Customer service has been a hallmark of independent operators for many years. Clearly that’s the case with Ritter Communications, which began providing local phone service to communities in Arkansas in 1906.

Despite its growth—Ritter now provides leading-edge voice, video and data to some 50K customers in 57 communities in northeast and north central Arkansas, with smaller presences in west Tennessee and Missouri—an emphasis on providing the best customer service in the business remains a priority.

And while the goal is a world-class customer-focused experience, Ritter emphasizes it’s a local product, delivered to customers by employees who are their friends, neighbors and relatives. For example, its call center, open 24/7, is a local operation. This emphasis on being local is one reason why the company’s motto, ‘Right by You,’ is an intentional double entendre. Not only does Ritter promise to do right by its customers, providing them with great service and products, but its employees are local, they’re working and living right by customers.

All this sounds great, of course. But how does Jonesborobased Ritter break through the clutter? After all, its competitors, including AT&T and the satellite companies, promise great customer service, too. Again, it gets back to being local. One way Ritter takes advantage of its proximity to customers is by inviting them in to break bread.

Periodically throughout its systems, Ritter holds Lunch and Learn events, inviting folks for a meal and the opportunity to hear a speaker. Sometimes the speaker is from Ritter, giving customers the chance to hear about and see demonstrations of new products. The Ritter CTO spoke recently, explaining new digital products in laymen’s terms. After lunch people gathered around several stations for hands-on demos. Another time customers were able to chat with senior management after lunch. Recent topics have included storage and protecting your data.

Ritter also brings in speakers from government and academia to discuss pertinent digital issues. A recent Lunch and Learn featured a state official discussing the FCC’s E-Rate program, which provides discounts to help schools and libraries obtain Internet access. “We invited all the local school administrators, and we had a large turnout,” Christian says. An upcoming Lunch and Learn will feature a former government official discussing how businesses can best use the Healthcare Connect Fund, which helps health care providers obtain broadband connectivity and advocates for state and regional broadband health care networks.

These events not only provide information to the community, they allow Ritter to learn more about its customers’ business needs, Christian says. “This is another way to touch customers, to help us provide solutions to them and help them remain competitive. It also lets us know our customers better and strengthens our existing relationships,” says Ritter VP Susan Christian. “We want to be more than order takers.”

We’re also saluting Ritter’s Right by You Moments program, which posts emailed and phoned-in compliments about employees on Ritter’s Web site. The authors range from businesses—Mr. Dotter of the Marion School District thanked Natalie Hoggard, while Mr. Young from the AK State Highway and Transportation Dept. praised Ritter tech manager Rich Busby—to consumers speaking highly about techs and customer-service reps.

Other operators do similar things with customer compliments, but Ritter goes beyond. Without rhyme or reason, years ago Ritter began calling submitted compliments grapes. When a front-line employee receives a Right by You compliment, he/she is given a ‘grape’ in the form of a chance in a drawing for $500 in cash. The drawing is held during Ritter’s annual holiday lunch. Each year a Ritter employee is chosen secretly to dress up in a grape costume and emerge during lunch. Needless to say, Marvin Gaye’s rendition of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” is played at the appropriate moment. Leave it to Ritter to mix great customer service with grape expectations.
-Seth Arenstein

Fast Facts
Ritter has 260 employees, with headquarters in Jonesboro,
AK, population 70K.

The name of every grape recipient is called during Ritter’s
holiday luncheon.

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