PPB'S 2017 Service Superheroes
When the first bank ATMs came into vogue decades ago, followed by self-serve dispensers, checkout kiosks in stores and myriad other automated solutions, it was a huge step forward in time savings and convenience for the do-it-yourselfer. These self-serve solutions take care of business quickly and easily, but there is no service to speak of. If the customer has a question or problem with the transaction, the otherwise efficient self-serve solution quickly becomes an epic fail.
While self-service automation for simple transactions is here to stay, the value of personal customer service for all other matters is, thankfully, far from obsolete. Even better, it has been reestablished, reimagined and elevated to solve more complex customer problems, retain the human element in customer/ company interactions and offer increased value to the client.
PPB’s annual spotlight on the best customer service pros illustrates the importance of having this kind of expertise in the day-to-day operation of the promotional products industry. Those profiled on the following pages were nominated by their coworkers and clients and selected by an in-house panel for their ability to provide superior service with a smile. What elevates them to service-superhero status is the reason their stories are worth sharing.
Customer Service Supervisor
Years at Pacesetter Awards: 21
Nominators: Scott Sodikoff, custom sales; Kamil Dys, national sales manager; Ryan Schaefer, account executive; Terry Goudie, CSR manager; and Sam Reed, national accounts manager at Pacesetter Awards; and Ashley Fontenot, account manager/inside sales at Boundless Network
What Makes Laurie A Service Superhero
Laurie Bandas started her career in the restaurant industry, working her way up to manager at Dairy Queen, and then went into retail where she quickly earned her stripes as a store manager with Payless. In those jobs, it was clear to Bandas that her chief responsibility was not to prepare food or sell shoes; it was to serve customers. She says she has always worked in customer service. Perhaps that’s why she’s been able to dazzle her coworkers and customers with over the-top care for the past 21 years. “Even if Laurie doesn’t have exactly what I am looking for, she always has a solution,” says nominator Ashley Fontenot, account manager/inside sales at Boundless Network. “She is always on top of things and keeps me informed about my orders throughout the order process so that I can keep my customers informed as well.”
Nominator Sam Reed, national accounts manager at Pacesetter Awards, adds, “Laurie is a terrific partner whom I can always count on when I am on the road. Whether we are working on a large custom quote or a small stock order, she gives them both the same attention to detail.” He cites a large program the company runs with one of its largest distributor clients. “The client was looking to add a few awards to this program. Laurie provided the client with over 15 different options to be added to this program, including mockups that she created herself. The client added these items to their program and the program is now up more than 50 percent over last year.”
How Laurie Saved The Day
Nominator Kamil Dys, national sales manager, says, “Laurie is able to talk any customer off the ledge. As a manufacturer, once in a while we will make an error on an order. Laurie has the ability to reassure the customer that we will correct the order and do whatever it takes to keep the distributor and their end user happy. The way she speaks with customers shows how knowledgeable she is about our line and makes everyone feel more comfortable.”
In Her Own Words
Best Part Of The Job: What I enjoy the most is building great customer relationships. I also love working with my coworkers because we work well together and we have fun doing our day-to-day jobs.
Biggest Challenge: One of the biggest challenges in my job is keeping up with all the changes to our product line and making sure the customer service reps are aware of the changes.
Most Valuable Customer Service Lesson Learned: Treat people/customers as you want to be treated. If you are honest and show your customers respect, then they will always come back to you for future projects.
No. 1 Tip For Great Customer Service: Always listen to your customer, make sure you understand what they are looking for and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Most-Wanted Superhero Power: To read minds—then I would know exactly what my customers are looking for and what they want. I feel that this superhero power would help me be a better communicator and allow me to be more productive at my job.
Best Personal Customer Service Experience: Several months ago, my daughter’s phone was not charging so I went to a few stores to see about getting it fixed. Everyone told me they could not fix the phone and that I had to buy a new one. So, I took it to a neighborhood business to see what they would say. They did a free diagnostic on the phone and found out it was just the battery that needed to be replaced. They took the time to look into what was wrong with the phone, which saved me time and money. This made me feel positive about going to neighborhood businesses again because these small businesses rely on good customer service to keep going.
