On May 9, 2005, I accepted a position with the United Solutions Company (USC). My first order of business was to begin implementing the long list of changes I wanted to make, and evaluate the staff. I met with each of the department managers, reviewed their KPI’s with them and discussed product and service strategies. As is sometimes the case, one employee stood out immediately. Her name was Mellie Clark.
Mellie was very likable and sat right in the middle of the Client Services Team. Everyone at USC seemed to respect Mellie, but I noticed a red flag right away. Mellie seemed to be spending more time than anyone else talking to clients about non-credit union related topics.
I started watching Mellie more closely. She had been with the company longer than any other employee and she was very knowledgeable about our systems. However, after she would answer a question, she would spend the next ten minutes socializing and it bothered me that she was wasting so much time.
Fortunately for me and USC, I didn’t react right away. I just watched her performance. After the first month of monitoring our calls, I found that Mellie had taken almost twice as many calls as the next most successful Client Services Representative. I questioned the accuracy and read through every one of her calls. The next month and the following months were all the same. Mellie was taking the lion’s share of the calls and her client satisfaction levels were high. But how could that be if she was always talking about everything but work?
I was new at my position and finding my way. Mellie appeared to be slacking off, and was definitely working differently than the other support reps. What I came to find out was that Mellie would answer our client’s questions, and then talk to them about a son who was graduating from high school, a daughter who was getting married, or an aging parent that needed help. Mellie was creating lasting relationships with our clients, and everyone was calling her directly to tell her about events in their lives. She was a great listener and had knack for giving sound advice if you ask for her opinion.
After the first 90-days in my new position, I realized that we needed more employees like Mellie. More employees that could answer questions and create lasting relationships. Mellie wasn’t the problem but the answer. Unfortunately, over the next thirteen years I learned just how hard it is to develop the skills that she possessed.
I asked Mellie once what made her so successful. She said simply that she smiles when she talks to our clients because they can hear that smile over the telephone. That was the first time I had ever heard that, and understood what she was talking about right away. She said even if she wasn’t in the mood at the time, she would make herself smile and it would become contagious. Maybe that is what separated her from others. Maybe it was her nurturing personality or her remarkable dedication to the CUSO.
Mellie retired from United Solutions recently after thirty-three years of service. During her retirement party, employees came forward to tell stories about how Mellie had helped them in their lives. Many of the stories had little to do with work, and it became clear that Mellie left a legacy that extended far beyond United Solutions Company.
Mellie taught me a great deal about customer service. She taught me that statistics are important, but lasting relationships are worth more. She taught me that not everyone works the same way, and that allowing the individual’s personality to shine through is often better than managing statistically. She taught me that a positive attitude is priceless and can help defuse all kinds of customer service issues.
I will always remember our time together at USC. Thank you, Mellie Clark, for the education.