Customer First – Employee Award Recipients

This new Business & Community Achievement Award was created to recognize and celebrate exceptional customer service that our entire community benefits from.


Heather Kennedy – The Highlander Newspaper

Heather is known to spend many hours and late nights at The Highlander office meeting print deadlines and making sure that everyone’s ads are perfect before print. That’s only one of the reasons why she was nominated for the Customer First – Employee award. Her nominator says when this category was first announced, Heather was the first person that came to mind. As the production manager for The Highlander since it first started in 2011, Heather’s employer says she always puts her best efforts into whatever she’s doing and gives every client her best work. “There’s no doubt that without Heather’s competence, speed, organizational skills, tact, maturity, creativity, work ethic and friendly personality we could not have achieved as much as we have.”

Heather’s nominator says “She has gone above and beyond in her dedication to helping us (in addition to many other local businesses) design marketing ads that are creative, eye catching and have that call to action approach that we look for in our business outlook and marketing.”

When asked about her ‘customer first’ approach, Heather says, “when I think about putting the customer first, I reflect on what I can do for them and how I can utilize all of the resources I have available to me because the success of our local businesses is important.”

Heather is also the Chair and a founding member of the Haliburton Highlands Young Professionals Network and says she’s passionate about providing opportunities for young professionals to live, work, and play in the Highlands.

“[Heather’s] personality is positive, exuberant and contagious. She rises above and beyond in her career with utmost professionalism regardless of life’s personal stressful and busy moments,” reads Heather’s nomination. Heather says businesses trust her with their success and the satisfaction she feels after helping them succeed is part of why she does what she does. When asked what is important to her, Heather says “I think it is vital to be honest with our customers and to guide them when it comes to conceptual ideas and marketing direction for their advertising.”

Heather’s employer describes her as the consummate professional: someone who gets the job done, and gets it done right. “If she sees the opportunity to make a page or an ad just a little bit better, she takes the time to do it […] That kind of dedication to doing her best is what makes Heather a respected and beloved colleague, friend, leader and member of the community.”

“She is a role model for young women and girls in the county and one of our future leaders.”

Stevi Young – Highland Glass & Windows

As an employee at Highland Glass & Windows since 2001, Stevi Young is described as “very professional and extremely capable of taking on anything that comes her way.” According to her nomination, Stevi is constantly being recognized by customers on her mannerisms, kindness and willingness to go that extra mile to make customers happy. Her employer says she is polite and courteous with all customers in any situation and takes it upon herself to familiarize herself with all the products and services they offer.

When asked about her work, Stevi says she’s often the only face customers see or voice they hear so it’s vital to her to make every interaction a positive one.

“It doesn’t cost anything to wear a smile, and I believe that something as simple as that could have an impact on the overall experience.”

She says staying a little late to better accommodate a customer shows them that getting it right is her priority, not just getting it done.

Stevi’s employer says she has taken it upon herself on numerous occasions to pick up products ordered by customers and delivered it to them on her own personal time. “Stevi is our front line window to our standards and professionalism and she unconditionally excels at this.”

“We have all been in a customer service situation where we felt unheard or unimportant and that is a horrible feeling,” says Stevi. That’s why she believes the most important part of a customer first approach is respectful, active listening.

“Regardless of how big or small the project, I hope to leave every customer feeling confident that they got exactly what they needed, no more or less.”

When asked about her ‘Customer First’ approach, Stevi says it’s the little things that make a big difference. “A smile can be heard as well as seen so I never answer the telephone without smiling. I do this because to me, customers aren’t a number or just a project, they are people.” She says people choose to trust her to take care of their needs and act in their best interest.

“Trust is something that is difficult to earn and easy to lose, so I’m careful to always be present and engaged in our interactions so they can feel undoubtedly how important they are to me, as well as the business I represent.”

“The most rewarding part of my employment is when I get to follow up with a customer and I can hear, see and feel their excitement and satisfaction. Regardless of the price tag on the job, to me, that is a true win.”


Ryan Urquhart – Halco Electronics

In his nomination, Ryan is described as someone who goes out of his way to find a solution to your needs. When he was thrown into the position of Store Manager without notice, his employer says Ryan covered the store full time and treated the business as if it were his own, relieving a lot of their stress.

“Customers are constantly commenting on how patient Ryan is when explaining phone plans, satellite installations, looking up information to assist customers, replacing watch & phone batteries and staying on task all the while.”