Years at SanMar: 19
Nominators: Anna Ondracek, sales operations manager; Dawn Hays, senior account manager; Eileen Rausch, senior sales support; Elizabeth Hensley, senior sales support specialist; and Meghan Falkner, supply chain manager—all at Sunrise Identity
What Makes John A Service Superhero
“There have been many instances when I have questions about decoration locations and techniques to use on a certain product,” says nominator Dawn Hays, senior account manager at Sunrise Identity. “John is quick to respond and get me the answers I need. I never feel like I’ll be left in the dark when John is on the case. He is a true example of the ‘Just Be Nice’ motto at SanMar. He is always nice, cheerful and super helpful. Even when things may not be working out on a project, he is truly a professional. Just by speaking with him, you know that he cares about SanMar and about his clients. Somebody get this guy a cape!”
Jacobsen’s skills in customer service were formed early on—he started out at age 16 working in food service. He helped in the kitchen, worked out front with customers and was a delivery driver, too. His mother also managed a restaurant throughout his childhood. He and his sister went to work with her on many weekends, and he got to see her interact with customers and coworkers. Those early lessons shaped the customer service professional he later became.
How John Saved The Day
“I had a decorator print the wrong logo on some shirts and needed replacements immediately, but it was getting close to end of day,” says Eileen Rausch, senior sales support at Sunrise Identity. “John stayed and made sure my order went through, and we got the shirts we needed in time. This is one of many similar situations. He also saved me from a huge mistake when I typed in the item number wrong. He really knows his product. He saw it and let me know so we were able to fix it before the shirts went out.”
In His Own Words
Best Part Of The Job: The interaction with my customers is my favorite part of the job: fixing problems, coming up with ideas and products for their projects, and building their sales. Basically, just helping where I can.
Biggest Challenge: I’m not sure what I’d call my biggest challenge. My accounts keep me pretty busy, so I guess my biggest challenge is always making sure I get their projects, orders and service issues taken care of as quickly as possible.
Most Valuable Customer Service Lesson Learned: The biggest lesson I had to learn very early on is do what you say you’re going to do and follow through. Part of that is common sense, but I’ve heard stories from my customers about how my competitors hadn’t followed through with what they promised and lost their business.
No. 1 Tip For Great Customer Service: Again, follow through with what you say you’re going to do. If you lose your customer’s trust, it’s very difficult to get it back—and there’s no guarantee you will even get a chance to.
Most-Wanted Superhero Power: I’d love to have super speed or extra arms to get stuff done faster.
Best Personal Customer Service Experience: Years ago, my mechanic was working on my car, and he gave me an estimate and told me my car would be ready the following day by 11 am. But when he took the car for a test drive, he realized he missed a needed repair. It wasn’t a big item, but it meant the car wouldn’t be ready until the early evening because he had to have the part delivered. He called me right away, waived the cost of the repair and gave me four free oil changes (a year’s worth). He didn’t beat around the bush about the mistake; he just apologized. That was over nine years ago, and he’s been my mechanic ever since. No one else touches my car now.
Strategic Account Rep, Sweda
City of Industry, California
Nominators: Chris and Karen Stauffer, Cascade Marketing Group; and Angela Rumsey, strategic account manager, Sunrise Identity
What Makes Denise A Service Superhero
Nominators Chris and Karen Stauffer, multi-line reps who work with Denise Mohn on key accounts, say she can work miracles. “We love her. Our clients love her. Denise is always positive. She has a can-do attitude that comes across on the phone. Her work ethic is second to none, and we can always rely on her.”
They say she’s also a team player who readily fills in for other inside sales partners with the same attention she gives her own accounts. “Denise provides the fastest response time and the most thorough and complete information and answers on behalf of her coworkers,” says Karen. “She treats her teammates’ accounts as though they were her own. This means a ton to us on the outside. Because of Denise, we and her teammates secure more sales opportunities.”
Mohn, who has been in the promotional products industry for more than eight years, says she has had some great role models in her life. “I was shown that the customer is entrusting us with their happiness,” she says. “The outcome should always be about the customer’s satisfaction. It is important to me that I receive the best possible service; therefore, I am very aware of how I deliver service to those I work with each day.”
