Atlas Amplifier — Summer 2003
A five-year-old boy takes his first swimming lesson. So far, his experience with water has been limited to the bathtub. Now he thinks he's ready for the big pool. Although he carries a little fear about what can happen when he's in over his head, he also possesses something that's stronger than his doubt — the psychological lifeline he has when he's with his mother.
Trust. It's a common word with uncommon power. It represents the glue between expectation and fulfillment, the binding that holds what is promised to what is delivered.
Trust is axiomatic to American commerce, so important that the word appears in sacred context on every piece of U.S. currency. "In God We Trust" echoes a nation's long-standing reliance on the goodness of providence.
For Atlas, the importance of trust cannot be overestimated. It is as essential to the company's future as it is characteristic of its past. It is the basis of all relationships with clients, customers, employees, shareholders, and the public.
"People look to Atlas with an expectation based on need," says President Jim Stamm. "But that expectation is also based on their experience with us in the past. When we satisfy their expectation, trust is reinforced. Relationships become stronger. And the well-being of those we serve, as well as our own, is enhanced."
"Trust makes it possible for us to provide the very best service and to share in the success we help create," says Jim. "But trust is not automatic. It must be earned. And it should never, ever be taken for granted or squandered."
At the annual Atlas convention in November, 500-plus members of the agency family witnessed the introduction of a repositioned Atlas brand, more broadly defined by the company's traditional values of integrity, quality, and solutions.
Throughout 2003, ads showcasing the new identity are appearing in Business Week, Fortune, Money, Inc., and the webzine Fast Company as well as trade publications. These and messages in other media call attention to the company's broadening role as a multifaceted provider of relocation services.
Messages about the new brand share a common subtext. Trust is implicit to Atlas, it is the thread that draws together the firm's characteristic values. Recognizing that trust must indeed, as Jim says, "be earned and never squandered," the messages propose that the values of integrity, quality and solutions be thought of as the "currency of the future."
"This currency not only defines the uniqueness of Atlas, it establishes a framework for gauging and fulfilling the expectations of clients, customers, employees, stakeholders, and the public," says CEO Mike Shaffer.
"We firmly believe that integrity, quality, and solutions most accurately describe the character of the Atlas brand," says Mike. "These values have helped guide our organization from the beginning. Their importance today is indisputable. Just as they have proven a worthy standard in the past, I am confident they are a solid foundation for taking Atlas into the future."
The move to reposition the Atlas brand became necessary as a way to more accurately convey within the industry the company's dynamic nature and the expanding role it has assumed in recent years. Beyond a traditional function as a transporter of household goods, Atlas has found itself increasingly involved in the myriad other aspects of an evolving relocation industry.
"No doubt our roots are in household goods transportation," says Greg Hoover, Senior Vice President, Sales Development, Relocation Services Group. "It will always be a core strength. Based on the trust we first earned serving that sector, we have grown naturally in other areas — all of which have earned a level of trust on their own merits. And fundamental to the creation of trust, at every level, is a corporate-wide commitment to quality."
Where does trust begin?
"Atlas is a 'people organization,' and it's all about helping one another," says Bob North, Director, Contract Administration, Specialized Transportation Group. "We communicate with people about their wants and needs to help them solve their problems."
Bob has been with Atlas for 24 years. During that time he has formed some firm ideas about how trust is created and why it's important — to himself and to the whole Atlas organization.
"To me, trust is the ability to have confidence in another individual and to know they will come through when you need them to," says Bob. "Atlas creates trust based on personal relationships. Because our business is service-oriented, it's people-oriented. And trust between people is essential."
"It's not only necessary to trust others," says Bob, "but to be trusted as well." This ultimately creates a quality of integrity that strengthens the organization through every individual.
"It is of absolute importance to me that I am trusted," says Bob. "Trust is a reflection of my integrity, and it affects every aspect of my life."
"I believe in Atlas. I believe in the integrity of the people here. I know the company stands behind what we do. And I feel good about that."