Both his nominator and employer describe Ryan as calm and supportive, confident, knowledgeable, and friendly.

When asked about his ‘Customer First’ approach Ryan says his job centres around listening to the customer, recognizing their needs, advising them, and hopefully making a sale.

“I have developed many relationships with customers based on these principals, and feel good about both my ability to help, and their faith in me.”


Jason Cochrane – Dollo’s Foodland

Jason Cochrane is the inspiration behind why the Customer First – Employee Award was created. His nominator, Bernie Davis describes this award perfectly when she says “I don’t view it as a competition, but rather a ‘recognition’ of exemplary ‘front-line’ employees who make experiences for both locals and tourists alike ‘memorable’.”

In his nomination, Jason is described as the person who makes grocery shopping an enjoyable experience. Davis says he treats all customers equally, is always working hard and enjoys his work. She says she always leaves the store thinking, “We could all learned from Jason to ‘enjoy’ our work.” He readily helps customers and exudes happiness that can be infectious. His work habits and demeanor are described as inspirational, even if you don’t interact with him directly.

“Jason is an example of what we all need to be more like; and what we would wish to experience when we travel.” To Davis, people return to an area repeatedly if they experience genuine authentic friendliness and helpfulness.

We couldn’t agree with her more when she says, “a businesses’ success is highly dependent on the front-line employees who interact with the customer(s).”

Jason’s employer says he goes above and beyond to help and always puts the customer first.

When asked about his position, Jason says he tries to do his job to the best of his ability because it’s what he feels the customers deserve and that’s what is important to him.

“It is important to me to bring a little sunshine into everyone’s day if possible, I believe in the small town hospitality. The people I interact with are not only customers but they are also friends, family and neighbours so I always try the best I can.”


Vicki Fraser, Haliburton County Public Library

Vicki Fraser is the supervisor at the Dysart branch of the Haliburton County Public Library and according to her nomination, nobody puts the customer first better than she does. Vicki’s nominators say she does everything right and then goes beyond that. “She is invariably cheerful, eager to help in any way she can, and leaves you walking out the door happier than when you came in.”

When talking about herself at work Vicki says she loves her job and is fortunate to have terrific support from her administration office and branch staff. She says she provides each patron with her full attention and will go the extra step to leave them feeling satisfied and happy about their experience.

Vicki’s employer says she makes everyone feel special and “goes above and beyond with her dedication to making sure people have a good library experience.” Her job duties are vast but she remembers every individual’s reading tastes and makes book suggestions based on what she knows about each person’s reading preferences. No matter the reason for people coming to the library, Vicki always ensures their needs are met.

Vicki says it’s her pleasure to “meet, greet and serve all who enter the branch equally, be it members or visitors.”


Paul Walker, Walker’s Home Hardware

Paul Walker has been in the Home Hardware business for over 30 years and is “the one to go to for the best customer experience”, according to his nomination for the Customer First – Employee Award.

Summer residents are known to ask for Paul specifically when they return every year and many have followed him when he started working at Walker’s Home Hardware in Haliburton about a year and a half ago.

“It is widely known that [Paul] lives and breathes Home Hardware,” say his employers, Jerry and Dale Walker. They say Paul always puts the customer first and goes above and beyond to look after the customer’s needs. For Paul, that often means contacting other Home Hardware stores or delivering an item to a customer on his way home after work.

Paul says it’s important to him that the customer needs are met to the best of their ability. As the manager of the store, Paul says he has knowledge in every section of the store and makes sure to fully and continually train the staff in their departments.

Paul’s motto is customers come first and he employs the standard of “treat everyone as you would want to be treated.”


Cody Cox, Todd’s Independent

“Cody’s cheerful personality, joking nature and infectious smile has the ability to brighten your day.” That’s how the nomination reads for Cody Cox, and why he is a recipient of the Customer First – Employee Award. As a previous employee of Tim Horton’s in Haliburton, Cody would have people smiling just by serving them their morning coffee. Taking that contagious personality with him when he started working at Todd’s Independent, his employer said he always came to work with a smile. Cody says his ‘Customer First’ approach is that no customer should ever be dissatisfied or unhappy. He says he’s a person that tries to create a smile to brighten someone’s day. “This young man clearly loves life and doesn’t let the fact that he’s working get in the way of showing it,” his nomination reads. While Cody had to move out of the county to be with family, there’s no doubt his excellent customer service is lifting someone’s mood each and every day.