Nominator Angela Rumsey, strategic account manager at Sunrise Identity, is also a client and frequently reaches out to Mohn for quotes and ideas. “Denise is always quick with a response or a solution, and she has great ideas. If I am stuck on a project or need to speed up production, Denise jumps right in to help. We often have rush projects and she can almost always make it happen for us.” She’s also impressed that Mohn writes thank-you cards for almost every order and sends them out after the order closes. “It is such a nice, personal touch and she truly provides one of the most pleasant customer experiences from a distributor’s perspective,” Rumsey adds.
How Denise Saved The Day
“I had an order from a different supplier go south,” says Rumsey. “My client received the items on Friday for a Saturday event and discovered a typo on the product. At 3:30 pm that day I contacted Denise. She sent out some blank items to our client for Saturday delivery so the client wasn’t empty-handed at the event. My client was thrilled and we were so impressed that Denise was able to do this at the last minute for us.”
The Stauffers have also been on the receiving end of Mohn’s superhero service. “On a recent opportunity for 5,000 tumblers, we didn’t have exactly what the customer needed,” says Chris. “Denise came up with a quick solution for the client and we fulfilled the order because of her ‘outside the box’ thinking and creative problem-solving skills. She saved revenue for the client, for Sweda and for all of us.”
In Her Own Words
Best Part Of The Job:I enjoy the diversity of each day. This industry gives me an opportunity to help the customers I work with achieve greatness, and it makes me feel good knowing they’ve been successful with my help.
Biggest Challenge: It’s tough to disappoint our customers when something doesn’t go well with their experience. It’s my goal to help turn the situation around to ensure their happiness.
Most Valuable Customer Service Lesson Learned: Delivering customer excellence day after day means that the customer will bring their business back. Developing a seamless process, including involvement from other departments, provides the value that helps build loyalty.
No. 1 Tip For Great Customer Service: The tip I would share is to remember how good it feels when you bring a smile to someone’s face, meet the important deadline and help someone else be great. It’s satisfying to know that I helped our company earn repeat business by delivering quality products and services.
Most-Wanted Superhero Power: Teleportation would be my superhero power. It would give me the ability to get the product to the customer instantly and know that it arrived on time. I would also get to be a part of their event and witness how they use the item.
Director of Accounts
Icon Blue, Inc.
Los Angeles, California
Years at Icon Blue: 16
Nominators: Mark Gobert, risk control and safety manager-global, Williams-Sonoma, Inc.; Karen Carrigan, learning & development training specialist, Macy’s Logistics and Operations; Lauren Kim, west coast regional sales manager, Goldstar Pens; Brian Stidham, national sales, EMT; Alex Morin, EVP, sales & marketing, Debco; Carolyn Mohawk, graphic designer, Fields Manufacturing; Eden McClellan, president/COO, Icon Blue, Inc.; Tiffany Arhin, regional sales manager, Logomark; and Kortney Deming, field sales, PCNA
What Makes Alison A Service Superhero
Alison Peters jumped into the customer service vortex of retail, specifically a supermarket, while still in high school. “It can be a brutal place for a 16-year-old,” she says. “You are immediately thrown into a world where you are dealing with all types of personalities and management styles.” Luckily, she worked for exceptional managers who understood the importance of providing a great shopping experience for customers regardless of the situation. A quick learner, she observed all types of challenges and learned how to handle them by watching her managers. “I learned what kinds of approaches got the best reaction from customers.”
The lessons she took away from those early days have served her well at distributor Icon Blue, Inc. One of Peters’ clients, nominator Karen Carrigan, learning and development training specialist at Macy’s Logistics and Operations, has worked with her for the past six years purchasing products to commemorate the company’s special events and for recruitment. “She can find everything from scrunchies to clear plastic backpacks and always gives us the best prices and quick service,” says Carrigan. “I guess what I consider her most valuable trait is her trustworthiness. She has the customer’s best interest at heart and goes beyond my expectations to make sure I get the best service—always.”
Peters also understands the importance of providing exceptional service to her suppliers. She works with nominator Brian Stidham, national sales manager at supplier EMT, on custom products for her clients. “Alison goes above and beyond, providing me all the little details of the project to help make it go as smoothly as possible,” he says. “She also answers questions quickly—any time of day. On huge projects with a quick timeline, we are often able to deliver early because she provides such detailed information.”
