Ten Proven Practices From PPB’s 2015 Service Superheroes

Floppy disks, rotary phones, answering machines and camera film are just a few examples of the many once-indispensable products that have become obsolete as better solutions were introduced. But there’s no substitute for exceptional, personal customer service, and it doesn’t matter if you are shopping online or calling your cable company. The way in which a company responds to your needs can be the factor that sends you straight to a competitor or seals you as a devoted customer for life.

PPB’s annual search for some of the industry’s top customer service experts revealed the good news that exceptional customer service is still alive, well and kicking in the promotional products industry. And, perhaps surprisingly, this year’s nominees were just as often praised for their over-the-top service for an in-house client in the same department as for an outside buyer or distributor client.

What makes the difference between mediocre and extraordinary customer service? PPB went to this year’s Service Superheroes to get their best tips for top service.

Tip No. 1: Be positive

Jessie AlbertoJessie_Alberto web

Field Office Manager, Geiger (UPIC: Geiger)

Industry Career Snapshot: Nine months at Geiger; 11 years at another industry company

Nominated by: Michele Cochran, Geiger

How She Earned Superhero Status: “Jessie manages the Geiger Southwest office and a team of sales service support people, as well as my sales/order management responsibilities, with grace,” says nominator Michele Cochran, Geiger. “While only being a team member for six months, Jessie assimilated right into the groove, learning our systems with ease, and she is already helping to enhance the experience for all of Geiger Nation by becoming part of corporate special-project groups in various departments. Jessie is adept, efficient, empathetic and professional. I value her efforts and know she is going to continue to help me and my business thrive.”

In Jessie’s Own Words

Best Part Of The Job: “The creativity involved with helping clients select the right item that meets their branding needs as well as coming up with ideas for specific events. I also greatly appreciate the variety that comes along with being in this industry. It’s refreshing to not know what new project you might walk into each day.”

Most Valuable Customer Service Lesson Learned: “It is all in the delivery. Everything doesn’t always go smoothly, and some clients you encounter from time to time may have a ‘tough’ personality, but treating everyone with courtesy and respect is key. I have found that even in a difficult situation it is best to be honest and stay empathetic. It’s also about listening and then being proactive with solutions rather than waiting for your client to come up with one.”

Tip For Great Customer Service: “Keep smiling. It may sound almost silly, but next time you pick up the phone or start an email to a client (whether internal or external), smile! You’ll feel better about what you’re saying and the person on the other end will be able to feel the positivity.”

Wish For One Superhero Power: “My geeky side wants to go with teleportation. I love traveling, and ‘beaming’ to different places around the world would be incredible.”

Best Personal Customer Service Experience: “Internal customer service is sometimes overlooked, so I would say that any time a colleague goes the extra mile for me, it makes me feel like I’m part of a real team. That’s certainly true at Geiger. Although we are spread out across the country, I have had moments of superb service provided by co-workers I haven’t even met in person. It doesn’t get better than that.”

How Jessie Saved The Day

The company received an order for 2,127 t-shirts that needed to be printed and shipped to 12 domestic locations and nine international locations—with four-day production. “Jessie managed all communications with vendors (wholesaler and decorator), while keeping both me and the client well informed regarding production,” says nominator Michele Cochran. “Once the job was shipped, Jessie updated the client’s Google document so all tracking numbers for each location were available for client reference.” All 21 shipments were delivered on time worldwide. “This was no small feat and was the first order for this buyer, solidifying what we hope will be a long-lasting relationship. Our business may not be rocket science, but there are so many details and factors involved in getting these unique projects out the door that if we don’t have smart, committed, support people in place there is just no way to get it all done. Jessie is an amazing asset to my team.”