Terri Johnson, Hyland Crest, HHHS

Working in long term care as a Registered Practical Nurse for over 30 years, Terri Johnson says she wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Described as the “go to person” for her clients at Hyland Crest Nursing Home, Terri was nominated for the Customer First – Employee Award because of the excellent care she offers. Terri’s nominator says she takes the time to learn about her patients to give them the support they need. “She has become a trusted caregiver and is completely appreciated,” her nomination reads. Terri says no words can express the gratitude she has for her profession. She says she tries to make it her mission to “go outside the box to provide a holistic approach and make their time with us the best it can be. It is an immense privilege to walk alongside them in their journey”.

According to her employer, Terri is a remarkable employee. She always puts residents and families first and goes above and beyond to ensure the safety and outstanding care provided to residents. Terri recently moved into the role of RAI Co-ordinator at Hyland Crest. She works closely with the residents, their families and the nursing staff to identify needs, changes in condition and updates to care plans to ensure the residents receive the best possible care.

Terri’s employer says she’s always smiling and is a strong leader who the staff truly appreciate and rely on to help guide them.

When asked what’s important to her, Terri says “we have the power to ensure that the “kindness of others” exists for the future residents of long term care.”


Dave Adams, Sir Sam’s Inn & Water Spa

Dave Adams is the Chef de Cuisine at Sir Sam’s Inn & Water Spa, creating a custom menu daily. Dave’s nomination for the Customer First – Employee Award says he is humble in nature and always takes the time to help and assist a fellow co-worker and/or a guest visiting the county. Dave is described as a “true ambassador of this county” and provides food that is “beyond excellent”.

Dave says it’s important to him that the food leaving his kitchen is the best that it can be and he strives every day to make it better. In his day-to-day life at Sir Sam’s, Dave lists “integrity, honesty, hard work, striving to always produce the best that you can, and a good work ethic” as the things that matter most. He says a return guest at Sir Sam’s is not only beneficial to the inn’s success but to the broader community as well.

Dave’s employer says the customer always comes first for Dave and few people see how tirelessly he works behind the scenes. They say it’s rare for restaurants to have a chef that is as involved and takes on as many jobs as Dave does. “He is not just a humble man but a humble chef, well-liked by everyone and a consummate professional that puts the guest first before all else, time and again. According to Sir Sam’s, customer reviews frequently list the food as “outstanding” and “simply amazing”.

When asked what’s important to him, Dave says to “ask no one what you would not be prepared to do/give yourself. Lead by example.”


Sandy Stevens, Pinestone Resort

Sandy Stevens is the Front Office Manager for Pinestone Resort and Conference Centre. While she’s a fairly new addition to the team, her employer, John Teljeur, says it didn’t take long for her high level of customer service skills to shine through.

Sandy was nominated for the Customer First award because of her passion for what she does. “You just need to listen to her converse with a guest to know that she truly loves helping people no matter how big or small the task,” her nomination reads. Sandy was also nominated for her good heart which was demonstrated when she helped spearhead a project to help a local family in need.

Sandy says in order to facilitate great customer service, you need to build a customer conscious/centred team. “Becoming focused on what we can give rather than what we can personally gain is the starting point,” says Stevens. She says she deliberately looks for opportunities to enrich the lives of people she comes into contact with.

Teljeur explains that Sandy started as a prep cook in the kitchen, but it was very evident early on that her customer service skills were not being utilized. He says when they moved her to the front desk, she brought a new level of service there. Teljeur says Sandy genuinely cares about the people around her whether they are guests or team members, and she exudes both passion and compassion.

Stevens says one of her mantras is “I desire to be a part of the solution and not the problem.”


Ian Anderson, Chaulk Woodworking

Ian Anderson is responsible for the majority of residential and commercial sales at Chaulk Woodworking.

His nomination for this award explains how he continues to give up his own time to make sure every detail is perfect.

Ian says what’s critically important to him is listening to the client and not hard selling them. He says a new kitchen in particular is a large dollar investment for the vast majority of people and he respects and appreciates how hard people work for their income.

Ian’s employer, Trevor Chaulk, says he’s dedicated to putting the customer first on a daily basis.

Ian has worked for Chaulk Woodworking for two-and-a-half years and this year, Ian is taking on a new role as VP of Operations at Chaulk Woodworking.