Measurably better

Two years ago, Tom Marshall, chairman and CEO of Andrews Moving and Storage, received the surprise of his career when a corporate customer pulled its business from his company after a 35-year relationship.

The news sent shock waves through the Brecksville-based company, a United Van Lines agent, which was recognized in 1993 as one of the best agents in long-distance household moving.

The loss of the long-time customer was more than economically significant — it was a matter of pride.

“When we analyzed what had happened, we weren’t certain we knew, and that was an embarrassment,” Marshall says. “At first we were in denial, like we were fine and they had made a huge mistake … Fortunately, we did a little more self-analysis … We always had been good, but had we really stopped the process of being better? If you say you’re the best, can you prove it? We went after that provability.”

Marshall and his managers met with van operators and service personnel. They concluded they were working their hardest but needed to work smarter and take steps to make existing procedures more efficient.

The company had used customer surveys for years, but had never studied the answers in-depth. Now they decided to examine customers’ answers for clues to how to improve. The 54 questions on the survey cover the long-distance household moving process.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 as excellent and 1 as poor, Marshall considers anything lower than 7 a customer service failure. He and key team members look over surveys weekly now, particularly ones showing a deficiency, so that everyone can work together to solve problems.

“Only 30 percent of our customers responded to the survey, so we started to phone each one,” Marshall says. “We couldn’t ask them all 54 questions, but we’d ask them one question and then give them some rationale for returning the survey, because we really want to know (their answers).”

For years, move coordinators had compiled customer information, drafted move instructions and sent notes to the van operator on a small, hard-to-read screen. As part of the new process, move coordinators talk via voice mail about customer needs.

“It’s helpful for van operators to know what kind of customer situation they’re going to encounter, because every family that’s being moved has a different story,” Marshall says. “We didn’t buy more equipment or anything; we just used it better.”

During the company’s reorganization, a new corporate culture was created.

“We do a lot of cheerleading and created incentives. We leave voice mail messages about our success, and we send notes of success home in our drivers’ paychecks so their wives get to see it. It’s a powerful motivator,” Marshall says. “Everybody in the company recognizes what we’ve done and why we needed to do it. Nothing works like success.”

The hard work has paid off for Marshall and his employees. Andrews Moving and Storage recently received the President’s Quality Award from United Van Lines. The award, presented each year to one of United’s 500 agents, is based on the results of a customer service evaluation process administered by an independent company.

Marshall says winning this award gives Andrews Moving the incentive to implement its new customer service program throughout the entire company. HOW TO REACH: Andrews Moving and Storage, (440) 838-8600,

Instant rapport

When you communicate with another person, especially in business, it is essential to build rapport. Carol Super, author of “Selling Without Selling,” offers these tips for creating a connection.

* Observe how the person is dressed. What’s on his or her wall? Are there indications of hobbies? Family? These provide personality clues and fertile ground for conversation openers.

* Find out what’s important to the person by asking, “How long have you been with the company?” This leads to, “Where were you previously?” The answers will reveal how to meet his or her needs so you can respond most effectively.

* Observe gestures and behavior, and mirror them. With practice, you’ll stop feeling self-conscious about it, and the person will be more likely to trust you.

* Watch body language. Does the person lean toward you (interested) or back (wary)? Does she “steeple” her fingers (in agreement)? Does he fold his arms (feel defensive)?

* Use celebrity icons to identify how the person processes information. The Oprah type is warm and outgoing. The Donald Trump type is cool and just-the-facts. The Al Roker type is warm and sociable. The Albert Einstein is cool and wants proposals in writing. The closer you are to being the same iconic type as the person you’re with, the easier it is to establish rapport. By knowing which iconic type of person you’re with, you can give them information the way they prefer to receive it and make them receptive to you. How to reach: Amacom,