospitality. We create an “experience” for our customers that is welcoming, friendly and generous. We built our business by serving our customers and most importantly by anticipating their needs. We deliver an “experience” of world-class cuisine, world-class service and world-class hospitality.


How to reach: Executive Caterers at Landerhaven,

Hughie’s Event Production Services


Hughie’s Event Production Services is Cleveland’s choice for live-event design and production resource since 1953.

Hughie’s believes in giving back to the city where it all began and the area we’ve called home for 60 years. Hughie’s is now soliciting donations of non-perishable food items from our customers, vendors and the community, which we will distribute to local charities at the end of the year.

Hughie’s offices in Columbus and Pittsburgh will also participate in this nine-month event for their respective cities in honor of our 60th anniversary.

Donation drop-off containers will be available in each Hughie’s office for the length of the celebration. As a “thank you” for your generous food donation, we’ll present you with a free, “eco-friendly” shopping bag emblazoned with our 60th anniversary logo. Plus, participants who provide us with a name and phone number will be entered into a drawing to win one of three new 32” flat-screen televisions at the end of the year. A total of three flat screens will be given away, one at each location.

All donations received will be distributed to the Cleveland Food Bank and other similar charities in the Columbus and Pittsburgh marketplaces. The winners of the flat screens will be announced at the conclusion of the promotion on Dec. 15.

Hughie’s is a worldwide supplier of high definition video projection equipment, concert quality audio systems, intelligent moving lights, staging systems and more to satisfy all your presentation and special event needs.

To learn more, log onto or call (216) 361-4600 and follow us on


How to reach: Hughie’s Event Production Services, or (216) 361-4600


Overload Fitness


At Overload Fitness, one of our Core Values is to “Over Deliver.” Here is just one example of our staff carrying this out:

We had a longtime client whose wife just had her third baby — and all were under the age of five. We always get our clients gifts when a baby is born, but this time was different. We could tell he was very stressed trying to balance running a major corporation and having three small children, so we wanted to do something different.

Obviously, a first reaction is a night out for him and his wife, but even that would be stressful for them. So we decided to send them something for a “family night in.”

We ended up going to Target and buying a bucket of ready-to-cook popcorn and filling it with Twizzlers, Swedish Fish, gummy bears, a gift card to Papa John’s Pizza and a Disney movie.

Then we signed the card, “For a night in because we know a night out is difficult! Enjoy!”

We received a thank you card from them that said, “Thank you so much for the creative, thoughtful gift! Our family will enjoy a fun night in with the new baby thanks to you!”

This is just one of countless ways in which getting to know the client on a personal level and creating something specific for them that they would otherwise not expect from an ordinary personal training business.

But then again, Overload Fitness is not ordinary; we are world class!

How to reach: Overload Fitness, Beachwood (216) 292-7569, Westlake (440) 835-9090 or and


World-class customer care is literally that for customers of With the ability to provide VOIP phone services around the world, our locally owned telecommunications company often extends our support and service to some very unusual locations for a Wayne County based, 115-year-old company.

Business comes to us in many forms. With a track record of servicing Fortune 500 and Weatherhead 100 organizations, as well as companies with less than five employees, no customer deserves less than our best efforts.

One of the most important issues associated with telecommunications support is how well we support our customers when bad things happen. Power outages, data failures, fire, downsizing — you name it — can happen to businesses of all sizes. is so confident that we exceed customer exceptions that the majority of our services are available without a contractual commitment. Ask one of the big tel-cos to commit to that service level and you will get a very interesting answer.

When a customer with offices outside of the U.S. experienced Internet and telephone issues from its international phone company,’s support team jumped at the challenge. was able to provide a VOIP solution that allowed them to reroute calling to their U.S.-based headquarters and continue to provide support to their client base.

This kind of business continuity service is vital for businesses especially when technology glitches can make it look like you are out of business. We, as service providers, are there to service our customers and make sure they shine every time.