Tip No. 2: Be respectful

Jim CoriglianoJimmy Corigliano photo web

Inside Sales Representative, Starline USA, Inc. (UPIC: STAR0009)

Industry Career Snapshot: Four years at Starline

Nominated by: Kim Reinecker, Starline USA

How He Earned Superhero Status: “During or after I have been on a visit with a customer, I can rely on Jimmy to take the baton and pick up where I left off by following through with quotes, virtual specs, samples, etc.,” says nominator Kim Reinecker, MAS, Starline USA. “No product or service question goes unanswered. I ask: ‘Jimmy,will a sleeve of golf balls fit that vacuum water bottle?’ Jimmy runs out to the sample department and tests to find the answer (‘Yes!’). I refer to Jimmy as my inside sales partner because he is truly an extension to our efforts out in the field.”

In Jim’s Own Words

Best Part Of The Job: “Interacting with people, along with solving unique and different problems each and every day.”

Most Valuable Customer Service Lesson Learned: “Get back to your customer ASAP. Urgency is important and, when I first started Starline, I did not get back to someone as quickly as I should have and lost a nice-size order. What a horrible feeling!”

Tip For Great Customer Service: “Always treat your customers with respect and listen carefully to what they say.”

Wish For One Superhero Power: “I would like to fly very fast; traveling would be so easy.”

Best Personal Customer Service Experience: “It was [with] my dentist. I always had a fear of the dentist’s office, and I needed to have a cap put on. He explained the procedure, made me feel at ease and called me after the appointment to make sure I was well. Now, I have no fear of the dentist’s office. Being personable and knowledgeable went a long way.”

How Jim Saved The Day

Last year, during the “crazy busy” fourth-quarter selling season, a distributor needed several hundred vacuum tumblers for a client event, explains nominator Kim Reinecker, MAS. “We did not have enough of the model they chose in stock, but Jimmy saved the order by working his magic. He got the bands changed off of another style to suit the client.” As a result, the company reeled in a $78,000 order. “While Jimmy is an inside sales partner for about six Starline reps, he gives all of us and our distributors his undivided attention,” she adds.

Tip No 3: Be accountable

Dhu DazeyDhu Dazey web

Customer Service Manager, The Allen Company (UPIC: Allen)

Industry Career Snapshot: 20 years at The Allen Company; previously a customer service rep

Nominated by Tami Wainscott, The Allen Company

How She Earned Superhero Status: “She is the ultimate warrior everyone comes to, to get things done,” says nominator Tami Wainscott, The Allen Company, noting that Dazey is responsible for a team of customer service representatives. “She is resourceful and resilient in getting us answers. If she doesn’t know, she finds out. Leadership, compassion, reliability—we can always count on Dhu.”

In Dhu’s Own Words

Best Part Of The Job: “Working with people to help them fulfill their expectations for the promotional products they trusted us to produce for their customer.”

Most Valuable Customer Service Lesson Learned: “Communication. The Allen Company has always strived to give our customers the service that they expect and deserve. I have had the opportunity to work with a great team and have tried to take some pointers and techniques from each individual.”

Tip For Great Customer Service: “Accountability. Follow up and follow through. If you have communicated with your customer and promised them an answer, be sure that you do your research and get back to them. Be the reason they want to do business with your company.”

One Wish For A Superhero Power: “Healing. I do not like to see anyone suffer, whether it is physically or emotionally.”

Best Personal Customer Service Experience: “I learn something every time I have contact with a company or person. You remember the good points and make a mental note as to how you felt when you were treated poorly.”

How Dhu Saved The Day

“Anyone who has ever met her knows she is the go-to person here at The Allen Company,” says nominator Tami Wainscott. “She is a hard worker, making sure customer service representatives have what they need at their fingertips to provide our distributors with excellent service.”

Tip No. 4: Be honest

Talia GutierrezTalia Gutuirrez web

Customer Service Manager, American Ad Bag (UPIC: ADBAG)

Industry Career Snapshot: 12 years at American Ad Bag; previously a customer service rep

Nominated by: Carrie Sabo, MAS, American Ad Bag

How She Earned Superhero Status: “Not only is she in charge of the customer service team in our Illinois facility, she also helps me take care of the customers in my 13-state territory,” says nominator Carrie Sabo, MAS, American Ad Bag. “She is my ‘go to’ whenever I need a customer issue solved, an order rushed or general questions answered. She routinely goes above and beyond to keep our customers satisfied and makes it easier to do my job.”

