Exceptional Service Takes The Cake
To provide viable data collection and warehouse management solutions, integrator Stratix Corp. knows it must provide customer support first and foremost. CEO Bonney Stamper Shuman achieves this by encouraging a positive corporate culture.
"Conducting your business in a socially responsible way is good business. It means that you can attract better employees and that customers will know who you stand for and like you for it."
– M. Anthony Burns, chairman and CEO, Ryder System, Inc.
Bonney Stamper Shuman, CEO of Stratix Corp., a $10 million automatic identification and data collection (AIDC) and warehouse management solutions (WMS) integrator, doesn't run a one-woman show. Shuman and her partner, company Chairman David Knowlton, have built a successful business based on enthusiastic employees.
Granted, it's not a corporate culture favored by everyone – Shuman will be the first to admit that. But, she also admits that respected employees who love their jobs give Stratix the ability to provide exceptional customer service.
"Our employees treat this company as their own," Shuman explains. "They don't just clock in and clock out. I think that our corporate culture promotes this enthusiasm. Either you fit in, or you don't."
The strategy works for Stratix. Today, the company has 60 employees and expects a growth rate of 20% this year. Stratix provides bar code systems, solutions, and services to manufacturers and distributors, as well as government and supply chain customers. The company has the following divisions:
- Bar Code Label Solutions Group
- Data Capture Systems Group
- Service and Support Group
- Trading Partner Services Group
- Verification Systems Group.
The company also manufactures its own bar code verifiers. The U.S. Department of Defense recently purchased Stratix's Xaminer MD bar code verifier, which scans linear symbologies, and Symbol's PDF417 2-D bar code, as part of the PM-AIT II contract, recently awarded to Symbol.
"We look for employees who have been involved in group activities (be it church events or intramural sports teams) in their personal lives," Shuman says. "It's a culture that breeds positive feelings. We feel that you should like your work, since you spend most of your time there. Our employees would drive a loner crazy. We encourage teamwork and brainstorming." So how does Stratix find employees to fit the mold? It isn't through advertising. "We hire mostly on personal references," Shuman explains. "It's odd for us to run an ad in the newspaper. In the 17 years we've been in business, I bet we've run a handful of ads. Many of our star performers were hired because they're friends of friends. Sometimes we have worked with these people at another company, so we know how they act in a work environment."
To retain enthusiastic employees and encourage a positive corporate culture, Stratix holds monthly manager meetings and company meetings, as well as quarterly events. "We bring in a big spread of food for each meeting and review the previous monthly results," Shuman explains. "We constantly know our expectations. We know what's new at the company and what accounts are out there, so we can share our success and reward our successful employees. These meetings and events reinforce our positive atmosphere and point out any special employee accomplishments. Most employees are also on incentive plans that motivate them accordingly."
Mistakes Aren't Always Bad
No company can avoid making mistakes. The trick is to learn from mistakes. Shuman looks for feedback at every company meeting and event. "We can't only look at good things," she admits. "We try to build on positive aspects and deal with negative aspects as they arise. Our most important objective is to exceed our customers' expectations. We want our customers to love us. That may sound old-fashioned and basic, but it is an integral part of our corporate culture. We preach this philosophy to our employees from the day they start. This type of pride in our performance allows our employees to bring problems to our attention," Shuman continues. "We don't have to go looking for problems. Our employees take pride in the level of service we provide. Mistakes don't bother us. It's part of business and being human. Learning from these mistakes is what will make our company better tomorrow. Mistakes often mean that we are doing something new and different, and we take pride in that."
Banking On Customer Service
VARs that provide exceptional service are more inclined to have repeat customers and more referrals than VARs that simply push boxes. "Can you think of 10 companies that you enjoy doing business with?" Shuman asks. "I can because I actively search for these types of companies. I want anyone who deals with our company to be blown away by our level of service." An example of this level of customer service is demonstrated the first time a customer calls Stratix. A person, not an automated system, answers all calls. While it costs more for Stratix to have a full-time employee handling the 600 calls that come into the office each day, Shuman says it's worth it.
"There is nothing that infuriates me more than not being able to reach people," she admits. "Business is that simple. What makes companies stand out is the level of personal customer service they provide. Our customers can buy a scanner from anybody. They can even buy a scanner over the Internet. But what if they don't know what kind of cabling they need, or what kind of serial port they can plug the device into?
"Our customers are able to speak with a person who can fill their needs," she explains. "We have designed a detailed follow-up system, so we have phone coverage from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. each weekday. To ensure someone is available to answer questions, our departments can't all be at lunch at the same time. Someone must always be there to personally answer the phones. Voicemail is a great tool, but it eliminates a level of customer service that we simply won't do without. We have voicemail, but customers will always have the option to speak to a person when they call during office hours." Several key employees, such as Shuman, carry pagers so they can answer questions even if they aren't in the office.
To VARs just starting out in AIDC, Shuman says to stay focused in specific niches that can benefit from their expertise. "It's important to have good business partners and employees," she states, "but it's also important to say ‘no' to installations that aren't in their areas of expertise. Leverage what you know with your employees' strengths."
Your customers will like you for it.