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Award Winners

We salute the following winners of Customer Communicator’s Frontline Spotlight Award. These individuals have been recognized for making a positive contribution to their organizations by maintaining the highest levels of service quality and professionalism.

Below they share a few of their secrets to service success.

Peter Badillo
Customer service supervisor
Blue Stream

The key to good service, says Badillo, is ownership, “I take responsibility for the customer from the moment that the issue arises to the moment that the problem has been resolved. And oftentimes those customers feel comfortable enough to reach out to me directly via my direct number or email to take care of any other situation.“

Timothy Knab
Customer service advocate
Bosch Security Systems

For Timothy Knab, understanding customer priorities is essential. Sometimes he is working with a customer with a job six months down the road. And sometimes a security system just went down. “So you have to understand the customer, listen to them, understand the priority of what they are facing, and put as much urgency into it as you possibly can,” Knab says.

Molly Warzyn
Advanced customer care professional
Thrivent Financial

When she is working with customers, Warzyn values the opportunity to make a difference. “It’s not just a matter of answering the phone and giving an answer,” she says. “Our culture here is truly based on making an impact. So having that opportunity to go above and beyond to make a difference on every call — that is very fulfilling.”

Annette Werner
ATS repair advocate
Aesculap USA

Product knowledge is critical, says Werner. “When something new comes out and I see it for the first time, I dig in and learn everything I can ... the more you know, the more it helps you to do your job better, and it gives you a better perspective on how your job helps contribute.”

Kelsy Jimenez
Customer support representative

Jimenez succeeds by personalizing each customer call.
“I listen to learn what I can and then adapt to what the customer’s needs are,” she says. “Sometimes they just want to vent, so I listen and help them slow down. Others might be a little older, and I need to raise the volume but still maintain that tone of care.”

Karynn Squadrito
Team lead
The CORE Group

Developing personal relationships with customers is very important to Squadrito. It makes the job more rewarding and when problems arise they can be dealt with in a very positive way. “Having a personal connection with customers makes things a lot easier,” she says.

Kylie Pickel
Customer relations representative
Continental Tire

Customer education is often part of the service job, Pickel tells Customer Communicator. “Sometimes it’s just not possible to help. But we try to do our best to educate customers, so they are made aware of what is going on, and so they come away better informed.”

JoBenita Davison
Member service representative
Navy Federal Credit Union

Working in the fraud department, JoBenita Davison often has to deal with customers who are none to happy. She deals with those challenges by keeping a positive attitude throughout. “You have to understand the stress the member is under and just put yourself in their shoes.”

Suzanne Radford
Senior customer care service representative
Assurant Specialty

If she doesn’t know the answer to a customer question, Radford is not shy about admitting it. The important thing, she says, is to acknowledge that you don’t have an answer and to assure the customer that you’ll get an answer, “whatever it takes.”

Steve Kovac
Director of visitor services
Carnegie Science Center

For Steve Kovac, problem solving is at the heart of the service job. So he takes a team approach to the tough problems. By working on solutions together, Kovac finds that problems can be, “the greatest opportunities we have to talk things out and to learn more.”

Kim Sanders
Team lead
Americo Manufacturing

“Internal customers are just as important as your outside customers,” says Sanders. It can be easy to focus on external customers, but sharing your best self and your service skills with internal customers will build the kind of teamwork that supports external customers as well.

Alicia Ross
911 communications officer
Durham, NC

If you think you get difficult calls, meet Alicia Ross. She handles 911 calls for the city of Durham, NC. Despite what you might think, her job is similar to that of other customer service reps. She says that active listening, remaining calm and level-headed, and reassuring the caller that help is on the way are all critical aspects of the job.

Audria Perkins
Customer service specialist
Association for Child Development

One of the things that Perkins likes most about her job is that she can inject a little bit of herself and her personality into each customer conversation. That personal touch helps build rapport with customers and makes work feel a little bit “less like work,” she says.

Rachel Dillon
Tier ll service technician
ACT Technology Services

Dillon is always improving her skills, but admits that she does jump ahead to solutions sometimes. To counter that, she’s working on “trying not to be so trigger happy,” she says. “I want the customer to finish telling me about what they see going on. Because even though it may be the same thing I have seen repeatedly, there may also be a slight difference.”

