From the beginning, a strong commitment to customer service defined and differentiated Ecolab. Round-the-clock service provided by trained service representatives, combined with top-quality, innovative products, has been key to the company’s success.
M.J. Osborn makes serving the customer a top priority

Founder M.J. Osborn laid the foundation. He advised, “Accept the customer’s problems as if they were your own,” and he offered this wisdom: “He profits most who serves best.”

According to “The First Forty Years,” an Ecolab history published in 1963, M.J. “demanded that any product offered by his company fulfill its sales promise of ‘getting the job done.’ No matter what the day-and-night effort involved might be in customer machine repair, training of crews, development of better means of compound control, and a host of other measures, the promise was kept; the job had to get done.”

E.B. Osborn, ”father“ of the company’s service culture
M.J. Osborn established the customer as the company’s top priority. But it is E.B. Osborn, his son and eventual successor as president and CEO, who is considered the “father” of the company’s service culture. Despite telling his father that he never wanted any role that involved selling (two summers of selling for the company had left E.B., who suffered with shyness, with an ulcer), he was named national sales manager and sent to New York to “straighten out” a situation involving the salesmen there.
It was then that E.B. began to study the psychology – and techniques – of sales and service, as well as the mechanics of electric dishwashing machines. The lessons he learned became the basis for training sales and service representatives in how to diagnose a customer’s problem and identify possible solutions. E.B. also instituted a program to help young men build their expertise by serving as “junior” salesmen, learning “informational selling” under the guidance of more senior salesmen.

E.B. eventually established a “systems” approach to customer service that was unique in the industry. As reported in a brochure celebrating the company’s 50th year, E.B.’s service approach included five steps:

  • Providing technically trained specialists who understand the customer’s industry and his specific production methods.
  • Thoroughly analyzing the customer’s cleaning/sanitation needs in relation to his total operation.
  • Designing for each customer an individualized cleaning/sanitation plan, including selected products and dispensing equipment, procedures and employee training – which will achieve optimum results considering all environmental and cost factors.
  • Providing customers with a regular follow-up and preventive maintenance service to assure uniform and consistent quality results.
  • Keeping customers up to date on the latest advances in cleaning/sanitation technology through a network of trained specialists worldwide.

Through this approach, E.B. transformed salesmen into “dishwashing consultants.” They not only sold detergents, but also fixed and maintained dishmachines, trained kitchen employees in how to use them, analyzed washing procedures and recommended ways to minimize breakage.

The basic approach that E.B. outlined continues to guide sales training and customer service across all Ecolab businesses. However, today, new digital technologies also are enabling sales and service representatives to deliver better, more responsive service to their customers, often even alerting them to issues before they are aware of them.

E.B. recognized that service roles were not a good fit for everyone. Service, he said, “involves an ‘attitude’ that is fostered by emphasis, teaching and monitoring, but more basically is inherent in the people who are attracted to our company by the reputation for service we have earned. This spirit and attitude of service is rare.”

The Ecolab sales and service force
Ecolab trained sales and service representatives themselves have been a principal force in the company’s success and its reputation for delivering great results for customers. Growth in the ranks of sales and service representatives has paralleled the company’s growth.

Growth of the Sales and Service Team

Year Team Members Year Team Members
1950 100 2010 14,500
2000 10,280 2011 (Nalco acquisition)
2001 10,720 2012 32,200
2002 11,410 2013 25,000
2003 11,685 2014 25,000
2004 12,280 2015 25,000
2005 12,910 2016 25,500
2006 13,430 2017 26,000
2007 14,110 2018 27,000
2008 14,450 2019 27,500
2009 14,300 2020 25,200
The Ecolab white coat
For decades, Ecolab field agents have been distinguished by the white service coats they wear. Much has changed since the following story was written many years ago by an unknown author and told from the perspective of hardworking Ecolab white coats.

Whew! We Ecolab white service coats take a beating. On and off, again and again. Many days not even a lunch break. Some nights, snatched off the chair to go fix a dishmachine so a customer can keep operating.

Yet, it could be worse. We could be working in a hospital – just another non-descript white coat.

Of course, we are doctors in our own way. People sometimes call us “Dishmachine Doctor” although we prefer “Doctor of Environmental Sanitation.” 

Yes, we diagnose dishmachine ailments – and all sorts of other things. We make sure our customers sanitize properly, train their staff in floor cleaning, solve stain problems in the laundry and reduce their water and energy use. They look to us for monthly check-ups. And when they have an emergency, we’re by their side. When they need us, we’re there.

We go everywhere, greeting customers, looking crisp, clean, professional and delivering “white coat” service (even better than “white glove” service.) We hold nuts and bolts, washers and screws in our pockets, and protect Ecolab professionals from dirt and grease (as best we can). The other day, one of our five-snap colleagues put out a small kitchen fire.

Our job may be exhausting, but we love it. We’re respected. And people are always glad to see us.

Everyone knows legends are not made overnight. It takes years of doing something ‘legendary,’ like providing customers a consistently great experience. That’s exactly how the Legend of the White Coat was written.

It began many years ago with our founders. They set their sight on building a company that would offer great products and dependable, professional service.

As the company dispatched talented professionals to take care of customers, it seemed that these experts deserved a powerful symbol – something that would set them apart and stand for what they represented: true cleaning and sanitation expertise and a commitment to “do the best thing for the customer, always!”

So began the legend of the White Coat.

When customers saw the Ecolab White Coat coming, they knew their current problems would be solved and future problems anticipated. They knew they would receive the best products, technology and service – that Ecolab could provide answers to most any question.

Customers also saw teamwork and camaraderie among the White Coats. When a problem or installation was too big for one, other dedicated White Coats lent a hand.

So let me close by asking you a question.

Does your White Coat send a message of professionalism each day – each call?

The Ecolab pin

For decades, the Ecolab pin has been presented to each employee when he or she joins the company and replaced at milestone service anniversaries with a pin featuring a gemstone of greater value.  

Over the years, the pin has meant different things to different people, but at its most basic, the pin conveys the idea of teamwork, achievement and pride in being a member of the Ecolab team.