In Talia’s Own Words

Best Part Of The Job: “Being a ‘solutionist’ and dealing with people both externally and internally.”

Most Valuable Customer Service Lesson Learned: “The most valuable lesson anyone ever can learn is honesty. You have to always be honest and up front when dealing with customers. When they call to vent about a problem, you need to let them finish their statement and not interrupt them and when they are done you should have a solution to the problem. I learned this from being the person on the other end with the problem and wanting the other person to listen to what I had to say.”

Tip For Great Customer Service: Be honest, courteous and attentive to customers’ needs.”

One Wish For A Superhero Power: “The power to anticipate and fix any potential problems and head them off before they become an issue.”

Best Personal Customer Service Experience: “Recently I called a company with a complaint and the service rep on the other end really understood my problem. The next day everything was the way it should be. If it wasn’t for the service rep who cared enough about her job and about me [as a customer], this issue wouldn’t have been resolved.”

How Talia Saved The Day

“I will never know about all of the things Talia does to help our customers as she is too modest to tell anyone about them,” says nominator Carrie Sabo. “However, I have received many emails from customers describing Talia’s positive attitude, willingness to help with issues and ability to offer suggestions to get customer orders out on time.”

Tip No. 5: Be a good listener

Donna Zasman LomaziniDonna Zasman Lomazini web

Director of Business Development, ZOOMcatalog

Industry Career Snapshot: Co-founded ZOOMcatalog in 2009

Nominated by: Arthur Weiss, Perry Ellis International and Callaway Sportswear; Jeanne Abercrombie, Pepco Promotional Products; Dale Jalovec, Scully; Sherry Maresh, Brandwear; Bryony Zasman, ZOOMcatalog

How She Earned Superhero Status: Nominator Jeanne Abercrombie, Pepco Promotional Products, says, “I love her passion and how she makes you feel every time you speak with her that your company and business is the only one that matters. She doesn’t back down on a challenge, and my company has thrown a few at her; she has jumped in and made us shine.” Sherry Maresh at Brandwear says, “This may sound corny, but she actually picks up the phone when you call her. If she does not answer, you know you will hear back from her in a flash. This sounds basic but it is not in today’s world.” Lomazini’s sister and business partner, Bryony Zasman, adds, “We continually get feedback on Donna’s ability to understand her customers’ challenges and translate them into a solution that we can provide for them. She is extremely responsive to requests from our clients.”

In Donna’s Own Words

Best Part Of The Job: “I enjoy helping customers identify and find solutions for their business pain points. Helping my customers integrate and implement new technologies and having them see real, tangible results is very rewarding. I also enjoy working with everyone on our team, from our distributor support team to our developers. We have an amazing culture at ZOOMcatalog.”

Most Valuable Customer Service Lesson Learned: “The most important thing is communicating with and asking your customers questions to ensure you tailor the solutions you provide to their specific needs. This helps build a long-term and trusting business relationship. By doing this, I have become friends with my customers and we enjoy working together. I have learned this time and again throughout my career in sales.”

Tip For Great Customer Service: “Listen. Make sure you fully understand the needs of your customers before trying to help them. Go the extra mile—doing something extra for customers helps build your long-term relationship with them.”

Wish For One Superhero Power: “I would like the ability to clone myself. Today, most people are always busy and wearing many different hats at the same time. I am sure I am not the only one who has wished for a couple of clones at times.”

Best Personal Customer Service Experience: “Without a doubt, REI [the outdoor gear retailer] provides some of the best customer service I have ever experienced. They are extremely customer-focused and embrace the ‘customer is always right’ attitude. From the moment you walk in their doors, you know that their team is there to help you. They offer solutions for your needs. It is not about having you spend as much as possible, it’s about you walking out the door feeling confident that you made the right buying decision. I think the reason they stand out for me is that they listen and offer solutions rather than trying to sell you what is new on their shelves.”