Evan Parana
Senior customer service agent
UPMC Health Plan

The goal of UPMC Health Plan’s is to resolve every issue or problem in one call. “If you call us once with a specific issue, that should be the only time you have to call us,” Evan Parana says. “Now that might mean we have to call 10 other people and send 20 emails to get the issue resolved, but ultimately, the point is you only have to call in once.”

Kelly Moran
Customer love representative

For Kelly Moran, follow-up is an important part of the service job. “If I set a deadline, I always make sure I get back on or before that time,” she says. “And I always offer customers my contact information, as well. So even if I say I will get back to them the next day, they can always reach out to me if they have any questions in the meantime.”

Kate Frazier
Customer service rep
Ball Seed Company

“We’re dealing with live plants, so things can and do go wrong,” says Kate Frazier. And when they do, the result can be the loss of thousands of dollars worth of young plants. Excellent service recovery skills and a strong, supportive team can help in these situations, “We have a good team here that works well together and is very supportive — and that makes it a fun place to work — and makes it less stressful too.”

Ana Agud
Wellness program coordinator
Virginia Tech University

Ana Agund, always keeps her organization’s service motto in mind — In Latin it is “Ut prosim,” which means “That I may serve.” With this motto in mind, positive interactions are sure to follow. And as Agund says, “It really is a good feeling to know that you are doing something productive and that you can have a positive impact on people.”

Angela Twohig
Team lead
The Chronicle-Herald

The first rule of customer service, says Angela Twohig, is effective listening. That involves, “the ability to hear what people are actually saying, and what they are perhaps not saying, so that you are better able to reach a conclusion that will be reasonable for both the customer and the company ... even if it is to find a polite way of saying ‘no,’” Twohig says.

Teresa Sheppard
Account manager
St. John Insurance

Helping people makes the service job worthwhile for Teresa Sheppard. She recently had clients who lost everything they owned, including their home, to a devastating fire. Sheppard went out personally to view the damage and offer moral support. “Sometimes people just need to feel that you are there for them, that you hear them ....” she says.

Dorris Mitchell
Military pay technician
Defense Military Pay Office

When a customer is in trouble, Mitchell is there with technical and emotional support. In one case, a soldier was in the process of having her father named as her dependent. During the process, the father passed away. While her work was done, Mitchell kept in touch. “I just knew how hard it would be for her,” Mitchell says.

Melissa Corra
Live chat rep

Corra doesn’t let the fact that she is communicating mostly through live chat get in the way of building rapport with customers. There is always a cheery tone to her words and her openings and closings are always personalized so that the customer knows there is a caring person at the other end of the keyboard.

Karen Boyle
Relay interpreter and customer service trainer
Purple Language Services

Boyle says she deals with the pressures of the job by mentally breaking away when she gets a chance. “I may take a walk or talk to somebody in the office for a bit, just to get my mind someplace else,” she says. And to others, she advises, “Be patient, and take advantage of the incredible support that you have around you.”

Karen Austin
Customer service representative
SPX Hydraulic Technologies

When asked what advice she would offer to someone just starting in customer service, Austin says, “Put the customer first. And always treat the customer like they are the most important thing at that moment, because as far as they are concerned, they are. They need your undivided attention.”

Mike Bridges
Room reservations agent
Circus, Circus Hotel and Casino

Working in Vegas isn’t all bright lights and glamour, the hard work of earning repeat customers is the key to success. For Bridges this message is part of his regular training sessions with new hires. After all he says, “the guest is our most important job, and if we don’t take care of them they will not return.”

Megan Tracey
Senior contact center representative
Philadelphia Insurance Companies

Sharing and collaboration are key to Tracey’s success. For example, says her supervisor, “If she does not know the answer to a customer or an agent question, she will find the answer, inform the customer or agent, and then educate the staff so that if they are faced with a similar situation they are armed with the knowledge and resources to respond appropriately.”

Brandi Head
Senior call center representative
Clayton County Water Authority

In this hectic call center, Head and the rest of the staff work to keep pressure under control. All it takes is good jokes, some laughter, and taking time out to make each other breakfast in the morning — that upbeat and positive feeling lasts all day long.

Stacey Larson
Project manager
Travel Tags Inc.

