From Prison Tech to Educational Museum: Companies That Redefine Customer Service

Businesses That Stand Out as Best for Customers

Imajine That

Rolling out dough at Imajine That, an interactive children’s museum in Boston.
Photo courtesy Imajine That Foods

The companies profiled here were chosen as part of our Best for the World 2016 coverage. Each business below scored in the top 10 percent of all Certified B Corporations for their treatment of customers.

This designation does not just mean the companies perform well in customer service or customer care, although they are attentive to customers’ needs in that way. The way these businesses serve their clients goes much deeper, and built into the companies’ DNA. To be Best for Customers, the companies are analyzed on whether its products or services benefit the public, help underserved populations, or solve a social or environmental issue. From a children’s museum to an online eyewear retailer, read how these companies are improving their customers’ lives.

Play to Learn

Imajine That | Interactive children’s museum | Boston

The echoing hallways of traditional museums are a far cry from the vast educational program at Imajine That, a 12,000-square-foot museum in Boston where kids scramble through a huge dinosaur climbing structure, families play-shop in a mini-Whole Foods Market, and visitors learn how to write computer code from a robot.

CEO Susan Leger-Ferraro raises funding in conjunction with educators from sources such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. So far the business has raised more than $40 million in grants from philanthropies and corporate sponsors. Whole Foods Market, for example, pays for the mock grocery store and its upkeep. Fees for admission, special events, educational programs and teacher training contribute to the company’s bottom line.

The museum is among Boston’s Top 50 Fastest-Growing Companies in 2016 with additional revenues from reduced-price books, low-cost science and technology classes, and after-school programs held off-site at local schools.

Your company can become a force for good when you download our FREE Special Report, Companies That Make a Difference: Innovative Businesses Receive Honors as Best for the World in 2016.


Changing Prison for Good

American Prison Data Systems | Prisoner tech | New York City

Chris Grewe, an educational publishing veteran turned founder and CEO of American Prison Data Systems, wants no repeat end-users. Founded in 2012, APDS uses plastic-enclosed tablets to securely deliver content and services to inmates. APDS aims to reduce recidivism by providing inmates with educational and vocational apps plus limited contact with the outside world.

RAND Corporation Recidivism Stat

“With nearly 600,000 inmates released from prison each year, it is of utmost importance that we prepare these men and women for successful re-entry,” Grewe says.

Currently, 18 jails, prisons and probation programs pay for the services, which are free to inmates and their families. APDS assesses prisoner educational, emotional and vocational needs through detailed questionnaires, and then provides appropriate learning programs, tutors and remote classrooms. Prisoners can improve language skills, for instance, using Rosetta Stone programs. Teachers and administrators can reward inmates by unlocking access to recreational programs.

The program saves tax dollars by replacing jail educators, lowering recidivism and relieving disciplinary problems. APDS raised $2.6 million in seed capital last year and is entering into a Series A funding round.


Take Out a Dairy Cow Loan

Juhudi Kilimo | Funds for small farmer | Nairobi, Kenya

In 2009, Jackeline Nyangaresi, a mother of four from a remote village in Kenya, enrolled in a farmer-training program. Then she applied for a loan of 40,000 Kenyan shillings (about $400) from Juhudi Kilimo to start her cattle and tea-growing farm. Later she got another loan to help her buy a heifer and expand her dairy operation.

Today Nyangaresi is a successful independent farmer paying for her children’s educations.

Juhudi Kilimo Stat

Juhudi Kilimo is an independent business that provides loans and training to small farmers and agribusinesses. Juhudi loans money to farmers who buy cows or irrigation systems, which generate income to repay the loans. A farmer’s high-yield dairy cow can produce enough milk in one year to pay for the cow, the loan interest and training, plus food and a profit margin.

Juhudi invests in startups, links clients to others in the market and provides technical assistance, all of which enhance local economies. Juhudi has created a unique market by offering interest rates below market prices, payments scheduled to correspond with crop seasons and longer-than-average repayment periods. Since 2009, the company has financed 40,000 farmers.


Make Me a Match

Catchafire | Matches volunteers to charities | New York City

A bit like a dating website, Catchafire helps skilled volunteers and nonprofits find each other by matching volunteers’ skills to charities’ needs. The platform has made more than 5,800 matches — facilitating more than 165,000 hours of donated time since its founding in 2010.

Founder and CEO Rachael Chong wants to reduce the 40 percent volunteer-dropout rate to help small charities on annual budgets under $500,000 — about 75 percent of the 2 million U.S. nonprofits.

Catchafire

More than 1,500 nonprofits pay about $200 a month for Catchafire listings to reach about 30,000 volunteers who have registered with the site. Catchafire also connects volunteers’ LinkedIn profiles and lists opportunities on LinkedIn’s Volunteer Marketplace.

Catchafire’s Enterprise option, another revenue source, lets companies set up volunteer opportunities for their employees. Some blue-chip companies create rewarding, meaningful volunteer opportunities for their executives in order to improve morale and retention.

“Imagine being a nonprofit and knowing that you can have a financial model built by a JP Morgan Chase executive,” says Chong.


From Crisis to Choice

Solutions for Progress | Financial coaching | Philadelphia

Since 2006, Solutions for Progress’ Benefit Bank has provided charities and public agencies with tools that streamline low-income families’ access to public benefits. The company’s MyBudgetCoach service, which helps poor families protect and grow assets, connects users to a financial advisor.

“The Benefit Bank strips away the complexity of public benefits by using clear, concise and accessible language aided by technology,” says Peter Rubenstein, vice president of business development.

Organizations that serve the poor purchase licenses for customized versions of The Benefit Bank and MyBudgetCoach to improve their effectiveness. The Ohio Association of Food Banks is a good example: It licenses The Benefit Bank and serves as a statewide affiliate. The license allows nonprofits in Ohio to use The Benefit Bank at no additional fee. So far, more than 1,000 Ohio food pantries and related nonprofits have benefited from the service.

“The Benefit Bank has generated an estimated $2.1 billion dollars in public benefits and taxes claimed nationwide for more than 1 million users over the last 10 years,” Rubenstein says.


Envisioning Customer Needs

Warby Parker | Affordable designer eyewear | New York City

Warby Parker’s founders wondered, in the early 2000s, why fashionable, affordable prescription eyewear wasn’t available online.

Since it launched as a biz-school student project in 2010, the company has been selling eyeglasses directly to customers from its online store, offering home try-ons with free shipping and returns. By designing and manufacturing its own frames and selling directly to consumers, the company can deliver stylish prescription glasses for $95.

Warby Parker eyeglasses

 

Warby raised $100 million in a 2015 funding round, and Wall Street analysts estimate the 6-year-old company to be worth about $1.2 billion. In 2013, Warby Parker opened its first brick-and-mortar storefront. Today it has more than 30 retail locations throughout the U.S. and Canada.

At least once each quarter, every employee works in a showroom or on the phone in direct connection with customers. Warby Parker also operates a Buy a Pair, Give a Pair program, which trains opticians in developing countries and then provides them with extremely low-cost glasses.

“Instead of donating, our partners train men and women to sell glasses for ultra-affordable prices, which allows them to earn a living,” says co-CEO Neil Blumenthal.

Note: This article originally gave an incorrect figure for Warby Parker’s 2015 sales. The information has been corrected here.


Best for Customers logoFind More Best for the World

Check out the full list of Best for Customers honorees and read about Revolution Foods, a featured Best for Customers honoree. Dig deeper and explore the full list of 515 honorees on our interactive Best for the World hub. You can also review the full Best for the World criteria and methodology.

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