How Donna Saved The Day

“We have many independent sales reps based all over the country,” says nominator Arthur Weiss, Perry Ellis International/Callaway Sportswear. “We needed ZOOMcatalog training for each of them, however, they are all in different time zones and hard to pin down so one training session would not suffice. Being the quintessential account rep, Donna accommodated our entire sales team, managers, CRSs and new hired at times convenient for them—and with a great attitude. Because of Donna’s enthusiasm on how to use ZOOMcatalog, our staff is well trained and equipped with another tool to promote our brand.”

Tip No. 6: Be a partner

Devin MartinDevin Martin web

Key Account Manager, Advance Corporation (UPIC: ADVANCE)

Industry Career Snapshot: One-plus year at Advance; 15 years in the industry

Nominated by: Allison Mikle, Signature Concepts; Rena Ashfeld, CAS, Advance Corporation

How She Earned Superhero Status: Nominator Rena Ashfeld, CAS, has been working with Devin for 15 years. “She is the yin to my yang. To have that person you can count on to get it done—that is Devin. I am a better salesperson because of her,” says Ashfeld.

In Devin’s Own Words

Best Part Of The Job: “The people. This industry has so many creative and dynamic people. I love to be able to help customers solve problems and I love to learn from the people around me. It’s very rewarding to help someone come up with a product or solution, and then to get positive feedback. The best compliment I can get is: ‘You made me look good to my customer.’”

Most Valuable Customer Service Lesson Learned: “I was fortunate to have some wonderful mentors early in my career. The best advice I got was to never say no. If the answer is not a definitive ‘Yes,’ try to have another solution to offer your customer.”

Tip For Great Customer Service: “Be a partner with your customer. Consider yourselves to be on the same team, be honest and, of course, the old cliché: under-promise and over-deliver.”

Wish For One Superhero Power: “Telepathy. Just imagine how much more efficiently and quickly we could all work together if we could read each other’s minds. It would certainly make anticipating my customers’ needs much easier.”

Best Personal Customer Service Experience: “I can’t say enough good things about Discount Tire. They fixed a flat tire for my mom on a blustery winter day at no charge, and she had never purchased a tire from them. They are always friendly and willing to be honest and work with a budget. Each time I deal with them, they go above and beyond and they will have my business for as long as I drive a vehicle with wheels. They understand the importance of building a relationship before they have closed the sale. That is impressive to me and I will forever refer family, friends and strangers to them.”

How Devin Saved The Day

Devin recently worked with her client and nominator, Allison Mikle, on an anniversary project for a large customer. “Devin jumped right in and made sure I had great ideas to show. She understands the urgency that goes along with these types of projects and is always there to help,” says Mikle.

Tip No 7: Be exceptional

Mark McKellarAdobe Photoshop PDF

Field Sales Representative, Journalbooks/Timplanner Calendars (UPIC: TIMEPLAN)

Industry Career Snapshot: Eight years in the industry, including six years at Journalbooks in inside sales, creative sales support and field sales. He started his career with a distributor company.

Nominated by: Dawn Hays, Sunrise Identity

How He Earned Superhero Status: “Mark goes above and beyond to know our client list, their likes and dislikes. He is always one step ahead of us with new products and creative ideas—always showing the next big thing in journal books,” says nominator Dawn Hays, Sunrise Identity. “He is understanding when it comes to a sense of urgency, welcomes a challenge and comes back with more than one way to solve an issue.”

In Mark’s Own Words

Best Part Of The Job: “I really enjoy working with a made-to-order product. Everything is very hands-on here at Journalbooks. Being able to see a project through, from marketing strategy to concept creation to manufacturing a unique, one-of-a kind product is really exciting.”

Most Valuable Customer Service Lesson Learned: “…bad service is so much more abundant than great service. And exceptional service really shows through in the individuals who care. I don't mean people who are caring individuals, but people who care about what they do, regardless of what it is they are doing—people who stand by what they say and take ownership over their actions. It seems to me like great customer service is a rare find, so when I come across it, I really, genuinely appreciate it and make sure to recognize it. And that in turn encourages me to pay it forward.”