How Alison Saved The Day
“I remember having to determine the best way to decorate an extremely elaborate and color-filled order,” says nominator Alex Morin, EVP/sales & marketing at supplier Debco. “When the pre-production sample didn’t meet the end user’s expectations, Alison used her creativity to reimagine the logo, and it resulted in one of my favorite imprints to this day.”
In Her Own Words
Best Part Of The Job: I like working with an outstanding team, the quick pace of the work we do and how each project is different and challenging.
Biggest Challenge: There really isn’t much I dislike about my job and that’s a big part of why I’ve been doing it for 16 years now. I like challenges and figuring out how to do things. Bring it on!
Most Valuable Customer Service Lesson Learned: Honestly, I don’t know that there has been one lesson I would deem most valuable. I think there is something to be learned from even the smallest experiences. Being able to learn and grow from each experience and carrying that forward is what brings value to me. Never stop learning.
No. 1 Tip For Great Customer Service: Be honest and treat people how you would like to be treated. In my opinion, you can never go wrong with that kind of approach.
Most-Wanted Superhero Power: With a five-year-old son, I’m surrounded by Batman at home. I’d have to say that I would utilize his genius-level intellect to come up with new ways to improve service that I couldn’t imagine otherwise.
Best Personal Customer Service Experience: When an order goes wrong, you usually don’t think of the great service that you received. But not in this case. We had a rush order deliver a few days before an event. Everything went perfectly and the customer was thrilled. But while the customer was setting up the crystal awards for the ceremony, the table came crashing down. The customer called us in a panic to see if there was anything we could do. We contacted the supplier and explained the situation. Shortly thereafter, the supplier started remaking the awards so we could deliver new pieces in less than 24 hours (on a Saturday). The supplier was amazing and did such a phenomenal job. What was so impressive was that the supplier never said no—the attitude was so positive and proactive in providing a solution. We felt that they truly understood the importance of the order and how we could make or break our customer’s event. To this day, I look back on that experience and think of how professional and exceptional the supplier’s service was. As a distributor, having that support is priceless.
Tradeshow and National Account Manager
Years at Imagen Brands: 6
Nominators: Taylor Borst, communications and public relations specialist, American Solutions For Business; Scott Foresta, vice president, EmbroidMe; Jodi Foster, marketing and training coordinator, The Vernon Company; Steven Flaughers, owner, Proforma 3rd Degree Marketing
What Makes Venus A Service Superhero
Venus Thom was raised by parents who possess a strong work ethic and taught her to always do her absolute best. She says she’s also been fortunate to have worked with several managers who have mentored her with constructive criticism and plenty of encouragement. Much of what she learned was tested in her job prior to entering the promotional products industry six years ago. “I worked as an outside sales representative for a large cellular company,” she says. “Being in any kind of sales role, customer service is a key part of being successful.”
“She understands client relationships,” says nominator and client Steven Flaughers, owner of distributor Proforma 3rd Degree Marketing. “I call her for anything, and it’s like calling one of my best friends. She cares about me, my business, my clients and my overall success. She is truly the best in the industry.”
Another client and nominator, Scott Foresta, vice president at distributor EmbroidMe, likes the fact that Thom is knowledgeable and a good source for information. “She also picks up the phone and replies to messages and emails,” he says. “I know this sounds generic, but what have you become accustomed to? Just getting back to me in a reasonable time frame seems to be a tough thing for many folks to do.”
How Venus Saved The Day
“We had a corporate event where we ordered water bottles with a blue imprint on a black water bottle,” says nominator Taylor Borst, communications and public relations specialist at distributor American Solutions For Business. “The imprint didn’t look good since the blue was too dark against the black (this was my fault, as I approved the artwork). Rather than sticking me with the water bottles, she caught the error and ran a new order with an updated logo color at no charge.”
In Her Own Words
Best Part Of The Job: I enjoy the relationships that are built with my customers, the daily interaction with my co-workers and seeing an order come in that I know I helped win.
Biggest Challenge: My biggest challenge is when there are circumstances that are out of my control.
Most Valuable Customer Service Lesson Learned: Honesty is the best policy, and when you build that trust with customers, situations that might not be ideal become a bit easier because you both value the relationship.
