Each month, thousands of families go new places® with the help of Atlas® Agents. And each month, expressions of gratitude pour into Atlas via post-move surveys. It’s no wonder the comments often read like fan mail. People go hundreds, even thousands of miles, to get to a new home, a new community, a new job. Throughout their journeys, Atlas Agents provide service that is reliable and reassuring.
“We treat customers like family, and they feel the same way about us,” says Karen Wing, CEO, Walker Transfer Powell, LLC (2140). “At the end of every move, our PVO doesn’t feel successful unless he gets a hug.”
“Moving is a tough business, highly competitive,” says Donnie Hill, President, Alexander’s Mobility Services (0207). “Customers are filled with anxiety. They don’t know what to expect. They depend on us to ease their worry. The feedback we get, the gratification of knowing we exceeded their expectations, is truly what keeps us in this business.”
Atlas® Quality: Worth Raving About
A lot goes into getting a hug or a glowing review. It takes the right people. It takes investments in equipment, in technology, and in training. Above all, it takes a commitment to best-in-class service.
In 1996, Atlas® introduced the Milton M. Hill Quality Award to encourage and honor service excellence. That first year, four agents earned the award. This year, 41 Atlas Agents have distinguished themselves—14 fewer than last year. There’s a good reason for the drop.
“Atlas quality is based on continuous improvement,” says Mark Spiehler, Senior Vice President Account/Agent/Claims Services. “We continually tighten our standards, which leads to quality improvement and requires more effort to achieve Atlas’ quality awards.”
Beyond a determination to be the best, Mark says Atlas is beholding to a host of external factors. “Advances in technology, stricter government regulations, and the ever-increasing expectations of our customers—all these affect just how we set the bar for quality.”
That bar took a big jump last year when Atlas introduced an advanced standard for technology. It improves efficiency across Atlas information systems, enabling better service. It also provides transparency that motivates each agent to perform at their best—the essence of a culture where serving one another equates to serving oneself.
“We’re all in this together,” says Donnie. “Agents can log into AtlasNet® at any time and, when they are looking for help, see who might be the best fit in a particular area. That kind of visibility drives improvement.”
Protecting the Culture
Wherever you find competition, you often find quality in the crosshairs of cost-reduction. In the moving industry, many have resorted to price-cutting as a lazy shortcut—an end run around quality. But Atlas has refused to let discounting take precedence over service.
“If Atlas Agents cannot earn a reasonable return, service ceases to exist,” says Ryan McConnell, Vice President of Marketing. “Over the last two years, we have been careful to negotiate pricing controls into contracts. These provide important protection for Atlas Agents and support customer expectations for quality—particularly during the peak moving season.”
“We had to make the difficult decision to say ‘no’ in some instances,” says Jack Griffin, President & COO, Atlas World Group. “However, it has proven to be the right thing to do. We have protected almost every one of our commitments with big accounts. They understand, and they want us to keep delivering the value they expect.”
“The peak season pricing controls have been good for our business,” says Chris Wing, President, Powell Relocation Group (1657). “I think others in our industry are coming to the same conclusion—we see a growing trend away from deep discounting.”
Selling Private Clients with Service
How do peak season issues affect service in the private client arena?
“Atlas provides the support I need to succeed, with quality leads, professional marketing materials, and good tools for estimating,” says Eric Galpine, Global Relocation Specialist with Ace Relocation Systems (0075).
A top producer, Eric admits that pricing controls make selling more challenging during the summer season. But it’s far from insurmountable.
“The key to winning comes down to service,” says Eric. “It starts with the customer’s very first contact with Atlas®, and it carries through in every interaction with Atlas people. It carries through in on-time delivery, and in the care we take as seen in low claims rates. Most of all, it shows in the enthusiasm Atlas people bring to their work.”
“Selling with enthusiasm is the best way to overcome pricing restrictions and longer delivery spreads. Love what you do, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”
- Eric Galpine, Ace Relocation Systems (0075)
Leading with Customer-Facing Technology
Long a differentiator for Atlas, technology has never been more important to Atlas than it is now. Enabled by smart devices, people increasingly expect smart tools and instant information. Atlas is answering with customer-facing advances and new enhancements to AtlasNet® like two-way texting, video survey, and automated job stop.
