Tribune Print Share Text

Exceeding expectations

Two Texas communities take customer service to the next level

Created date

December 21st, 2010

John Bowser was 35,000 feet above Newfoundland when he realized that his car keys were still at a security checkpoint in Paris s Charles de Gaulle airport. He and his wife, Nancy, were returning to Houston following a vacation in Spain. The first leg of our flight into Paris was delayed, says Bowser. We had to hurry to catch our connecting flight back to Houston, and I left my keys in one of the security bins. We were halfway home when I noticed they were missing. The only phone number Bowser had memorized was the front desk at Eagle s Trace, an Erickson Living community in west Houston where the couple lives. I used the international phone on the airplane to call Eagle s Trace, says Bowser. When Jeanette [Jeanette Charles, communications specialist] answered, I told her that her voice was the sweetest sound I d ever heard. After hearing Bowser s predicament, Charles connected him to another resident, Larry Stablien, who had been on vacation two weeks earlier. Stablien knew where the couple s car was parked at the Houston airport and also where they kept a spare set of keys in their apartment. The whole situation worked out, and we made it home, says Bowser. Jeanette certainly went over and above the call of duty that day. She s always quick to help.

Psychic pizza

Companies that not only respond to their customers needs but also anticipate them develop a loyal following, according to John Goodman, author ofStrategic Customer Service: Managing the Customer Experience to Increase Positive Word of Mouth, Build Loyalty, and Maximize Profitsand vice-chairman of TARP Worldwide, a customer service research firm in Arlington, Va. We call it the psychic pizza concept, says Goodman. It s like a pizza man delivering a pizza to your door and saying, Here s the pizza you were about to order. That kind of service leaves a lasting impression and gives organizations an opportunity to dazzle their customers. Such is the case with Eagle s Trace and its sister community to the north, Highland Springs, in Dallas, where employees greet each resident by name and take time to find out individual preferences. When we sit down to a meal, the wait staff is so attentive that typically our favorite drinks are on the table before we ask for them, says Eagle s Trace resident John DiFrank, a retired State Farm Insurance agent.

Satisfaction counts

Companies with reputations for outstanding customer service attribute up to 75% of their business to referrals from existing customers, says Goodman, whose research interests include quantifying the impact of word-of-mouth endorsements. When J.T. Dunkin and his wife, Phyllis, moved toHighland Springsin 2006, the full range of services offered at the community impressed them. This is such a well-rounded place, with an outstanding staff in general services, resident life, and the medical center. We feel very safe and secure here because we have so many people looking out for us, says Dunkin. When I m out at the grocery store or running errands, I just can t help but tell other people about Highland Springs.

Personal touch

Whether it s changing a light bulb or delivering a prescription to a resident s door, employees at Highland Springs and Eagle s Trace are quick, efficient, and professional in their response. But the real hallmark of customer service on Erickson Living campuses is the personal care extended to each community member. It s amazing what they are willing to do, says Marna Brown, who moved to Highland Springs in March 2010. I was getting a draft down my neck while I was sitting in my apartment, so one of the maintenance men came up and adjusted my vents. When Eagle s Trace residents Bob and Gail Holter returned from a month-long road trip, Tammy Brown, the community s campus security supervisor, was on duty at the guard booth. She greeted us warmly and asked about our trip, says Holter. It really made us feel good and gave us a sense of returning home. When I was in education, we used to say that each child carried an invisible sign with the message, I am important, says Bowser, a retired superintendent with the Alief Independent School District That s how the employees here make us feel important.

Eagle s Trace named Best Place to Work

The positive climate at Erickson Living communities reaches beyond staff-resident relationships to permeate the interactions between staff. Employees at Eagle s Trace recently praised the community s friendliness and open communication in a survey of workers throughout the Houston area. Their high marks earned Eagle s Trace the No. 20 ranking for midsize businesses on the 2010 Houston Chronicle Best Places to Work list, as well as Texas Monthly magazine s 2011 Best Companies to Work for in Texas. We talk a lot about consistency in our service, says Eagle s Trace Executive Director Kevin Knopf. I m very proud of our staff and the way they represent our community. Every day they help our residents make the most of the Erickson lifestyle.