Tip For Great Customer Service: “Live by the Golden Rule. Treat others the way you would like to be treated. If you want to be treated exceptionally, you need to be exceptional. Positivity is a big staple in my method of operation and that positivity is contagious ... that kind of a ‘give a smile, get a smile’ mentality goes a long way.”

Wish For One Superhero Power: “I'm not sure if there is a superhero who has this power—which would thus make it so much more powerful—but it would be the ability to control gravity. If you think about it, that power could potentially be limitless with its applications. I could save our customers 100 percent on freight charges and get custom Journalbooks delivered in the blink of an eye by creating a gravitational wave in front of our packages and let the books ride the wave all the way to Nashville [or any other location] at the speed of light.”

Best Personal Service Experience: “Almost three years ago when my son was born, he had to be admitted into the neonatal intensive care unit at the Levine Children's Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was born with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar); he would not feed and his blood sugar would not come up. My wife and I stayed in the hospital for nearly a week, only being able to see our boy during specific visitation hours in the NICU. The nurses we had during our experience were nothing short of amazing—making sure we were comfortable, offering advice and generally comforting us, letting us know that our son was going to be alright. They provided expert care not only to our newborn but to the two of us as well. During one of the toughest times of our life, being unsure of what was going to happen, the nurses provided us with so much more than what I’m sure is in their job description.”

How Mark Saved The Day

“Most recently he created a book that mimics a composition notebook and turned the project in record time,” says nominator Dawn Hays. “Mark has a great understanding of design and his work blows away the clients with creativity.”

Tip No. 8: Be nice

Ericka SuttonErika Sutton web

Production Director, The Book Company (UPIC: BOOKCO)

Industry Career Snapshot: 11 years at The Book Company

Nominated by: Doug Greenhut, The Book Company

How She Earned Superhero Status: “From her calm, friendly demeanor to her helpful attitude, Ericka is someone that everyone wants to work with,” says Doug Greenhut, The Book Company. “She treats every one of our orders as a personal mission to fulfill—applying her complete skill set of organized coordination, honest communication and genuine caring. Our customers regularly compliment Ericka’s willingness to do whatever it takes to ensure their order is correct, complete and on time.”

In Ericka’s Own Words

Best Part Of The Job: “I can actually say that I enjoy coming to work every day. The Book Company is a great place to work. It’s a laid-back atmosphere and we have fun doing what we do. The production team has been together for a long time and we work really well together to get things done right.”

Most Valuable Customer Service Lesson Learned: “I’ve learned to value all of our customers and appreciate the effort they make each and every day to keep their end users happy. It’s not always easy but if their clients are happy, then they are happy, and so are we.”

Tip For Great Customer Service: “Be nice. Truly treat your customers the way you would want to be treated. And remember, all customers are important, no matter how large or small their order may be.”

Wish For One Superhero Power: “I would love to be able to fly and use my power of flight to make sure orders are always delivered on time. Sometimes it really takes a superhero effort to make that happen.”

Best Personal Customer Service Experience: “Recently I visited a local hardware store. I was not looking forward to this visit since the previous trip resulted in extremely poor service. Fortunately, this time was much different and much better. A saleswoman greeted us instantly as we entered the store. She was very attentive to our needs, wants and budget and made an effort to help every step of the way. She went above and beyond to make sure we got exactly what we wanted without being overbearing. I was so impressed by her attention to detail. I will definitely go back there again which shows how one person can make a big difference.”

How Ericka Saved The Day

“On more than one occasion, Ericka has volunteered to load cartons of books into her personal van to deliver them to hotels and even shipping docks to meet an in-hands date,” says nominator Doug Greenhut. “She has also driven more than an hour to Miami and three hours to Orlando to guarantee that a last-minute order is delivered on time.”

