An Inside Job
In Panama City, the path to providing excellent customer service began with improving relationships.
"Associates don't always understand that they have internal customers and that there are challenges to the customer service they provide every day. They also needed to think about how internal customers affect the service to outside customers."
- Linda Hall
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High Desert Hero
A Paradigm of Time
The Perfect Political Storm
A Bravo Performance
The President & Chairman's Report
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2000 Annual Report Home
Freedom Communications, Inc.
"I hear many of the complaints our customers have. We don't deliver the paper on time or we miss the right days when they leave on vacation. Sometimes we've messed up the ad they've placed. It's because I heard their concerns that I wanted to head this effort."
- Linda Hall
"The response was excellent and we even got a couple of standing ovations in some of the classes. The classes told me that associates were paying attention and they left more aware. We were reaching people and making our goal."
- Linda Hall
The challenge for 2001 is keeping the program alive. Training for 2001 that is more specific in areas such as telephone speaking techniques and how you represent your company will be a key component.
Intuitively, executives at The News Herald in Panama City already knew that customer service needed to be a focal point when the team gathered for strategic planning in 1999.
"We had done a survey of 200 former subscribers and we asked, 'Why did you leave the newspaper. What happened?'" said News Herald General Manager Steve Bornhoft. "And poor customer service loomed surprisingly large as a factor. We thought surely customer service must be an issue elsewhere in the business."
So for 2000, improving customer service became a priority at the newspaper. The customer service strategy fell to Linda Hall, a nine-year veteran of The News Herald's bookkeeping department who had been yearning for a leadership challenge.
Although her contact with customers is limited, there are times when Hall is asked to staff one of the two customer payment windows for classified ads and home delivery subscriptions. "I hear many of the complaints our customers have," she said. "We don't deliver the paper on time or we miss the right days when they leave on vacation. Sometimes we've messed up the ad they've placed. It's because I heard their concerns that I wanted to head this effort."
The result was a superb yearlong program of training and activities put together by a committee comprised of seven other associates representing various departments at the newspaper and led by Hall. The program, along with work being conducted at The Star in Shelby, N.C., will serve as a model for similar programs at other Freedom community newspapers in 2001. After charting goals and objectives, The News Herald committee soon realized that to improve customer service to readers and advertisers, the crucial first step would be to improve internal relationships among the newspaper's 165 associates.
"You have to have the internal customer (associate) relationships built and working first. If you don't, you will never get to where you need to be with the public," Hall explained. "We needed a program that would benefit all of our associates. Training that taught them how to deal with one another as customers."
That training took place in the first quarter of 2000 and was a two-hour session that included a video, "But I Don't Have Any Customers," and material from an industry seminar Hall had attended.
"Associates don't always understand that they have internal customers and that there are challenges to the customer service they provide every day," Hall said. "They also needed to think about how internal customers affect the service to outside customers." The training was mandatory and associates were given a pre-training survey to identify key issues and a rating sheet when the seminar concluded. Because the newspaper operates three shifts per day, training was conducted in the morning, afternoon and night.
"The response was excellent and we even got a couple of standing ovations in some of the classes," Hall said. "The classes told me that associates were paying attention and they left more aware. We were reaching people and making our goal."
For the second quarter of 2000, the committee tailored a training program geared to people who dealt with external customers associates in advertising, circulation, classified and editorial.
The major effort by the committee would be an event planned for the fourth quarter called "Customer Service Week."
"Customer Service Week gave The News Herald a chance to showcase our newspaper publishing operation. It also gave associates a chance to see for themselves the importance of good customer service," Hall said.
The News Herald published an in-paper invitation to tour the newspaper and about 400 people responded. The key element for customers was being able to see how the paper is put together.
"The biggest reason for doing this was awareness to do something that could make customers aware of the process we go through. To understand if we have a production glitch, the press starts late and that means the paper will be late getting to them," Hall said.
News Herald associates wore special T-shirts and buttons during Customer Service Week and some associates were trained to give the tours and each department had a display depicting its function. A few managers assisted as well.
Hall singled out Operations Manager Bruce Garner for special praise.
"He was so detailed and in-depth with what he told them." Not surprisingly, the press operation was the most popular part of the tours, Hall said.
Nominations were also solicited for a Customer Service Hero an associate recognized for providing exemplary customer service internally and externally. Advertising Assistant Staci Cook earned this honor, announced during an associate luncheon culminating the week's activities. Response to the tours was so strong, Hall plans to do it again this spring. The challenge for 2001 is keeping the program alive. Training for 2001 that is more specific in areas such as telephone speaking techniques and how you represent your company, will be a key component.
"We saw impressive achievement in the area of customer service as a result of this committee's work," Bornhoft said. "This was not a top-down initiative. Associates led it. Linda provided enthusiastic, energetic leadership that was contagious. Every newspaper should have someone like Linda."