Ingenium Technologies

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News

Customer Service Keeps Clients Happy, Returning

Published: Wednesday, April 09, 2008, 10:13:31 AM

ROCKFORD, ILLINOIS-

This article appeared in the Rockford Register Star,written by staff writer Thomas V. Bona and was posted to www.rrstar.com/communities.

Ingenium is mentioned under "Tip 3 Say what you’ll do, and do what you say".

 

Customer service is sometimes as simple as being there to answer the phone.

Like when Aqua-Aerobic Systems gets a call from one of its water-treatment plant clients.

“Lightning hit the plant and blew out the programmable logic controller, and the PLC is what controls the plant. They want to know how to reboot it,” said Peter Baumann, vice president of engineering for the Loves Park-based company. “It’s in the manual, but when the water’s starting to come up and you’re panicking, it’s nice to have a voice to talk you through it.”

Sometimes it’s more complicated: having a system to track customer issues as they work their way through the company, knowing which department to send someone to for an answer or taking clients to seminars to learn about changing technology.

Local manufacturers, technology companies, business service providers and other business-to-business outfits say customer service is the key to differentiating them from their competitors around the country and around the world.

And the key to customer service, they say, is making the effort.

Tip 1 Build a lifelong relationship
Aqua-Aerobic helps its customers after its contract ends. It even helps them when someone else’s equipment is causing the problem.

“It doesn’t serve our purpose to have our piece of equipment look fine and the rest of it not work,” Baumann said. “We look beyond our scope.”

The company makes equipment for water and wastewater treatment, and works with municipalities and developers as far away as Los Angeles and Dallas.

Customer service starts before the customer even signs up, Baumann said.

Company representatives meet with prospective clients from the start, for seminars that include computerized presentations, shop demonstrations and test-tank demonstrations. For long-distance meetings, they use Internet hookups for Webinars.

“We install 100 to 200 plants a year. Not that many engineering firms are involved in that many. We see what’s worked and what hasn’t worked,” Baumann said. “Our competitors don’t often spend as much time upfront with the customers as we do. They’re interested in ‘specify our equipment and we’ll see you on bid day.’”

The approach has helped the business grow. In the past five years, Aqua-Aerobic Systems has seen sales increase more than 50 percent and its staff grow to 150. It just won the Rockford Chamber of Commerce’s Manufacturer of the Year Award.

“We do a lot of repeat business. We like to say once you’re an Aqua-Aerobic customer, you’re an Aqua-Aerobic customer for life,” Baumann said. “They may call us two, four, five years after their plant is running, after our contractual obligations are over. We don’t get paid for it, but we know long term that if he has an expansion, he’s going to remember that. Or, if he has a friend, he’ll recommend us.”

Tip 2 Show the customer you know your stuff
Global Enterprise Technologies doesn’t just have to pass a test with its customers, it has to pass a test with its main supplier.

The Cherry Valley company designs, installs and maintains data networks. It primarily works with products from California-based giant Cisco Systems, which requires its partner companies to pass certain regular tests.

In terms of customer service, Global Enterprise usually scores around 5 on a 5-point scale. Vice President Dave Jacobs says that’s because they put qualified people in place and trust them to do their jobs well.

“We’re kind of unique. We have people spread out all over the country, and we empower people to get the job done,” Jacobs said. “The main thing is keep the customer satisfied and get the job done and make decisions to make that happen.
I’m not sitting here dictating to these guys what to do.”

The company has a system for monitoring customer issues: As many technology-related firms do, it opens up “tickets” that note the status of a customer’s problem. If the problem isn’t resolved in a certain time, the ticket automatically moves up the ladder to higher levels until there’s a solution.

Ultimately, the ticket gets to Jacobs if it’s not resolved. He hasn’t received one in three years.

The company also works hard to educate customers on the ever-changing technologies in which they deal. Staff members will either bring customers on-site or to other locations to seminars about equipment, best practices and other network-related issues. They don’t use those as selling opportunities, Jacobs said, and don’t pressure customers to upgrade immediately.

