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Our Salmon Support Team

Customer support done differently

    Salmon Support Staff

    “Customer service” has become an oxymoron for many of us. When products fail us, we reach for 1-800 numbers and email addresses in the hopes of reaching someone who can make it right. Maybe you’ve had better luck, but when I call a customer support hotline, I steel myself for what are often long wait times and impenetrable phone banks. More often than not, I have to explain my issue to someone in a call center with no connection to the product. Sometimes I never speak to a human at all, and instead interact with artificial intelligence. These experiences are usually frustrating, and I rarely come away feeling satisfied.

    Why Staff a Member Service Team?

    Sitka Seafood Market does things differently. Rather than outsourcing member support, we view it as a critical part of our business model.

    “It has always been at the forefront of our company to have the BEST member experience around,” says Supply Chain Director Kim Magee-Barton.

    Kim should know — she helped shape our current Salmon Support Team. Kim joined the company fresh out of college, but was no stranger to the problems of customer service. “I had seven years of experience in customer service,” Kim says. “It was during that time that I learned the skills I needed to start the Salmon Support Team. I also learned the importance of keeping customer service within the walls of a company versus outsourcing.”

    Kimberly Magee-Barton joined Sitka Seafood Market fresh out of college. She knows the company inside and out. Photo courtesy of Kimberly Magee-Barton.

    In the early days of the company, our team members wore many hats, Kim says. “I ran everything related to the community supported fishery, from the home delivery program, member services, supply chain, and our newly-founded shipping program.” As more members joined our community, these demands grew beyond the ability of any one person to manage, and Sitka Seafood Market acquired the talent necessary to meet our 100% satisfaction guarantee. Kim moved into the position of supply chain director and handed member service responsibilities over to Donavon Hilligoss.

    Building a Team

    At the time, Donavon was a senior assistant director of admissions at Knox College, in Galesburg, Illinois. He spent at least two months on the road every year recruiting the next year’s freshman class, and an offer to build a member service team and not travel so much appealed to him. “I jumped at the first chance to join the company,” Donavon says.

    The Member Service Associates Team — fondly referred to as "Salmon Support" — is based out of our offices in Galesburg, Illinois. Illustration by Libby Geboy.

    Donavon’s skill in communicating with families weighing the decision on where to attend college served him well for the role he took on as community supported fishery director. “I am a “people” person, for sure,” Donavon admits.

    “I jumped at the first chance to join the company.”

    This is fortunate because Donavon interfaces with people everyday — whether it’s fixing a delivery issue or sharing out kind messages from our members like this one:

    “Your salmon is not only awesome, it’s also magical: it has turned my fish-averse husband into someone who really, really enjoys salmon!”

    Those moments when he gets to hear about members enjoying eating and growing in their commitment to sustainable seafood, “that’s what makes our work so rewarding,” says Donavon.

    Donavon Hilligoss came to Sitka Seafood Market from the world of college admissions. Photo courtesy of Donavon Hilligoss.

    Besides talking to subscribers about fish, Donavon enjoys actually preparing and eating it at home. “I love the variety of seafood that we offer, and I'm constantly discovering new recipes and ways to prepare each fish, thanks to Grace,” says Donavon.

    “From the rich, buttery flavor of our king salmon to the delicate texture of our halibut, every bite is a testament to the care and expertise that goes into each catch.”

    Each employee receives their own monthly box of fish, and Donavon says that across the years that he has worked for the company, the quality of the fish continues to astound him.

    Maintaining Community

    What does a normal day look like for our Salmon Support staff? “Lots of talking,” Donavon says. He meets with the team twice a day to identify and catalog issues as they emerge. Over the past two years, the team has resolved over 180,000 tickets, representing everything from gratitude, confusion, and disappointment.

    Aaron Perez, a member service lead, resolved many of those tickets. “My day starts at 7:30 a.m.,” Aaron says. You know those email reminders before your order arrives? That’s how Aaron spends his mornings before switching and responding to individual member questions. If you’ve emailed, called, or used our virtual chat tool, chances are you may have spoken to Aaron. “I have definitely developed friendships and trust with our members,” Aaron says. “I have some who ask for me specifically.”

    Aaron Perez starts his day at 7:30 a.m answering calls and emails from Sitka Seafood Market members. Photo courtesy of Donavon Hilligoss.

    Not all problems are easy to resolve. Both Donavon and Aaron provided support to one caller disappointed with their box of seafood. Donavon hit a snag early in the call. “I could not find any record of them in our system,” he says. “Eventually, I asked them to take a picture of the box of seafood and send it to me. It wasn’t our box.” Aaron continues, “They were very apologetic and I helped them not only find the right company to contact, but also recommended giving our company a try.” Our member service team takes our 100% satisfaction guarantee seriously.

    “We want our members to feel like a part of the community,” Kim says, “and not just another customer.”

    Having graduated with a degree in Environmental Studies, Harper Colclasure joined Sitka Seafood Market because she wanted to work at a company that aligns with her values. Photo courtesy of Donavon Hilligoss.

    Member Service Associate Harper Colclasure feels that same sentiment is also echoed internally by the culture of Sitka Seafood Market. “Something I love is the sense of community within the company,” writes Harper.

    Maintaining a broader sense of camaraderie was challenging during the COVID-19 “work from home” era, and yet Harper feels that, despite all the changes over the last few years, a few things have remained constant. She writes: “I enjoy working with my fellow Salmon Support Team members. It feels great to be part of a connected team having fun and working together to help members have a great experience. Outside of the member support team, there’s a connection between all parts of the company and as we grow and make changes, that sense of camaraderie and community grows too.”

    Fellow Member Service Associate Scott Millman agrees saying, "My favorite part of the job is the caliber of my co-workers. It's great to work with people that not only do I totally trust at all times to do top work, but that also have great personalities."

    The Salmon Support team poses in the Galesburg, IL office. If you have a problem or question for our team, Salmon Support is here to help you solve it!

    That theme of connection stems from the company’s founding philosophy to connect folks with the source of their food. That theme specifically resonated with Harper, who graduated from Knox College with a degree in environmental studies. Nic Mink, a co-founder of Sitka Seafood Market, was one of her college professors at Knox and made an impression on her. “In his classes I learned about the importance of transparency and the connection between producers and consumers. That’s part of why Sitka Seafood Market was founded, and part of why I enjoy working here.” Harper says she feels glad to work somewhere that cares about environmental health. “I’m proud to support the company’s mission,” says Harper.

    “We want our members to feel like a part of the community,” Kim says, “and not just another customer.”

    That goal, as well as the shared camaraderie, drew employees with various work experiences to the company. For example, Scott managed restaurants and storage facilities before joining our team, while Kim worked for an art supplies company. Brandon Jern was a manager at Buffalo Wild Wings where he trained his co-worker, Brodie Bramlett. When Brandon started working at Sitka Seafood Market, he brought Brodie with him.

    MSA Brandon Jern says, "I believe that clear communication, active listening, and empathy can go a long way in resolving customer issues and building positive relationships." Photo courtesy of Donavon Hilligoss.

    Our goal of connecting members to fishermen and our trusted partners would be difficult if we outsourced customer service to a third party. By interacting with members every day, our Salmon Support Team relays member concerns to our operations and member experience teams. That feedback allows us to learn from our mistakes, which benefits everyone across the company. “We wouldn't be able to run this amazing company without our members,” Kim says.

    We can’t stay amazing without listening and learning every day. Let us know how we are doing by contacting our Salmon Support Team today.