VP OF RENTAL OPERATIONS ON VALUING CUSTOMER SERVICE AND ENHANCING THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
Hugg & Hall Equipment Company is dedicated to providing excellence in customer service. The company strives to continuously improve and created the “Customer Service Series” as an outlet for sharing customer service ideas and strategies with the purpose to both enhance the experience of the Hugg & Hall customer and to provide a place for collaborative thinking.
In diverse, competitive markets distinguishing one’s business among customers and creating a loyal client-base is an essential aspect of remaining relevant. Rick Vollmer, Vice President of Rental Operations at Hugg & Hall Equipment Company (Hugg & Hall), recently shared his thoughts on the relevance of customer service and how it can affect business opportunities and brand reputation.
“We are a regional company,” Vollmer said. “Larger companies have greater buying power and resources, so when you take the same products and offer them to the public at comparable prices, even as our buying power increases, it’s important to deliver excellent customer service. We fight for customers everyday so we’re constantly trying to find ways to set ourselves apart. The obvious, and free, way is customer service. When you think of a high-priced product like a stay at a Ritz-Carlton, you expect to receive excellent customer service for the price. I believe that Chick-Fil-A proved that you can take a median-priced product and pair it with excellent customer service. You can marry any-priced product with high-priced customer service.”
Customer service is an intangible concept with no one definition. As such, discussing ideas on how to provide positive experiences for each customer can be wide-reaching. Vollmer shared his thoughts on how companies can create a culture of prioritizing customers.
“The one thing that never seems to get, in my opinion, the kind of attention that it needs is making the customer feel like they’ve made the right decision by calling here or deciding to do business with us,” said Vollmer. “I think that it’s important that the management team and I continue to stress, number one that it’s as important as getting something delivered on time, or washing it or buying new and selling old. Number one, the management team stressing customer service. I think that if people would just think ‘what would I want? What would I expect?’ because the person on the other end of the line or the customer of Hugg & Hall would expect the same thing.”
The implementation of a comprehensive customer service strategy requires the consideration of many factors in sizable organizations; delivering cohesive client service within a company housing many teams and departments can be a challenge with specific obstacles and frustrations.
“The most frustrating thing to me is that it is just not focused on,” Vollmer said. “It’s just not top of mind. I don’t believe that it’s a purposeful thing, it’s because we are all so focused on the task at hand or what’s staring at us in the face, so when it comes time to focus on customer service, we just forget.”
Vollmer stressed that customer service requires fluidity as opposed to a simple, traditional set of rules and processes. He touched on the importance of authenticity and actually valuing customers.
“I believe that customer service needs to be fluid and I think that if somebody just takes a minute and thinks ‘there’s probably a few areas where I can add some increased elements of customer service in what I do’ and comes up with what they think is the correct way to express a strong customer service concept then it does the job and it’s fluid and it’s genuine and someone can own it,” Vollmer said. “If you are going to commit to making customer service top of mind, also, commit to making it genuine. Be genuine about it. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Vollmer spoke on the importance of valuing limited facetime with customers and how he’s been influenced by interactions with professionals at Genie Industries.
“I was always impressed and influenced by Genie Industries and how they operated, as a company in the industrial equipment business,” Vollmer said. “When we would go out there to take a plant tour, they were the best at thanking us for our business. When we’d pass by a cubicle, they’d always turn and acknowledge us and were always really quick to thank us for our business. At the American Rental Association show, they would always have an event planned and they would never have their employees piled up together, they were always dispersed throughout the crowd and they were always meeting and thanking people, even if you had no idea what they did within the Genie organization or if you had no involvement with those particular people. Those opportunities are the best times to execute excellent customer service because it’s so hard to get in front of your customers.”
In order to understand how to deliver great customer service, it’s important to understand how negative customer service is demonstrated, Vollmer delineated.
“Terrible customer service, in my view, is giving the customer the impression that they’ve reached the wrong person and it’s not your job,” Vollmer said. “The biggest obstacle to great customer service is that people are quick to not get in somebody else’s square when it comes to helping a customer. If I don’t know the answer to a customer’s issue, I can find out.”
In order to avoid uniformity with industry competitors, importance is focused on standing out and offering value-added features to clients, this can be achieved through offering technology at the cusp of innovation, simplifying processes or providing excellence in customer service. Vollmer spoke on the importance of how client engagement can impact Hugg & Hall and combat homogeneity.
“I want to wave the flag because at this particular time and place, customer service is the one thing that can put us over the top,” Vollmer said. “If we and our competitors all basically have the same product, we’re all coming to the table with the same opportunity and we have to come to the table with something that’s better and different and can set ourselves apart. We have to have something different to talk about, and customer service is the thing that can set us apart. I’ve heard comments made from our customer base, from time-to-time, express that the customer service aspect and the people, sets us apart. We need to continue that and not take it for granted.”
Vollmer elaborated on the Hugg & Hall customer service mission statement, “make your customers’ needs your own,” and what that means for employees and how they should operate. He expanded on the mentality that just as companies strive to create loyal customers, companies should return loyalty.
“If a customer were to walk through the door with a complaint about something, I don’t have any qualms about making a decision to solve that problem and make them happy without having to ask anybody,” Vollmer said. “Making your customers’ needs your own is exactly what that means.”
“As we want loyalty from customers, customer service reciprocates loyalty on behalf of us back to the customer.”
When asked what advice he would give those striving to improve their customer service skills and to provide genuine, effective service to their customers, Vollmer stressed the importance of not shying away from taking action and making assertive decisions as it relates to customer service.
“Customer service is an easy word to fly around but it just seems so difficult sometimes to perform it,” Vollmer said. “As much time as we spend here, if it wasn’t here it’d be somewhere else. We all have to work. Why not put out that little extra effort and see what kind of return it brings, because it doesn’t cost anything.”
“Commit to making customer service a top of mind concept. Remember you’ve been knighted to make decisions, fix problems and are allowed to outwardly express ideas. You can step out on a limb and not worry about it. You are allowed to make decisions and take action as it relates to customer service. A true, genuine act of customer service has the most value, it stays with people. It makes their decision-making process easier in the future.”
Teams should pivot toward instilling confidence in members, according to Vollmer, so that they will have the self-assurance and ability to make consequential decisions for the sake of excellent customer service.
The notion of a more open managerial style, to promote creativity and success, is a growing concept among entrepreneurs and business leaders. The idea is that using the more stringent, chain-of-command style stifles creativity and ones ability to improvise and solve problems, quickly. The open managerial style is designed to promote open communication among team members, regardless of title or position, in order to create a more effective service style and to eliminate any slow-paced, closed-door environment. In the context of customer service, this style gives employees the ability to be more decisive and to serve clients effectively without the perpetual consent of superiors.
“In my mind it resonates ultimately the type of thing John and Robert allow in their business,” Vollmer said, referring to John Hugg, President/owner, and Robert Hall, Vice President/owner. “There probably was a time that I thought there were things that I couldn’t do and decisions that I couldn’t make, but a long time ago I shifted to believe that taking action is what was needed in order for things to get done and, it turns out, that is in line with what John and Robert think. I think if people just stop and think about that for a minute, then customer service at this organization would be a whole lot easier.”