No. 1 Tip For Great Customer Service: Be prompt and always available to your customers.
Most-Wanted Superhero Power: We’ve all had those crazy, last-minute rush orders that seem nearly impossible to complete; an order that maybe didn’t go quite as planned; last-minute presentations due within the hour, etc. If I had the ability to manipulate time, I could help ease more of the worry and stress for my customers so that they could focus their energy on the next sales opportunity.
Best Personal Customer Service Experience: I returned from picking up lunch one day to find that my Chick-Fil-A sandwich did not have chicken on it. I called the location to let them know and instead of offering a coupon, the manager actually hand delivered a fresh, hot sandwich because he didn’t want me to go without lunch. It made me feel good and I was so appreciative. That’s what customer service is all about—letting your customers know that you care and that they are important.
Senior Key Account Manager
Years at Image Source: 18
Nominators: Hsin Chia Chao, president, Twintech Industry, Inc.; Mark Shinn, MAS, president, Incentives West; Mark Jenkins, MAS+, managing director, Pioneer Balloon Company; Brian Haner, CEO, Image Source; Reggie Gonzalez, vice president national accounts, iClick; Tom Goos, MAS, president, Image Source
What Makes Nancy A Service Superhero
“There is no one more service-oriented than Nancy Waters,” says nominator Tom Goos, MAS, president of Image Source. “Her passion for our clients is shown in every action she takes. She is always looking out for their best interests and works tirelessly day and night to deliver a solution for them. It is not because she has to, it is because she wants to.”
For Waters, it’s all about being responsive. “I respond to well over 100 emails a day and make sure I get back to each person,” she says. “While I might not have the answer immediately, I still respond so they know I’ve received their correspondence. This goes far in helping the client to feel important and to know they are my priority. Which they are.”
It’s not just clients who receive top service from Waters. Nominator Mark Shinn, president of multi-line rep firm Incentives West, is a beneficiary as well. “Having to schedule 40 weekly showcases and over 100 different supplier events throughout the year, she always finds a way to accommodate our supplier partners who would like to spend some time with the team.” He also likes the way she makes sure that the presentation room is equipped for the day’s needs and that everyone there has the opportunity to meet and discuss projects and ideas.
Hsin Chia Chao, president of supplier Twintech Industry, Inc. is another one of her six nominators. “We are a supplier vendor, not her client,” he says. “However, she treats us like a VIP. It is a great example of true partnership between distributor and supplier.”
How Nancy Saved The Day
Nominator and Image Source CEO Brian Haner recalls his favorite, over-the-top customer service story: “Nancy was in charge of the t-shirts for a company picnic for one of our largest customers. The order delivered on time, two days prior to the event. When the client opened the boxes, they realized that our silk screener had printed an incorrect design on the front of the shirts. When we found out, we had about 20 hours to reprint 1,700 t-shirts. The client’s location is three hours south of our office. Nancy coordinated everything with our suppliers, and then decided to rent a truck to drive down to deliver the shirts personally at the event. When she got there, only hours before the picnic started on a Saturday, she decided to stay all afternoon and help distribute shirts to their employees. Nancy is our rock star!”
In Her Own Words
Best Part Of The Job: What I enjoy most about my job is helping our clients and feeling appreciated. There is nothing better.
Biggest Challenge: On the flip side, the biggest challenge is when things don’t go as planned. However, one of the first things I learned when I started in this industry is that it’s all in the recovery.
Most Valuable Customer Service Lesson Learned: The most valuable lesson I learned was from my boss, Tom Goos, MAS [president of Image Source]. In every situation, whether you agree with your client or not, you need to show empathy and understanding of how they are feeling. When you have a client who seems impossible to please, it can be difficult. But continuing to provide support and understanding of their situation is the difference between retaining or losing a client.
No. 1 Tip For Great Customer Service: Responsiveness, responsiveness, responsiveness.
Most-Wanted Superhero Power: To create more hours in a day. Because it’s my own personal requirement to get back to each person before the end of the day, I often work 10- to 12-hour days.