How to reach:, (888) 881-0805 or


John Robert’s Spa


At John Robert’s, guests would sometimes leave their valuables (jewelry or cell phone) in the pockets of the robes. This meant the guests’ possessions could get washed and/or lost when we did our laundry.

It’s not the spa’s fault that the guests leave their stuff in the robe pockets. The first remedy was to “threaten & punish” by leaving a sign inside the lockers and changing room stating, “We are not responsible for any valuables left behind.” A huge negative cue!

So we changed that to “Please remember to check your robe and locker for all your valuables.” Better, but it didn’t eliminate the problem. Now what? Can we train our spa attendants to check every robe, every time before washing? Only in a perfect world.

“Pay what you think is fair” exercise — The best way we have found to truly embrace the everything is our problem mindset it to do the “Pay what you think is fair” exercise. When you think about how your customers can “short-pay” you for any reason, you will not believe how creative and solution-orientated you become with everything. How did we solve the customer leaving their valuables in the robe problem? We found a supplier who provides pocket-less robes. Problem solved and the best news, the robes are less expensive!

Find your pocket-less robes? If you really train everyone in your company to have the mindset that everything is your problem and responsibility, and you remove the victim mentality of “it is our customer’s fault,” your company’s customer experience will elevate to new heights. You’ll find solutions that eliminate the problems and make your company more efficient, and your customers happier.


How to reach: John Robert’s Spa, (216) 839-4850 or


Cleveland Clinic


What is the best example/case study of how your organization provides world-class customer service to clients?

A key contributor to improving the overall patient experience and our customer service is a robust service excellence model that is integrated into a health care organization’s culture. Frustrated by the lack of a customized health care product validated in a large employee population, Cleveland Clinic developed its own service excellence program specifically for health care workers in a health care environment.

The Communicate with H.E.A.R.T. program has been introduced to more than 40,000 employees in our organization across nine regional hospitals, multiple freestanding health centers and two international facilities.

The results have been impressive; the Cleveland Clinic has seen a change in employee culture that emphasizes a positive patient experience and service excellence across all roles, including clinical and non-clinical.

The model is designed to help caregivers provide outstanding service to both patients, visitors and fellow caregivers, and it includes interactive workshops that focus on Cleveland Clinic’s nine key expected service behaviors.

The Communicate with H.E.A.R.T. model also empowers leadership to recognize, reward and redirect behaviors based on how it aligns with the Communicate with H.E.A.R.T. approach. Supported by practical and easy to remember tools, Communicate with H.E.A.R.T. is the foundation of Cleveland Clinic’s delivery of service excellence.

This innovative service excellence model is used throughout the Cleveland Clinic Health System and empowers employees to address both patients’ and colleagues’ concerns and questions, responding in a way so that the person feels he or she was responded to with care.

How to reach: Cleveland Clinic, (800) 223-2273 or


All Things Eventful


What is the best example of how your organization provides world-class customer service to clients?

All Things Eventful believes that before any service is provided, clients deserve the combination of a smiling face, warm attitude and attuned ears. We make great efforts to listen to (potential) clients — to find out all we can about who they are, what their vision is in coming to us, and who is their “audience,” whether event attendees or gift recipients.

Throughout the project, our creative talents can further flourish because of our on-the-go-adaptability. We give them more than just a collection of quality products. All Things Eventful provides creative ideas, top-notch presentation and a high level of value.

Whether a client comes to All Things Eventful, we personalize the experience for each client.

This customized experience is shown in our work with Koler Financial Group. To distinguish the company from its competitors, All Things Eventful developed a custom client recognition program.

Not only were the gifts a pleasantly memorable surprise, they were created specifically for the client (i.e., they were “exclusive” and couldn’t be found elsewhere). Many times, the gifts would include a key item onto which All Things Eventful would incorporate the Koler logo.

