February 21, 2013

Customer service chief for Johnny's seeds gets chamber 'Stardom Award'

By Kaitlin Schroeder kschroeder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WINSLOW -- While Michelle LePage prefers to stay out of the spotlight, she loves to make the customer the star at Johnny's Selected Seeds, directing behind the scenes to make sure clients have a good experience.

Customer experience manager LePage, 53, said she has recognized from early in her career at Johnny's that customer service can determine the success of a business.

Because of this commitment, LePage is the winner of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce's 2012 Customer Service Stardom Award. She will receive it April 11 at the chamber's 50th annual awards dinner at Waterville Elks Club.

While LePage has had her current position for two years, she began her career there 32 years ago as part of a company that provides seeds, tools and information for backyard gardeners and large-scale growers throughout the United States, as well as internationally.

In 1982 she joined the company in Winslow, the town where she graduated from high school and now lives with her husband, Denis, and their children, Chad, Jarod and Renee.

During her first years, she saw the company from all perspectives, as she worked in various areas, including planting and testing new products and packing and shipping the seeds. Eventually, she moved to customer service, where she found her true calling with the company.

She said customer service has changed dramatically since she began working for the company, as Johnny's, which was founded in 1973, became increasingly successful with a larger pool of customers.

As Johnny's Selected Seeds grew, she said, the company realized it needed employees with a higher level of customer service expertise and created a customer contact center, of which she became the manager in 1995.

As manager, she developed its "customer-centric" strategy, and the center began to measure customer feedback and use the information to improve customer service continually.

Two years ago, LePage was promoted to her current position, customer experience manager, in which her job is to understand how the company as a whole affects the customer experience, including behind-the-scenes work the customer never sees. In the same year, she also was elected to the board of directors, where she works to represent the customer when the company is making plans.

She said that as an avid gardener who loves growing her own food, she understands what a grower wants from the seed company.

While working in customer service, LePage said, there can be difficult customers but she said she always tries to understand their frustration and work to fix the problem.

As an example, she said, a grower might call and be missing the seeds he needs to start planting on schedule. She said she always empathizes with the customer, assumes responsibility and works to fix the problem as quickly as she can.

"I will do whatever I can to get the package to them," she said.

Gary Zemrak, controller at Johnny's Selected Seeds, said in his nomination letter about LePage that her passion and influence on the company "would be hard to duplicate."

LePage said she is passionate about her job and has loved working in customer service.

"I truly believe in the company. It was a good fit," LePage said.

Kaitlin Schroeder -- 861-9252
kschroeder@mainetoday.com

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