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Leave 'em Laughing

Barbara Ashkin on why customers come back to a company that rocks.

Walter Colley

Barbara Ashkin COO of Cxtec

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Just because we're a serious company doesn't mean customer interaction has to be dull or depressing. We provide excellent service, but also brief, bright moments in customers' days. They love us for it. People chiefly approach Cxtec over the phone or online. Most voice systems are awful: Press this to get this department, blah, blah. When we installed a voice over IP system we said, how can we make this fun for customers and expressive of our personality? We recorded a dryly humorous message and gave people a few extra options. Press 4 to hear the lion roar. Press 5 to hear a funny joke. Customers call and think, okay, these guys are different.

The website makes that point too. On the part where customers interact with salespeople and technicians we created a game to give them a little downtime. We have webcams set up inside and outside the building. Clients watch us having picnics in the parking lot, or just check in to see whether it's snowing in Syracuse on Mother's Day. Every morning the whole company gathers for a group cheer in our atrium. It starts with an employee yelling "Commitment!" and then everyone goes "Hunh!" It ends with "Show me the money!" Clients watch that on the webcam too.

The team cheer is led by our bandleader. Yes, we have a house rock band--a very good one called the CXTec Dinosaurs. Our musically inclined employees get to follow their passion while doing something practical. They're great ambassadors: They play a lot of charitable and customer events. And of course we have Dino T-shirts and CDs and finger lights that we send customers.

Some things we do are just for us. William Pomeroy, our CEO, invites all 350 employees and their families to his home every year for a blowout party called Billstock. Once a quarter I push around a cart full of tchotchkes--goofy little toys I buy from the Oriental Trading Co. and get from vendors. The first Friday of the month new employees man doughnut carts so they can meet people.

It all contributes to a distinctive culture. And a distinctive culture becomes a distinctive brand.

Barbara Ashkin is COO of Cxtec, a $116 million networking and voice technology company based in Syracuse, New York.




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