Michigan Saves’ core mission is to make energy improvements easy and affordable. To do that well, the organization must have a razor-sharp focus on providing excellent customer service.

“The biggest arrow we have in our quiver is our powerful financing product, which runs incredibly well,” says Selma Tucker, director of communications for Michigan Saves. “So we’ve focused on making sure the mechanics of the loan product worked. But we were not as good at explaining the value proposition to customers — why they should be pursuing energy efficiency to begin with.”

That changed in April 2013, when Michigan Saves made a conscious commitment to become more service-oriented.

“We decided to commit to speaking a language that our customers and partners understand,” he says. “To do that, we went out and asked our customers, ‘Why did you do this energy efficiency stuff in the first place?’”

The reasons included interest in helping the environment, stopping energy waste and saving money. But comfort, often an unexpected benefit of completing a project, emerged as the leading motivator.

“Customers loved being warm and cozy in the winter and no longer needing a space heater,” says Tucker. “They were delighted to finally have the same temperature on the first and second floor. We realized we needed to focus on speaking to customers about the comfort benefits of energy efficiency.”

Michigan Saves realized that staff needed customer service training to more effectively respond to the market. So in 2014, the staff went to the source for customer service in Michigan: Zingerman’s customer-service training course, ZingTrain.

“Zingerman’s is the best in the business for customer service,” says Tucker. “They helped us become better. The training helped us become more aware of how to serve our customers, and that has really made a difference in how we do our job. Now, every single time we have a staff meeting, we’re talking about what our customers are saying to us. We’re constantly thinking about how to improve our business from the perspective of the customer. It has been a very positive change, and one of the major ingredients of our success in 2014.”

And Michigan Saves’ partners are noticing.

Kalamazoo contractor Brad Bartholomew has been using Michigan Saves financing since the organization’s beginning. He owns two businesses, an HVAC company that installs high-end energy-efficient equipment, and an auditing firm called Energy Saving Services. Bartholomew uses the loan products for about 50 projects every year.

Michigan Saves’ commitment to customer service extends to all of its constituents — residential and commercial loan holders, a network of lenders and contractors like Bartholomew.

“It’s just awesome to have a conversation with Michigan Saves staff. Usually, finance companies are multinational conglomerates, and there’s no real person you can talk to,” he says. “Here we’ve got Mary or Julie or Todd. Somebody’s there that can give us an answer. I highly recommend them.”