“We just basically say, here’s where we are today, here’s what’s going to happen in the next three years. If people know that you know what you’re talking about and you seem intelligent, they’re going to come to you when they’re ready to do something.”

Global Enterprise helped install the phone system and network infrastructure at Belvidere North High School and did upgrades at Belvidere High School.

While the School District has to bid out those types of projects, it also can factor in the quality of service, said Ben Commare, director of technology. When the district has had questions, Global responded quickly and helpfully, and that makes Commare want to work with them in the future.

“Customer service for any organization that is always short-staffed on a technical-support side is always a great thing,” he said.

Tip 3 Say what you’ll do, and do what you say
Engineered Storage Products Co. needed a way to make bigger storage tanks.

Specifically, it needed stronger jacks to lift heavy pieces of the tanks into place.

Over the course of a year, the DeKalb company worked with Ingenium, a Rockford-based engineering services company. Now, ESPC has a design it can use to make its own jacks or have Ingenium or another company make them. Bruce Warren, ESPC’s director of engineering, said the success of that first project could lead his company to hire Ingenium for other projects.

“The world is full of surprises. The good news is, the Ingenium folks presented us with a happier result,” Warren said. “We look for a clear definition of scope in terms of the project, a clear definition of either fixed price or how we will be charged, and professional responses from the design engineers and the customer service side. We’ve enjoyed all that from the Ingenium team.”

Those kind of experiences with customers have helped Ingenium, which was started in 2000 by four former Hamilton Sundstrand engineers, grow to 200 employees. The company deals primarily with the aerospace industry — Sundstrand is its largest client — but also works with medical and industrial companies.

The average employee has more than 25 years of experience.

“We can put together a world-class team for a small company,” said Greg Crowley, director of business development. “In general, the challenge for a company like ours is to get people to use you in the first place. Most of our business is repeat business.”

Ingenium sets up project teams, making sure one person is the constant lead contact for the client. It uses technology to keep in touch with customers across the country, including videoconferencing, Internet phone system Skype, and GoToMeeting.com and other Web sites that enable virtual meetings.

Each time it successfully completes a project, Crowley said, Ingenium gets another boost in the vital word-of-mouth that’s gotten it to this point.

Tip 4 Answer the phone yourself, and have an answer
When a customer calls Pacific Bearing, they get a person on the phone, not an automated response.

That’s one of the things that sets the South Beloit manufacturer apart, business development manager Jon Schroeder said.

“Like when we get a call from Chrysler. They say, ‘The assembly line is down, the big machine is down, we can’t make any product, I need a bearing,’” Schroeder said. “If they’re calling us because it’s an emergency, they have a piece of equipment that’s down, they’re going to keep calling somebody until they get a live person.”

Almost a tenth of the company’s 150 employees work in customer service. The receptionists are trained to be “the face of the company” when they answer the phone and handle customer issues immediately.

“Our entire company is in one place. If the customer needs an answer, the customer-service person can walk into the plant, find out the answer and tell the customer,” Schroeder said.

Sales calls will be routed to one department, technical questions will be routed to engineers. Most staffers are cross-trained, starting in one department and moving to another.

Schroeder said they try to put people in different places based on their skills and personality types. Some deal best with handling customer issues, others work best following up on sales leads. If they enjoy their jobs, Schroeder said, customers can tell.

“Our small company is like a family. A very big family.”

About Ingenium

Ingenium is a fast growing, privately held company headquartered in Rockford, Illinois. A leader in product design and analysis, testing, and manufacturing, Ingenium serves both the aerospace and industrial markets.   Ingenium employs more than 200 people across three complimentary divisions.   Located in two facilities, Ingenium’s engineering/research office complex is geographically convenient for customer access and the state-of-the-art manufacturing and testing facility allows for our continued expansion. For more information visit www.ingenium.com

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