Tip No. 9: Follow the Golden Rule

Gary ThorneGary Thorne web

Territory Manager, Edwards Garment (UPIC: EDWARDSG)

Industry Career Snapshot: Seven years at Edwards Garment; previously with TriMark/Rivers End and Hanes Printables, for a total of 27 years in the industry

Nominated by: Charlie Potts, Scrubs & Beyond

How Gary Earned Superhero Status: “Gary is absolutely the best promotional apparel sales rep I have dealt with in my 16 years in the industry,” says nominator Charlie Potts, Scrubs & Beyond. “He combines his extensive knowledge of his product line with impeccable attention to our account. He is always looking for new ways to present Edwards apparel to our clients. He really takes it to the next level by being an extension of our national sales team when presenting new ideas and solutions.”

In Gary’s Own Words

Best Part Of The Job: “Customers! I encounter new challenges and opportunities each and every day.”

Most Valuable Customer Service Lesson Learned: “I have had the opportunity to work for some very smart people in my career and one taught me to deliver ‘good news’ fast and deliver ‘bad news’ faster. Every company has challenges; the quicker customers understand and have all of the information, the quicker you can help work through the challenges.”

Tip For Great Customer Service: “A very simple rule … treat others as you would like to be treated.”

Wish For One Superhero Power: “The ability to anticipate customers’ needs—that would enhance my ability to deliver even better customer service, which is one of the many things I enjoy about my job.

Best Personal Customer Service Experience: “Nordstrom. While on a business trip to Chicago I purchased a great-looking pair of leather suspenders (this was during my suspenders-with-suits phase). I had to have them altered by a shoe repair shop and every time I wore them, people made fun of them—even my wife. Two months later on my next trip to Chicago I took the suspenders back to Nordstrom without a receipt. They swapped them for a different design, a less expensive pair, and even gave me the difference in cash. Today I shop at Nordstrom often, and I bring my wife along for a second opinion.”

How Gary Saved The Day

Two years ago Edwards experienced some inventory issues with a new product Charlie Potts put into a program for a major hospital client. “The new item was so great that there was no way Edwards could have forecasted the amazing demand,” Potts explains. “Gary went to bat for us to get senior management at Edwards involved to expedite both the manufacturing and shipment of the item to take care of our customer. Gary stayed in constant communication with me throughout the entire process and never shied away from getting answers to some very tough questions. His handling of this difficult situation actually strengthened the relationship between [our companies].”

Tip No. 10: When debating between a phone call or email—start dialing

Phred YoungPhred_HighResPhoto web

Customer service rep, 3M Promotional Products (UPIC: Post-It)

Industry Career Snapshot: 32 years at 3M including two years as a printer, nine years as a CSR, seven years in accounts receivable and 14 years as an inside sales rep

Nominated by: Bob Black, The Identity Group, Inc.

How He Earned Superhero Status: “Here’s a customer service rep who wants to make sure you’ve got the right product for the application intended,” says nominator Bob Black, The Identity Group, Inc. “He’s also conscious of your budget and advises of the options that exist. This is not your standard upsell but rather a thorough education on providing the proper product. The sales come as a result of the complete honesty and the wealth of information he provides.”

In Phred’s Own Words

Best Part Of The Job: “The people of this industry and all the creative ideas they generate.”

Most Valuable Customer Service Lesson Learned: “If you want success, just be yourself and know your product line.”

Tip For Great Customer Service: “Pick up the phone. One call is worth a thousand emails.”

Wish For One Superhero Power: “The ability to ensure all the world’s children get the best we can provide—they are our future and our most valuable asset.”

Best Personal Customer Service Experience: “No one thing stands out but when spending time or money on something, I most appreciate those individuals who take the time and effort to make the experience memorable and worthwhile. Great service is out there; you just need to find it.”

How Phred Saved The Day

Phred provided an almost instant virtual to his client, Bob Black, The Identity Group, Inc., but instead of just providing what Black specifically asked for, Phred created a second version of what the client really should be using. “Guess what? Wisdom and experience won out and we secured a very significant order,” says Black.