Lake County Business Outlook — Empowering Employees Puts Technology Company on Map
By Rhonda Hetrick Burke
February 1, 2003
Impact Networking boasts 82 percent growth
Putting people first has proved to be the recipe for success for Waukegan-based Impact Networking, the Midwest's leading Kyocera Mita dealer.
Booming in a market saturated with traditional copier dealer competition, Impact Networking, which specializes in digital imaging products, sales and services, is growing by investing in their employees and providing uncompromising customer service.
"We have developed a sales philosophy that we feel gives our sales force an advantage over our competitors," said Frank Cucco, CEO of Impact Networking.
His philosophy is simple: a well-trained sales force that always puts the customer first, combined with quality products has enabled the company to be successful in an industry that is experiencing zero growth.
Cucco has grown the company from four employees and no customer base in 1999, to 45 employees, $6.5 million in sales and a Chicago Loop branch office, with plans for future expansion likely in 2003.
Impact Networking also provides technical expertise in the areas of Desktop PC Support, Network Support, phone system support and Internet Support. The company has partnerships with Dell, Avaya, Microsoft, OMD, Apple, Objective Lune, Doculex and others in the industry.
Cucco comes to the company with more than 20 years of experience in the industry. "That experience has taught me what not to do in business," he said. "We have strong marketing and training programs that invest in our employees, who in turn provide the best customer service to our clients because they have the training to do so."
Cucco knows that his approach of sharing information with his employees and investing in them through training programs may be seen as unnecessary expenses by other businesses, but he finds them vital to his success.
"We have just about a zero turn-over rate at this company," he said. "We set high standards and we provide incentives to our sales forces to meet those standards. I believe that it takes each individual in our company to make us successful."
By empowering sales representatives and service technicians to interface with customers, Cucco believes he is ensuring that each person who represents his company is as knowledgeable as he is in dealing with their products.
All employees attend training sessions on Friday afternoons to ensure they are equipped with the latest in industry news and standards. Additionally, each employee, when hired, attends the Kyocera Mita training programs in Texas for up to two weeks to ensure they are well versed in the products and services offered.
"Many companies will just send a manager or a leading sales representative to the training and expect them to come back and train the rest of the sales force," Cucco said. "We don't believe that works. That person always has other commitments and cannot adequately train his fellow employees." Cucco also believes the upfront investment demonstrates to a new employee that the company invests in them and this is a good place for them to invest in their future.
"We also have an extensive interview process so we know we are hiring people that we feel will be successful in our company," he added. "We don't believe in the 'if they don't work out, you can just fire them' mentality, that is too often prevalent in business."
Cucco says his years of experience have taught him another valuable business lesson, your sales representatives and technicians are the face of your company, if they are not well trained or unhappy with their job, your customers know.
"I will never ask any one in this company to do something that I wouldn't do myself and that includes going on sales calls," Cucco said. "I have personally visited with a majority of our current customers."
Because he has such strong training programs, Cucco also empowers his employees to make decisions in the field, without calling back for management approval.
"That last thing you want to hear when you are negotiating a deal, is that the sales representative needs to check the details out with their home office manager," he said. "Our employees have the ability to make deals. We will support those decisions."
Impact Networking puts customer service as their number one priority - Photo by Leslie Lipps.
Impact Networking offers its clients, 24 hour a day service support and a three-hour response time to service calls. Additionally, service technicians are required to respond to a customer service call within 30 minutes by phone, to advise the customer when they will arrive and to attempt to troubleshoot the problem via phone. The company also boasts a free loaner policy and unlimited customer training.
"We are trying to be the Nordstroms of this business," Cucco said. "We can do that because we sell Kyocera Mita, which produces high quality products and we have the trained technicians and sales force to service our customer's needs."
Impact Networking also has an interactive website that enables customers to schedule service calls, purchase supplies, access company and product information and communicate via e-mail.
"Our website is constantly being updated and reevaluated to ensure that it meets our customers needs," Cucco said.
Customers may also fill out a customer service survey on the website. Each survey is reviewed by the top management for feedback.
"We take them very seriously and we have changed policies based on the information received from our customers," Cucco said.
Another industry first, is Impact Networking's computerized account base, which automatically sends technicians on service calls for routine maintenance.
"We have our technicians service customers machines, much in the same way you would have an oil change or tune-up on your car," said Rob Fischer, director of marketing for Impact Networking. "Parts are inexpensive. It is labor and downtime for the customer that cost both of us money. So we service our machines for routine maintenance to ensure the customer gets the best quality service out of the products he has purchased or leased from us."
All customers are tracked through the OMD software, which shows a complete history of a customer's service. Service technician's cars are completely stocked with parts necessary to make service calls and perform routine maintenance. The Waukegan corporate headquarters facility features 11,400 square foot of inventory space and the Chicago Loop office has 6,000 square foot of inventory space, which enables the company to maintain a complete stock of necessary parts.
Another value-added benefit of Impact Networking's business philosophy is ensuring their customers receive good value in their digital imaging packages.
Sales representatives are trained to do a customer evaluation when visiting a client to ensure that they are getting the equipment necessary to accomplish their needs. Impact is the only copier company to have an exclusively digital base, which give them expertise in digital connectivity through specialization.
"We don't want our clients to have a copier sitting in a corner that isn't being used, or have their employees stacked up waiting to fax or print to a multi-functional machine," said Fischer. "We do a blueprint and provide the customer with a proposal on how to best meet their needs."
Additionally, all employees are uniformed to ensure professional identification.
Impact Networking continues its support to customers by ensuring that they pay only for the copies they use. Customers that are using less than the number of copies they have contracted for are given credits and those that use more than the number they contract for are charged for that number at the same rate per copy as their contract.
"Many companies will charge a premium for going over the contract number of copies. We don't believe in that. We want to provide the right service for a client and help them to evaluate the service that they need."
Impact Networking also offers a 30-day return policy on all equipment, another industry first. Free loaners are also offered when equipment requires repair and replacements are guaranteed.
In addition to sales representatives in the field, Impact Networking also has a state-of-the-art 3,000 square foot digital lab, where customers can experience Kyocera Mita digital office technology in a "real-life" situation.
A couple of times a year, Impact hosts special events for their customers where they can visit the showroom and see how the products work together. Fisher says it is a very valuable tool in helping customers make decisions about the products.
Impact Networking has been recognized as an industry leader by the Business Technology Association (BTA), which named Impact Networking their company of the year for 2002. BTA chose Impact Networking as the best company in U.S. office equipment industry compared to all other dealers between $2-10 million in revenues.
Additionally, Office Dealer and Office Solutions Magazines awarded Impact Networking their "Elite Dealer Award" in 2001 and 2002. The company was one of just two in Illinois to receive the award.
Impact Networking has also received seven awards from Kyocera Mita America, a $14 billion company with 500 dealers in the United States. The company has received the "Gold Medallion Award" for best service providers and the "Elite Dealer Award" for top sales.