Such innovations are the fruit of company-wide collaboration focused on improving the customer experience. At the fore, an ad hoc development group led by Jack Griffin puts people together from across Atlas to incubate ideas. At present, they are envisioning a central repository of client data for business reviews. And they are working on the development of a common business portal for all Atlas World Group companies.
“The portal addresses the issue of global visibility for Atlas customers,” says Joab Schultheis, Vice President & Chief Information Officer. At a summit in March, the IT strategy team prioritized four applications to equip the portal over the next 12 to 24 months: more robust shipment tracking with GPS location data; online credit card transactions; access to a library of shipment documents for transferees; and online claims filing.
“We have a good start,” says Joab. “Development of this idea will be a multi-year effort.”
Pursuing the Vision
In Q4 of 2014, a strategy team of Atlas executives, managers, and agents benchmarked the company against its best year and set some big goals in a five-year plan. In July, strategy leaders met to review progress, discuss the ongoing challenges, and assess goals going forward.
“We see some good successes", says Jack. “Comparing 2015 to 2010, for example, Atlas has outperformed the market dramatically in national account, private client, and military moves. But we have much more to do.”
Some of the greatest potential exists overseas. Subsidiary companies Cornerstone Relocation Group® and Atlas® International are poised to develop these opportunities, making nascent inroads with offices in London, Frankfurt, and Singapore.
“We know we have to become more global, and we will,” says Jack. “More and more, companies without a global footprint don’t even make the RFP list.”
“I’m as excited as I’ve ever been about our future. We still have challenges. But every Atlas company has a plan and is working the plan. We are outperforming the other major carriers, and the industry recognizes us as a leader. It’s good to be Atlas right now.”
“I think a significant advantage will continue to come from the things that enhance quality,” says Donnie. “We don’t do them necessarily because we can market ourselves better. We do need them so we can perform more consistently, so we can be of more value to those we serve.
When this is our motivation, the business part will take care of itself.”
The cost of compliance affects the entire Atlas® network, and it shows no sign of abating. It takes time, money, and a commitment from everyone involved in service delivery. It adds administrative work to Atlas staff, Atlas Agents, and PVOs.
To get an update on the current regulatory environment, the Amplifier asked for a quick word from Jim McMurray, Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary, Atlas World Group.
New Overtime Rule.
In May, the Department of Labor published a final rule updating overtime regulations and effectively making more positions eligible for overtime pay. When it goes into effect December 1, businesses will need to change their procedures to adjust to this new regulation. There are big implications, not only for Atlas Agents, but for any business.
34-Hour Restart Rule.
In September, Atlas executives and agents Rick Meyer DMS Moving Systems (0800) and Chris Higdon California Moving Systems (0533), traveled to Washington, D.C., to take part in “Moving Day on the Hill.” The American Moving & Storage Association organized the lobbying effort to apprise legislators of industry concerns. Among topics of discussion: errant language in the 34-hour restart rule. Should Congress fail to amend the language, the more restrictive rule will go back into play.
Scores are headed in the right direction, but still have room for improvement. So, Atlas operations and marketing teams have mounted a campaign: CSA Compliance—It drives everyone! Monthly messages to agency ops personnel are helping them become more aware and more proactive.
The rule requiring Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) is slated to take effect at the end of 2017. Based on positive feedback from early adopters, the new technology will lift the burden for accuracy and timeliness of logs. However, records for medical fitness and for equipment (inspection, repair, maintenance) will continue to require every PVO's diligence.
Announcement of New CEO
On behalf of Atlas® World Group, the Amplifier® is pleased to announce that Jack Griffin has been chosen as the successor to current Atlas World Group Chairman & CEO, Glen Dunkerson. Effective immediately, Jack will serve as CEO & Vice Chairman of Atlas World Group, while Glen remains Chairman of the Board.
Glen has served as the company’s CEO since 2008, and Chairman of the Board since 2009. He has been instrumental in the establishment of key Atlas quality initiatives, including the World Class Commitment program and the Milton M. Hill Quality Award.
Jack has been with Atlas for nearly nine years, with his first role being Chief Operating Officer of Atlas International. He brings more than 20 years of experience in the domestic household goods, special products and international segments of the transportation industry. Jack's leadership and strategic initiatives continue to result in meaningful growth for Atlas World Group.
“Atlas has seen significant growth and prosperity over the last six years,” says Jack. “It is a tremendous honor to be appointed CEO at such a pivotal time in the company’s history.”