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October 2004
Calling for Team Work
By Heather Head

     This month, ATCOM Business Telecom Solutions celebrates its 25th year as one of the Carolinas’ premier providers of communications products and services. And, with 42 percent new system revenue growth over the past year, it seems there is much to celebrate. Despite this surge in growth, Rhonda Morgan, general manager for the Charlotte office, says overall growth for the company has been and is expected to be steady and controlled.

     Stability, in terms of growth as well as management and service, is a watchword for the com-pany and is underlined by the fact that the average tenure for the eight-member senior management team is 16 years. Overall average tenure approaches 12 years; an unusually high number for a technology company.

     That’s because the company’s culture provides both exceptional value to the client and an outstanding work environment for employees.

     Morgan attributes it to David Finch, the company’s president and CEO: “David really is a great leader because he teaches us that it’s not about telephone equipment, it’s about people. And it’s about doing what you say.”

     Finch, on the other hand, attributes the company’s success, at least in Charlotte, to Morgan and her team. “I think that the Charlotte team, with Rhonda at the helm, is one of the better teams in the business. They’ve been recognized nationally as one of the top teams in the industry.”

     This share-the-wealth attitude toward taking credit for success prevails at ATCOM, where the team is everything. Morgan considers her reputation as a team-builder to be among her greatest accomplishments at the company. “If one person drops the ball,” she says, “people here don’t go into blame mode. People pick it up, because they count on that person and they know that person doesn’t usually do that.”

     In fact, the ATCOM team is so cohesive that, Morgan says, they’ve been accused of being a “clique.” “No,” she says, laughing, “it’s more like a tribe. And there’s no hanging around the tribe if you’re not as committed as they are.” New employees are expected to exhibit the same above-and-beyond commitment to customer service that the “tribe” holds dear.

     Stability and teamwork translate to real benefits for the customer. Obviously, when investing in the type of expensive infrastructure represented by a phone system, it’s nice to know that the company selling you the product isn’t going to go away any time soon. But it’s also nice to know that the service people will work as hard at serving you as the sales people do at selling you.

 

Communicating Service

     Not surprisingly, ATCOM is known for its superior customer service. Jeff Morgart, Premier account manager for the company, says their commitment to service begins with Finch himself who, “if someone asks him socially what he does, he says he’s in customer service for ATCOM.”

     This commitment translates to service like that offered to Simonini Builders when they moved locations. In order to help minimize the builder’s downtime during the move, ATCOM built their telephone system and installed it in advance. They organized their project plan so that the morning of the move, all that was left to do was pick up the phones, plug them in and dial. According to Don Kostner, IT manager, he had no worries that ATCOM would accomplish exactly what they promised in regard to the move.

     Morgart himself, although his presence was not required during the move to ensure a smooth transition, showed up at the site nevertheless just because the client asked him to.

     But according to Morgan, this level of service is par for the course at ATCOM. A large room at the back of their facility houses several large cubicles where phone systems are pre-installed. After an order is received for a client, ATCOM sets the entire system up in this staging area and tests it before inviting the client to also test it.

     Because everything has been pre-tested to everyone’s satisfaction, on-site installation is usually completely seamless and almost totally unobtrusive, allowing the client resume normal operations right away with a minimum of disturbance.

 

Learning Data

     Another element of the tribe’s culture at ATCOM is commitment to education, both for the client and for themselves. “We are constantly learning,” says Morgan, “from the manufacturers, from the Web, from other companies.” In a field that is constantly changing with technology, the commitment to learning is crucial.

     Right now, the big change according to Morgan is in voice-over IP (VoIP) and unified messaging technology. Using VoIP technology, a company can connect all employees, regardless of location, just as though they were in the same office. For instance, a salesperson traveling in another city can plug her laptop into a cable modem and through VoIP connect to her home office. She can answer her phone, respond to e-mails, and check her faxes, just as though she were in her cubicle in the home office.

     Using unified messaging, the same employee can get in a cab on her way to the airport, call her voice mail box, and have her phone play her voice mail, read her e-mail, and read her faxes to her. She can reply to all three using her cell phone key pad.

     Morgan compares the current revolution from traditional phone systems to VoIP and unified messaging to the revolution that was occurring when she joined the company 15 years ago. “It used to be that of every twenty phone systems sold, there were probably two voice mail systems,” she recalls. “And now of every twenty there might be one or two that doesn’t buy voice mail.”

     In order to keep up with changes like the VoIP revolution, the management and staff at ATCOM commit to constant self-education. They attend webinars and conferences, and constantly challenge themselves to stay abreast.

      “We know voice,” says Morgan, “better than anybody else in our markets. We’ve been doing voice for 25 years. And as voice changes and merges with the data world, we’ve made the transition faster than our competition.”

     The company is just as committed to client education. In fact, 18 months ago, during a lull in business brought on by the slack economy, Morgart started hosting “lunch and learns.” The idea was that they would invite their customers in for lunch and hold miniature seminars on the changes in telephone technology.

     This approach helps clients by showing them what their options are, as well as giving them an idea of where the industry is headed so that they can keep their own companies ahead of the curve on technology. It also has reaped dividends for the company as the economy has picked up. These educated clients now are ready to buy, and they want to buy from the company that they trust, the company that taught them what they need to know.

     The commitment to educating clients about technological trends began out of necessity when the company was founded 25 years ago. Telecommunications had just been deregulated, and companies were often confused about their options and concerned about stepping outside the usual bounds of dealing directly with the local phone company.

     “They’d always gotten their phone system from the phone company,” explains Finch. “We even had to convince them that it was legal to buy a system from someone else.” Later, the challenge was in convincing clients of the importance of voice mail, and now it’s educating them about the benefits of voice-over IP.

 

Calling for Superstars

     Another challenge the company faces, according to Morgan, is recruiting good people. Morgan herself was a recruit straight out of college. “I was an English major, so I knew nothing about telecommunications, nothing about technology,” she says, laughing. When Finch offered her a job, she says, “I didn’t know how lucky I was.”

     Morgan started with ATCOM in 1989 as a sales rep. By 1993, she was managing the Greensboro office and is now general manager of the Charlotte and Greensboro offices.

     The company was lucky to get her, too, though she won’t say so herself. Still, sometimes new recruits don’t work out so well and it’s challenging to find the people who will fit in with the company’s strong commitment to service. Now they rely less on recruiting at colleges and more on word of mouth.

     “We let everybody know that we have room for a superstar if they know one,” says Morgan, “and people sometimes call you.” A recent example is their new sales engineer, Tim Sickles, who moved down from New York looking for a job in Charlotte.

     He had experience with Mitel Networks, one of the manufacturers that ATCOM represents. When Sickles asked Mitel for a recommendation for help finding a good company to work for in Charlotte, they recommended ATCOM to him. “He’s been here about 18 months,” says Morgan, “and he’s been a phenomenal resource for us.”

     Phenomenal, too, is the fervor with which ATCOM’s employees sing the praises of their team. “It’s to the point of this,” Morgan says earnestly, “I believe so much in this team to deliver good customer service, to go above and beyond what a customer’s expectations are, I wouldn’t care what we sold. The team is phenomenal.”

Heather Head is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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