Customer Service Pays, Thanks to Dell and NFIB

We recently reported on the NFIB, the largest advocacy group representing the concerns of small business owners in Washington, D.C. and in all fifty state capitols. During the group’s bi-annual summit in D.C., the NFIB and Dell (the sponsor of the three-day event) announced the winner and nine finalists of their co-sponsored Small Business Excellence in Customer Service Award &#151 a contest designed to honor small businesses that provide innovative technology in order to improve the customer experience.

We took the opportunity to talk with Frank Muehleman, vice-president and general manager of Dell’s small-and-medium business segment, to discuss Dell’s commitment to small business, its relationship with the NFIB and the parameters of the contest.

The Big Small-Business Company
Dell may be a company with 46,000 employees, but at its root, the company holds fast to its small biz beginnings. “We have a natural affinity for small business,” says Muehleman. “Michael Dell epitomizes the entrepreneurial spirit, and even after 20 years, our company still retains the values and character of a small business.”


Dell breaks its SMB division (one of the company’s five) into segments based on the number of employees in a company: one – 100, 101 – 200, 201 – 500 and so on. The company trains technical representatives to understand the levels of complexity within the segments. This customized service lets Dell provide customers with products and services appropriate to their business needs.

“Small business has typically been neglected by larger technology firms and underserved by resellers,” says Muehleman. “We bring a lot of consistency and affordable technology to the table. As we drove prices down, small businesses started buying.”

Joining Forces
Dell formed a relationship with the NFIB in 2003. Its large, enthusiastic membership is a natural market for Dell, and NFIB members benefit from a product discount that Dell makes available to all NFIB members.


Both organizations recognize the important role technology plays in running a small business today, and together created the Small Business Excellence in Customer Service Award. “Today, a greater use of technology has enabled thousands of small businesses to take advantage of market opportunities previously unavailable,” says Jack Faris, chief executive officer of the NFIB. “We are proud to join Dell in recognizing those innovative small businesses that have capitalized on technology as a foundation for growth and customer experience.”

The Contest
In order to qualify for the contest, entrants had to be a for-profit “C” or “S” corporation, LLC or LLP. Each entrant submitted a 500-word essay describing how the business used IT to improve customer experience, created significant change or developed a competitive advantage by providing outstanding customer value.

Nine finalists received a Dell Latitude notebook and a one-year membership to the NFIB. The winner received a day with Dell to share best practices, including time with Michael Dell; $20,000 in technology from Dell; a trip to the NFIB National Small Business Summit in Washington, D.C., and a lifetime NFIB membership.

The nine finalists include:

&#8226 Charter
What they do: Provide private air-travel services at competitive prices.
Headquarters: Quincy, Mass.
Number of years in business: Four
Number of employees: 26
How they use technology to serve customers: To help customers bid on private jet travel trips and to provide customers with safety reports on the operators, aircraft and pilots.

&#8226 El Clasificado
What they do: Publish the nation’s second-largest free Spanish-language weekly magazine.
Headquarters: Los Angeles, Calif.
Number of years in business: 16
Number of employees: 91
How they use technology to serve customers: To make their design process easier and more cost-effective and to better manage their classified ad customers.

&#8226 EnableMart
What they do: Provide total computer access solutions for individuals with disabilities
Headquarters: Vancouver, Wash.
Number of years in business: Four
Number of employees: 11
How they use technology to serve customers: To help customers with disabilities get the most out of available technology.

What they do: Help clients develop database-driven Web sites, moving traditional business practices closer to their customers through the Internet
Headquarters: Tallahassee, Fla.
Number of years in business: Four
Number of employees: Seven
How they use technology to serve customers: To improve speed to deployment, increase quality assurance and decrease cost of communications.

&#8226 J.M. Wilson Corporation
What they do: Managing general agents for insurance companies
Headquarters: Portage, Mich.
Number of years in business: 84
Number of employees: 100
How they use technology to serve customers: To automate the workflow in their offices and to identify and fix customer-service problems.

&#8226 Mythic Entertainment
What they do: Develop and publish online games
Headquarters: Fairfax, Va.
Number of years in business: Nine
Number of employees: 140
How they use technology to serve customers: To offer real-time tech support to gaming customers.

&#8226 Top Dog Daycare
What they do: Provide daytime and overnight dog-boarding kennels, grooming services and dog training
Headquarters: Colorado Springs, Colo.
Number of years in business: 4.5
Number of employees: 15
How they use technology to serve customers: Developed software to make scheduling and booking easier for employees and customers and to allow clients to watch their boarded dogs through a Web cam.

&#8226 V.E. Brackett Co.
What they do: Manufacturers representatives agency
Headquarters: Fayetteville, Ga.
Number of years in business: 30
Number of employees: 11
How they use technology to serve customers: To make their outside sales force more efficient.

&#8226 Zipcar Inc.
What they do: Car-rental, member-based company that allows customers to pick up rental cars at self-service parking lots across metro areas of the Northeast
Headquarters: Cambridge, Mass.
Number of years in business: Four
Number of employees: 25
How they use technology to serve customers: To help customers facilitate the process of finding, scheduling and picking up rented cars.

And the Winner is:

We’ll publish a profile of the winning company within the next week, so check back with us to see who won the top prize.

Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of

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