No Complaints

HOURS BEFORE HURRICANE JEANNE hit South Florida last year, the CEO of an independent waste hauling and recycling firm realized that some company carts were still sitting on residential curbs from that morning's garbage pickup. Worried about potential damage during the impending storm, the CEO set out to pick up the carts himself before the storm struck.

While this is an atypical situation, more companies in the waste industry are focusing on hands-on attention to detail and customer service in an effort to win and maintain clients. And in order to motivate their employees to provide top-notch customer service, companies are increasingly seeking ways to keep them happy.

According to Bruce Parker, president and CEO of the Washington -based National Solid Wastes Management Association, a growing number of companies, particularly independent companies, are focusing on customer service as a way of increasing business. “In the independents' minds, it gives them an edge,” Parker says.

Now that the solid waste industry is competitive and healthy, and consolidations have slowed down, companies are looking at their core values and services, Parker adds. “They're really emphasizing safety and personnel issues,” he says. “And, all things being equal, customer service is a very important competitive tool.”

For a waste hauler with hundreds of employees, it may not seem like an easy task to keep employees satisfied. However, using a combination of team-building activities and financial incentives can work well. For instance, Longwood, Fla.-based Waste Pro USA, whose CEO John Jennings picked up company carts on the eve of Hurricane Jeanne, hosts monthly Saturday cookouts for up to 250 employees and their family members. The events give employees a chance to talk with fellow workers and company executives. A different safety or training topic also is addressed at the meetings.

Waste Pro also provides financial incentives to its employees through its Franklin Awards, which allow managers to give $100 to workers with exemplary job performances in a particular month.

In addition, the company gives annual bonuses of up to $250 a year to mechanics, yard men and executives alike. The company also has a $10,000 award program exclusively for its truck drivers. Drivers who have been with the company a minimum of three years, have missed no work and have logged no accidents or customer complaints are eligible for the award.

“My father taught me that work is where you spend the majority of your waking hours, and so you want employees to be fulfilled in their jobs,” Jennings says. “Happy employees translate into happy customers.”

The manner in which a company pays its employees also can have an effect on providing good customer service. “Drivers tend to rush if they're paid by the day,” says Bob Hyres, vice president of corporate development for Waste Pro. “If they're paid by the hour, we've found they provide a better level of service by not rushing.”

When companies combine several successful motivational tactics, an added bonus is that they rarely have trouble recruiting and retaining quality workers, including those experienced in solid waste hauling and with commercial driver's licenses (CDLs). Waste Pro says it has a waiting list of people who want to work for the firm.

Collectively, a service-oriented approach to business may also let a company command higher prices for its contracts. For 23 out of its 30 new contracts in the past three years, Waste Pro was not the lowest bidder, indicating its image and the service it provides has helped secure new accounts, Hyres says. Waste Pro's recent contract for servicing 20,000 homes in Seminole County, Fla., was 17 percent higher than its competitors, Jennings says.

While motivating employees to provide great service is key to customer satisfaction, projecting a personalized image to the public can help reach out to clients as well. Waste Pro, for instance, does not use automated calling systems, and its trucks are custom decorated with recognizable regional symbols for each market. For example, the firm's trucks in Athens, Ga., feature the beloved bulldog mascot of the University of Georgia. The names of the driver and helper of a particular vehicle are also painted on the doors to instill employee pride.

Jennings is beginning to see more of his competitors focus on motivating employees and providing good customer service to gain more business and attract qualified personnel.

“In the South, in particular, where economies are strong, many companies are having trouble getting employees,” Hyres says. “I think more of them recognize that this is a great way to enhance business.”
Kathleen M. White
Contributing Editor
Portland, Oregon