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The Instant Web Companies -- Lights, Camera, Customer Service

April 2003
by chris bauer

Just because The Instant Web Companies (IWCO) is not a new company, don't think that it doesn't have progressive and fresh ideas. Headquartered in Chanhassen, MN, IWCO has been in business for more than 33 years, providing integrated printing, envelope and mailing services for direct marketers.

But instead of relying on customer service practices of the past, IWCO has come up with a unique and innovative customer service tool. For the past two years, a different IWCO customer has been thrown into the spotlight each month—thanks to its Customer Spotlight program.

"It started in the summer of 2000 with machine operators asking why certain jobs had to be done certain ways, when there possibly was an easier solution," recounts Debora Haskel, vice president of marketing at IWCO. "We thought it would be a great idea to bring customers in and let them meet with our staff."

Although she admits there was a little apprehension when first launched, Haskel, who also moderates the Customer Spotlight sessions, says the company has found it to be one of the most successful programs it has ever had.

The IWCO Customer Spotlight program selects a special client each month to attend a Spotlight event at IWCO headquarters. IWCO employees from all areas of the company attend the hour-long Customer Spotlight sessions, with more than 100 employees typically participating.

Workers in attendance include a cross-section of employees—really everyone who deals with the jobs, Haskel says—from sales to CSRs to press and mailing operators. Spotlight customers are usually suggested by customer service or salespeople, or chosen from surveys filled out by attendees following each Spotlight.

"One of the most valuable spotlights was with a customer who wasn't happy with IWCO," Haskel reveals. Clients such as this are encouraged to be honest, especially when it comes to addressing any potential weakness they find with IWCO. This often helps customers, in turn, see why certain problems may have occurred.

"Clients can say 'here is the domino effect of what happened when your project was late,' " Haskel explains. She notes that these sessions have helped to bring customers back to IWCO, and are a great opportunity for buyers to learn why certain production problems arise.

Q&A time for the customer and IWCO employees is especially important, Haskel points out. Some questions posed to Spotlight participants include:

* What is the biggest challenge your business is facing?

* What are the expectations you have of suppliers?

* How do suppliers lose favor with your company?

* What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of IWCO?

* What's the difference between a good supplier and a great one?

"The thing that we have enjoyed the most is how clients really get into it—and the questions that they ask," Haskel adds. "Those are the greatest surprises and delights—the business issues behind the questions."

The Customer Spotlight program enables IWCO to take service to the next level by paying attention to every detail—from concept to completion—while maintaining the integrity of the package as a whole. It reportedly has driven creative and comprehensive solutions that have exceeded customer expectations.

Also, every employee now understands a customer's direct marketing piece and offers better service because the employees view the client as part of the IWCO family—a true partner. As such, IWCO employees are committed to more than just customer satisfaction; they are committed to total customer success.

Since its inception, both customers and IWCO employees have overwhelmingly embraced the Customer Spotlight program, Haskel stresses, resulting in more effective project management. Customers are honored to be selected for the Spotlight events, and know that IWCO employees will gain additional insight into their businesses to help create winning direct marketing campaigns.

The program also allows IWCO employees to be more consultative, guiding clients through a project—in addition to becoming more knowledgeable about production from beginning to end.

IWCO impresses upon its staff that all customers are important. For that reason, Spotlight customers are not always the company's largest clients—they can be big or small accounts, new customers or old ones.

"You never know," Haskel concludes. "A few years from now a customer that is only ordering a little work could be one of our top 10 clients."


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