After 15 years in customer service, Stacy Larson has three pieces of advice that she shares with newcomers: Stay calm, make sure that you ask for help when you need it, and form good relationships with others within the company. Even when Larson receives a call from work in the middle of the night, she keeps point number one in mind.

Sueanne Larson
Customer service supervisor
3M Sales Support Center

Taking a giant leap outside of her job description, Sueanne Larson took on the job of finding ways to better support 3M’s sales staff. Her efforts led to the creation of a new sales support team and, as supervisor Patti Leslie notes, “despite doing two jobs at once, her energy level never went down.”

Nathaniel Parkinson
Planetree educator program specialist
VA Maryland Health Care System

For Nathaniel Parkinson, customer service is all about listening. And, as a mediator and patient advocate he knows this from experience. “If you can’t listen to what people are saying to you, and you aren’t hearing what their problems are, then you can’t fix them,” he says.

Christopher Benjamin
Pinellas County Housing Authority

Making customers feel comfortable can help defuse anger and resolve problems says Christopher Benjamin. When working with customers in person, he likes to, “sit down with them, side-by-side, and look at them in their eyes so that they feel comfortable and welcome in this setting.” That level of care can make a huge difference in service outcomes.

Justin Prescott
Loan servicing account specialist
Navy Federal Credit Union

Justin Prescott is well known for his ability to handle any call. Here’s his secret: “When I am making a customer service call, I think how nice it would be to have a friend there that I could speak with who could help me out. So I try to be that friend when people call in — especially if there is a problem, because that is when you need a friend the most.”

Linda Kristensen
Physical therapist
VA Outpatient Clinic

Scheduling time to work with busy patients, clients or customers can be a challenge. For Kristensen and other staff members, the solution is strenouous ten-and-a-half-hour days when needed. “We try to make time for those whose schedules leave them time only early or later in the day,” she says.

Beverly Reese
Front office supervisor
Arkansas Oncology Associates

For Beverly Reese, “going above and beyond” is more than a simple catch phrase. It’s what service is all about. Take the time that a patient couldn’t afford frequent trips to the medical office for his treatments, Beverly purchased a discounted bus pass for him at her own expense. Actions like that make the words come alive.

Leon Doty
Battle Creek VA Medical Center

Leon Doty has learned a lot about working with people in his 30 plus years on the job. But perhaps the most important lesson for service providers, in all fields, is to remember to deal with the person before dealing with any problems.

Michael Gervasi
Customer care rep

When Michael Gervasi learns that a customer is having a special anniversary, returning from the hospital or marking some other milestone, he doesn”t hesitate to request that flowers be sent to the customer. It”s the kind of personal touch that makes Gervasi a top rep and his customers devoted fans.

Larry Martindale
Call center agent
Solid Cactus

Martindale keeps a quote in his cubicle that reads, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” And that’s what he tries to keep in mind when he gets a difficult call. “You just want to back off, let them vent, extend empathy, and apologize for whatever the situation was,” he says.

Megan Linton
Customer service representative
ASA Electronics

Linton is happy to attribute much of her service success to a positive team environment. “Everybody is willing to help each other out, and when things do get stressful, you can get up and go laugh with your coworkers and talk about stuff outside of work.” That type of team environment can make all the difference, especially during hectic times.

Karsin Lederle
Senior account support advisor
GreatAmerica Leasing Corporation

One of the greatest challenges that Lederle faces is moving quickly between different types of customer calls. Especially tricky is the switch from collections to traditional customer service. The secret she says is to never assume you know why someone is calling but to take it, “one call at a time.”

Katherine Bellefontaine
Customer service representative
The Chronicle Herald

In today’s high-tech world, Bellefontaine uses a decidedly low-tech method to keep track of customer requests and to ensure that they are handled properly. Issues that can’t be resolved on the spot are entered in a journal for internal follow-up and eventually a follow-up call to the customer.

Jennifer Swetts
Software customer support rep
South Ranch Inc.

One of the challenges Swetts faces is that customers have very different levels of technical expertise. How does she make sure she’s not talking over someone’s head? Sometimes it’s as simple as taking the time to reread something you are sending the customer, she says, and making sure it is geared to their level of understanding.

A full profile of each award winner appeared in the pages of the monthly frontline training and motivation newsletter The Customer Communicator.

Learn more about The Customer Communicator.

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