The care that went into every detail- from product research and selection down to the customized gift cards and hand-delivery we provided- reflected on Koler Financial Group’s care for its own clients, resulting in a world-class return on investment.

Our reputation is a more valuable asset than the combined inventory from each sector of our parent company Bountiful Baskets Inc. So, every action seeks to increase its value. The All Things Eventful work team members know “the ever-watchful eye” is upon them, and they produce consistently. The result is a perpetual cycle of dividends being reinvested in our company.


How to reach: All Things Eventful, (216) 551-3358 or or

Published in Akron/Canton

When a developer/property management company changed accounting firms after a 10-year relationship with a large regional firm, the prospect of adjusting was not pleasant. It would take a true professional to pick up the ball and run with it — a challenge for which SS&G was ready.

SS&G spent many hours with the company’s senior management to gain an understanding of the business and industry, which led to the ability to add significant value beyond the typical audit and tax services. For instance, when that same client was experiencing the recent difficult banking environment, SS&G’s employed its networking relationships to make introductions to several banks in order to refinance the company’s working capital line of credit.

It’s all a part of SS&G’s philosophy to provide the same exceptional level of service to all clients, regardless of category. To that end, the firm recruits, retains and recognizes the most qualified and dedicated professionals and offers them opportunities for personal growth, development and advancement.

Among other awards, SS&G for eight years in a row has been named one of the best employers in the state by the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and the Ohio Society of Human Resource Management.

Leading the firm are Bob Littman, CEO, and senior managing directors Gary Shamis and Mark Goldfarb.

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

Published in Akron/Canton

WCCS 2013 – Moen Inc.

At Moen Inc., service excellence is not merely a promise but an absolute. Everything Moen does in its service operations process is engineered to exceed the goal of creating Moen advocates for life.

Moen, a manufacturer of kitchen and bath faucets, showerheads, accessories, bath safety products and kitchen sinks, builds its service with the customer in mind. In fact, one of the four pillars of the Moen brand is “best-in-class customer service.”

President David Lingafelter helps ensure that the company is following its consumer services vision statement, which is, “To champion a growing, self-sustaining service offering that manages risk, offers value to our stakeholders, drives growth, and protects and builds the brand while creating ‘Moen Advocates’ for life.”

The company thrives off word-of-mouth from its consumers. Moen’s world-class service culture not only amazes consumers, but they also find themselves raving about its service to everyone they meet. Moen proudly admits that many of its consumer advocates have been developed through its exceptional service offering, which has stood the test of time from generation to generation.

Moen’s objective in warranty and technical support is to offer solutions that “wow” consumers. The Moen tagline states, “Buy it For Looks, Buy it For Life,” and the company accepts the challenge of exceeding that promise every day.

How to reach: Moen Inc., (800) 289-6636 or

Published in Akron/Canton

When Greg Skoda, one of the founders of Skoda Minotti and now chairman, helped launch the accounting and consulting firm, he put into effect a client-focused platform — believing that the firm should deliver on the promise of excellent client service just as seriously as it should ensure technical accuracy.

To that end, when employees answered a recent survey question, “What is our competitive advantage?” the response was “client service.”

Client service continues to be recognized as a key part to the future growth of the firm as it strives for continuous improvement.

A seven-stage Client Service Experience Cycle defines the steps to an optimum client relationship — client setup, internal planning, external planning, fieldwork, delivery, debriefing meeting and relationship management.

Within those seven areas are four categories: service defects, operational, experiential and above-and-beyond. Skoda Minotti expects that the operational and experiential levels will be met. However, the staff strives to reach the above-and-beyond level as well with every client.

This ambitious process helps allow the engagement team to meet and exceed a client’s goals throughout the year. Even the names of awards given to employees reinforce the values and goals of Skoda Minotti. For example, the “Delivering on the Promise,” “You Kept the Promise” and “Above and Beyond” awards recognize excellence in those categories.

How to reach: Skoda Minotti, (440) 449-6800 or


Published in Akron/Canton