Best Personal Customer Service Experience: Just recently, my screen printer mistakenly shipped a t-shirt order to me rather than to my client. Luckily, my client is in the same town, so once it arrived I decided to take it to her. My screen printer insisted on driving 30 miles from his shop to pick up the order and deliver it to my client. He didn’t want to inconvenience me in any way and he respected my busy schedule. Many decorators would have just set up a courier to redeliver the goods but he wanted to do it himself. This is a true partner— someone who thinks not only of the job he’s doing for us but how it reflects on our clients as well.
Lindsey Whitney, MAS
National Sales Representative
Years at Raining Rose: 1
Nominators: Stacey McIntire, account executive, Brown Dog Marketing; Terrie Richardson, owner/operator, Colorado Creative Services
What Makes Lindsey A Service Superhero
When her family-owned company was acquired in 2016, Lindsey Whitney transitioned from her six-year role as president of supplier Solar Advertising to national sales representative at Raining Rose. She grew up in the industry (her parents owned the company, which sold personal care promotional products), and she joined them full-time in 2009, but it was her first job as a market research coordinator that exposed Whitney to the critical skills of creative problem solving. She also learned how to excel in customer service by watching how her parents handled situations in their company. “My mom used to say, ‘Treat every order the same, whether it’s for 250 pieces or 250,000.’ They always wanted to be the best, especially in service.”
Now at Raining Rose, Whitney has become the go-to person for many of her clients, including nominator Stacey McIntire, account executive at Brown Dog Marketing. “Lindsey keeps us informed about new and existing products and specials,” says McIntire. “She is extremely knowledgeable about all of Raining Rose’s products, formulas, etc. Most importantly, Lindsey has a wonderfully creative knack for finding the perfect product solution to match up with our clients’ events and themes.”
As an example, McIntire recalls one of her largest clients in the financial services industry who was looking for unique gift ideas for a women-in-business awards program. She immediately contacted Whitney. “Within minutes, Lindsey had a list of her top three product recommendations, ideas of how to tie the products into the theme, photos and pricing, and she was ready to send samples to our client. This is just one example of the many ways she is our service superhero,” says McIntire.
Nominator Terrie Richardson, owner/operator at Colorado Creative Services, has worked with Whitney not only as a client but as a member volunteer within the Rocky Mountain Region Promotional Products Association. Whitney currently serves as president, and Richardson is on the board of directors. The pair have also joined together to assist a local crisis center with donations of lip balm, first from Solar Advertising and then from Raining Rose. “Lindsey was instrumental in making this happen,” says Richardson, “and has even provided recommendations for other suppliers when she may not be able to help with a product. She is always willing to go the extra mile by creating unique artwork as well.”
How Lindsey Saved The Day
“I received a large order with an extremely tight in-hands date that I never thought we would be able to meet and our client thought it was nearly impossible as well,” says McIntire. “Lindsey worked her magic for us and was able to turn it around and get it out the door in just a few days. She even got the items out a bit sooner than I expected, so they arrived three days early. Our clients think we are rock stars now and we owe it all to Lindsey.”
In Her Own Words
Best Part Of The Job: This sounds like a cliché, but the part of my job I enjoy the most is the people. This industry feels like a big crazy family, and my favorite part of my job is the everyday interactions I have with my customers. After years in the industry, I am lucky to call many of them friends.
Biggest Challenge: My biggest challenge is managing my own unrealistic expectations. I always want to make things happen and am disappointed if there isn’t a solution.
Most Valuable Customer Service Lesson Learned: In every interaction, find a way to genuinely care. Your customer may not be able to tell when you don’t care, but they certainly can when you do. I learned this while talking with customers about why they use us. It is an immense differentiator, and it is free.
No. 1 Tip For Great Customer Service: Be honest when things go wrong and come prepared with at least one solution.
Most-Wanted Superhero Power:
The power of flight, so that I could make those impossible rush orders happen.
Best Personal Customer Service Experience: I recently took my first trip to Disney World as an adult. We were hoping to watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks from across the lake at the Grand Floridian Resort but got lost finding the recommended spot. When I asked for directions, the concierge not only recommended a better place but walked us over personally and asked if perhaps we’d prefer to watch from a boat on the water. At no charge, he took us out on the lake for the most amazing fireworks display I’ve ever seen. It truly blew me away! I’ve read that Disney’s customer service statement is “We Create Happiness,” and they certainly did.
Tina Berres Filipski is editor of PPB.