Ace Hardware's Center for Excellence Celebrates Customer Service Week by Teaching Others



The winner of J.D. Power award for customer satisfaction for nine consecutive years, Ace Hardware knows a thing or two about customer service. The brand, which has been in business for over 90 years, has found a formula that works, and this year, Ace Hardware is sharing its secret sauce with other brands through its newly formed Center for Excellence. Though the Center has been open since April, the company is touting the new division in conjunction with Customer Service Week, which ended today.

"Customer Service is important to us every week, not just during Customer Service Week, but we're a new center so it's a great opportunity for us to raise awareness," Dana Huot, director of the Ace Center for Excellence at Ace Hardware, says. According to Huot, the idea to launch the Center was a result of numerous requests from other brands and companies that were eager to learn from Ace. "They were looking for ways to build and enhance their brands, and we wanted to find the best way to share our [insight] with them," Huot explains.

The Center operates through workshops and speaking engagements, offering training and mentorship to companies from a mix of industries. One of the key challenges that companies seek help for is developing the right corporate culture within their organizations. This is a critical component of Ace Hardware's approach to business, and it's an element that represents the core facet of the Center for Excellence. "If you want to be the best place to buy, then you first have to be the best place to work," Huot says.

Often, the companies that reach out to the Center for Excellence reveal that mentoring and training is limited at their organizations—this is a problem, Lou Manfredini, Center for Excellence team member, says. "When your employees are dealing with customers face to face, a positive experience has to come from positive employees. Helpful, engaging employees are what make that in-store experience what it is.… It's what makes customers come back time after time," Manfredini says.

Ace has also been open about its business model, which Huot says is another ingredient in its success. The organization is based on a retailer-owned cooperative in which individuals operate the local branches. The branches are not franchised, however. Because the company is, in some ways, scattered in terms of leadership, a corporate emphasis on common goals and strategic execution is required for effective day-to-day operations. "We're happy to talk about our business model and why it works for us," Huot says.

For the time being, the Ace Center for Excellence offers a course workshop called Amaze Every Customer Every Time and will soon introduce a course called Leadership Lessons. The former introduces companies to the Ace Hardware take on corporate culture, customer experience, and service; the latter will primarily be aimed at "helping leaders lead," Huot explains.

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