A Culture of Customer Service
What does customer service look like in a Small Giants company? No matter your industry, how you serve your customers says a lot about your values and who you are as a company. In a purpose-driven business, customer service is characterized by strong partnerships, transparent dialogue, and shared values.
Small Giants know that when you create great customer relationships, you get great business results. Take ARCOS (Automated Roster Call Out System), a company in Columbus, Ohio that provides emergency resource management software solutions for utilities companies. ARCOS organizes its culture around a set of core values that drive everything they do. Those values allow them to cultivate empowered, passionate employees who are relentless about customer success.
Culture has been a top priority at ARCOS for more than 15 years, and it’s working. Their values-driven approach to customer service has led to year-over-year revenue growth, high employee retention, and 100 percent client renewals.
What are the customer service best practices that set ARCOS apart? Let’s take a look.
ARCOS’s core values
We take on the industry's toughest challenges
We are relentless about customer success
We do what we say
We work as a team
True Customer Partnerships
“If you want to understand your customers, go live with them.” - Bruce Duff, ARCOS CEO
A culture of customer service begins by cultivating meaningful relationships with your customers. That means finding ways to involve customers in the business and giving them a voice in the decisions you make. At the end of the day, your organization exists to serve your customers, so why not put them at the forefront of the business?
For example, even though ARCOS is a software company, they consider their product to be community-driven. ARCOS’ customers are responsible for keeping electricity, gas, and water services flowing to millions of people across the country. They use ARCOS’ resource management software to organize and manage internal and external crews, complete inspections and assessments, and manage emergency events to restore service. From the very beginning, their customers are at the center of the design process — often, quite literally. ARCOS gets its information straight from the source, spending weeks at a time out in the field with their utilities clients to collect information and see firsthand what they’re dealing with. It’s a simple practice, but it transforms the trust and intimacy of their relationships and the effectiveness of their product.
From there, it’s about creating multiple ways to listen and being ready to act. Customer service is about communication — continue to develop your relationships by coming back to your customers and asking what they think. Share your plans and ask what they would do. Your customers are your subject-matter experts, and they need to know that you’re listening. Even if you don’t execute all of their ideas, be willing to follow up and have the conversation.
Remember that personal relationships are hard to come by in today’s digital world. Go the extra mile to make customers feel like they really know you. Rotate your customer service representatives so they meet more of your people. Make it a point to call customers back in 10 minutes or less. Respond to all emails within three minutes. When you make a mistake, offer to fly out and explain it to the management team in person. ARCOS does all of those things, and their Net Promoter Score is 72 percent — a score that rivals tech giants like Google and Apple.
“We are in constant collaboration with our customers. We look to them to know if we’re getting it right. We go to them, tell them what the plan is, and they can tell us if it’s crazy.”
A culture of customer service means being in partnership with your customers at all times. At ARCOS, they have several touch points throughout the year where transparent dialogue takes place. Along with an annual, in-person conference for all customers, they also have mini-sessions with small groups of executives and an ideation portal for customers to share new ideas.
Here’s how it works:
ARCOS Conference. Every year, ARCOS holds a conference exclusively for customers. The conference is going into its 16th year, and it’s become an event that customers not only find valuable, but genuinely look forward to year after year. Last year, they had a record 151 utility attendees representing 59 companies in North America. It’s a 3-day event that is equal parts listening session, networking, and celebration. On the last evening, there’s even a red carpet event with a formal dinner and their version of the OSCARS awards to recognize customer contributions and achievements.
Executive mini-sessions. Throughout the year, ARCOS holds several in-person mini-sessions with groups of 8-10 senior executives. They get together to talk about the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the industry and what they need to accomplish in the next three years. Then, leaders from ARCOS share their own plans and ask for the executives’ honest feedback. Users will tell you your next feature, leaders will open your eyes to where you need to go next.
Ideation portal. The ideation portal is an online board for all customers to share their ideas for new features and products. Customers log their ideas and why they think it’s a good move, and all ARCOS customers can vote, collaborate, and workshop ideas. It’s a great way for everyone to see what’s trending and what customers are asking for.
Love Your Customers
“We serve the most loyal, underappreciated workforce in the nation. They don’t get thanked for what they do. They work hard and are often not thought of, yet they say thank you to us.”
As the 15th annual ARCOS Conference came to a close last April, CEO Bruce Duff found it hard to say goodbye. He asked his employees in the audience to join him on stage, and as they brought the conference to an end, their customers broke out into a standing ovation. All week, customers had been coming up to Bruce and telling him what they love about ARCOS: how employees treat them, how quickly they offer help, and how well they listen. Now, he was on the receiving end of an unsolicited standing ovation, looking out into an audience of people he personally considers heroes.
When you form meaningful relationships with your customers, there are a few side effects that Small Giants companies know all too well — loyalty, respect, and admiration. When those take hold, everyone from your CEO to frontline employees experience new levels of motivation to go that extra mile for customer success. Employee engagement and customer service are intrinsic to Small Giants companies because when you identify with and respect your customer, why wouldn’t you do everything you can to make them successful?
At ARCOS, what drives employees every day is knowing who they serve. When disaster strikes — hurricanes, floods, wildfires — ARCOS customers are on the frontlines working to restore utilities to U.S. households. That means back in the office, ARCOS employees are responsible for helping people get their power back days sooner because of what their software can do.
The nature of utility work is that consumers only think about it when there’s a service interruption or their bill seems too high. In reality, utility workers are doing things every single day to keep the power, gas, and water service on for all of us. They may be overlooked by many, but ARCOS is serving them with empathy, attentiveness, and dedication every day.
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