"We create trust by doing exactly what we tell our customer we will," says Kathy Thompson, Director, Contract Administration, Relocation Services Group. "When I make a commitment to do something, the customer knows that I will follow through...and that it will be done correctly."
Kathy, a 25-year Atlas veteran, has found that trust is created one customer at a time, and it often takes a willingness to share information and advice to help customers understand how Atlas can best help them.
"In some instances, it would certainly be easier to just give the customer only what they ask for, or only what they think they need," says Kathy. "But people do not always understand all the ramifications of what they ask. So I take the time to discover their needs, and to help them understand what might work better for them."
"Sometimes," says Kathy, "just following the path of least resistance might seem more efficient. But serving the customer's best interest must always come first."
"It's easy to say 'yes,' but that's not always what a customer needs to hear," says Kathy. "Even when someone says to me, 'but all the other carriers are doing it,' I know that still doesn't mean it's the right thing to do, or that it is in the best interest of the customer."
Kathy says that because most communication is done by e-mail or telephone, rather than by one-on-one personal contact, trust is all-important.
"Trust is not only part of the Atlas brand, it's part of my personal brand and of Contract Administration department's brand. And it's of prime importance to my customers. Many of my decisions directly affect their businesses, their livelihoods. I do not take that responsibility lightly, nor do I take their trust lightly."
This commitment to quality is evidenced in a number of ways. Perhaps one of the most impressive testaments comes from outside the company, the "Quest for Quality" rankings that Logistics Management & Distribution Report publishes annually. These rankings are based on the evaluations of more than 3,000 purchasers of transportation services. In 2002, Atlas received the award for the fifth consecutive year, ranking among the top two carriers in each of the categories of "on-time performance," "value," "customer service," and "equipment and operations."
Another recognition shows in more detail how the company's desire for excellence manifests itself across the agent network. In 2002, 32 Atlas agents earned Atlas' Milton M. Hill Quality Award for superior performance in customer service, hauling, and operations.
"The 32 winners of the Milt Hill Award last year show a 70% increase in the number of winners as compared to just two years before," says Jim. "Atlas agents take their commitment to quality seriously, and awards such as Quest for Quality and the Milt Hill Quality Award bear this out."
In the broader transportation arena, Atlas continues to build a well-respected reputation for solutions to logistical challenges such as exhibits, store fixtures, electronics, and fine art. Comprising a network of skilled agents and a complement of highly specialized equipment, the Atlas Specialized Transportation Group is among the fastest-growing providers of special logistical solutions in the United States. Like Atlas' household goods experts, the STG division has earned the attention of industry experts. In 2001, Atlas was ranked as the number one carrier of high value goods in the "Quest for Quality" survey of Logistics Management & Distribution Report.
Atlas' wide-ranging relocation expertise includes the ability to see goods safely to and from virtually any location in the world. In North America, Atlas Canada operates a network of 140 agents that extend a full range of relocation and transportation solutions throughout the provinces. Through Atlas International, customers have access to turnkey solutions for international forwarding.
In 2002, Atlas International was recognized with the Compass Award for meeting and exceeding industry-specific goals for customer satisfaction. The award is presented by Corporate Information Services (CIS), a provider of customer satisfaction surveys and the statistical analysis of opinion data. Today, Atlas goes far beyond transportation solutions. In 2000, Atlas acquired Cornerstone Relocation Group, effectively extending its capabilities to a full range of services for ensuring happy, healthy family transitions during the relocation process and beyond. Professional real estate disposition, employment assistance, home finding, elder care, and a host of other areas that impact the success of any relocation are now integral to the Atlas brand. As with every Atlas effort, these softer services in relocation are built on a foundation of trust.
"Atlas success is built largely on trust," says Mike. "The facts of our history, the reputations of our agents, and the solid performance of our business units is perhaps the closest we can get to proving the existence of trust. But knowing the people who make up this organization, I know for myself that trust is woven throughout the fabric of this organization, and is as much a part of our brand as the big blue logo itself."