U-Haul Pioneer Elaine DeShong

Dec 8, 2015

If U-Haul could crown a queen of customer service, Elaine DeShong would be that monarch. Though she retired in 1995, her legacy with the company lives on in every move made easier.

1960s Elaine and Harry DeShong Sr

Elaine and Harry DeShong Sr. in the 1960s.

Elaine was part of an elite group of U-Haul wives who worked for the company for several years before being paid to do so. While her husband, Harry DeShong Sr., was at work during the mid-50s to early 60s, so was Elaine—though she wasn’t on the payroll. U-Haul “fieldmen” had a key to their home. And, when U-Haul Founder L.S. “Sam” Shoen would arrive in town, Elaine insisted that he stay at their home rather than spend money on a hotel room.

When Harry became president and shop foreman of the old U-Haul Company of Nevada in 1961, Elaine helped out by “answering telephones and pitching in,” according to a 1978 AMERCO World article. Little did she know the effect her help would have on U-Haul today.

Setting the standard

Elaine officially began her U-Haul career on September 25, 1963, as an assistant traffic controller, a position she held for less than a year before being promoted to office manager of what was then the Arizona Marketing Company.

Elaine DeShong receiving 10-Year Service Award from Hap Carty

Elaine receiving her 10-year service award from U-Haul Pioneer Hap Carty.

Before U-Haul had an official Customer Service department, Elaine had already begun to establish some of the customer-service policies that exist to this day. Appalled by a poor response to letters mailed in by customers, she decided to take matters into her own hands.

“Moving is one of the five most stressful experiences in a person’s life, right up there with death and divorce,” Elaine declared in a 1993 U-Haul News article. “The more personal your relationship is with customers during this traumatic event, the more service you provide to them.”

In 1967, after U-Haul moved its corporate headquarters from Portland, Oregon, to Phoenix, Elaine was promoted to manager of U-Haul Customer Service, now part of the U-Haul Contact Center. Customer Service was a very small operation at the time—a five-person team with one red telephone, dubbed the “hotline,” which customers would call for assistance with their rental. It was in this new position that she realized her full potential to be an advocate for U-Haul customers.

“I think customers are the best and biggest asset any company can have,” Elaine stressed in a 1995 U-Haul News article. “It’s vital that U-Haul and other businesses make them happy, keep them happy and keep them coming back.”

Making a friend for life

When Elaine took on the responsibility of managing the Customer Service Team, her policy was compassion, and she demonstrated that with every customer she touched.

Harry Patti Elaine and Harry DeShong

(Back row) Harry DeShong Jr. and his wife Patti DeShong. (Front row) Elaine and Harry DeShong Sr.

“Anyone can go out and get new customers,” Elaine asserted in 1974, “but to stay in business you have to keep your old customers, your repeat customers—and keep them happy.”

Every customer concern was an opportunity for Elaine to shine, which she did repeatedly for more than 30 years before retiring in 1995.

“It intrigues me to no end to find a customer in trouble, and turn that trouble around to help them and to keep them as a customer,” Elaine mused in 1978. And, she meant it. At her core, Elaine lived and breathed customer service.

“You get on a personal basis with customers, and find out their problems,” Elaine advised in 1993. “When you make a friend for life, you know that they’ll never go anywhere else for equipment.”

In the 50 plus years since Elaine joined the company, her principles are still the foundation of how U-Haul strives to serve our customers.

“Over the years, Customer Service has grown and modernized,” Elaine noted, “but we haven’t changed our basic philosophy: Once we rent our equipment, we have an obligation to our customers to get them and their goods to their destinations. We want the move to go smoothly for our customers, and we want to solve any problems that arise.”

What do you consider good customer service? Tell us what really impresses you in the comments below.

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