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SLO firm dials up new owner

By   /   Thursday, July 19th, 2012  /   Comments Off on SLO firm dials up new owner

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San Luis Obispo-based Impact Learning Systems, which helps firms such as Dell and Best Buy train their customer support staff, has been purchased by a Nevada company.

Miller Heiman, a Reno-based firm that helps companies improve sales figures, announced the acquisition on July 19. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

Impact Learning Systems was founded in 1996 by Peggy Carlaw and now has between 20 and 30 full-time employees. Miller Heiman is one of the largest global companies in the business of helping firms improve their sales, and Impact Learning CEO Malcolm Carlaw said that the acquisition of his firm is part of a larger growth strategy at Miller Heiman. Carlaw said the Central Coast location is expected to remain intact.

“We’re not anticipating any changes at this point,” Carlaw told the Business Times. “We’re going to be operating as an independent division of Miller Heiman.”

Carlaw said the driving force behind the acquisition was an emerging focus on using customer loyalty to boost sales performance at large companies.

While Miller Heiman focused on training firms’ sales forces, all that good work could be undone if a customer called for support after the purchase and had a bad experience with the company.

“If you think about that hand off that occurs, the sales process doesn’t really end after the check is cut,” said Jennifer Vodehnal, director of marketing and communications for Miller Heiman. “It’s an ongoing process where you need to satisfy your customer and make it an ongoing good customer experience. You do want that repeat business – and referrals.”

Impact Learning focuses on training customer support staff. Adding that expertise to the Miller Heiman mix will make sure end customers have a consistently good experience, whether it’s on the phone with sales staff or support staff. Over time, that boosts performance all around.

“From a company’s standpoint, when they come to us, they’re looking for a common service language that is both consistent across the board and that is repeatable, so that anytime you pull in, you get the same level of excellent service, regardless of who you talk to,” Carlaw said. “We have a strong reputation in customer service and support and a very strong presence in the technology industry. There’s very little overlap and quite a bit of synergy” between Impact Learning and Miller Heiman, he said.

Nearly two decades ago, Peggy Carlaw started Impact Learning out of her own consulting business for training other firms’ support staffs. She had several large clients, but realized that many smaller companies needed the same kind of training programs but didn’t have the budget for a custom consultant. So she built out an “off the shelf” version that could be customized for each company with less work, and Impact Learning expanded from there.

Now, it works with huge companies such as GE Capital, the credit arm of Toyota’s U.S. operations, the county of San Luis Obispo and even the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

“Support is a horizontal industry, where almost any company, whether it’s the Federal Reserve or Coca-Cola, has a need to interact with clients and provide good customer service,” Carlaw said. “Once we did good work for clients, it’s all referrals and reputation.”

[Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 4:27 p.m. on July 19 with comments from Miller Heiman.]
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