CSR’S CHANGING ROLE — GREAT CUSTOMER SERVICE
On the other hand, show me an organization with mediocre-to-poor customer service and I’ll show you an organization with disgruntled sales reps, higher than normal customer attrition, and suffering productivity and bottom line margins.
There are no substitutes for great customer service. It’s the “heartbeat” that every client evaluates from a supplier. From changing customers’ needs and expectations, customer service’s influence is expanded beyond anything most of us ever imagined.
In today’s dynamic market conditions, your customer service reps (CSRs) impact: (a) the productivity and morale of your sales reps, (b) the effectiveness of your plant (and suppliers), and (c) the degree of “preferred vendor” your customers reflect.
A client’s president recently asked, “What should our CSRs be doing that’s new to the position?” Here’s a beginning outline of their changing role that may cause you to reflect on opportunities to improve your entire organization’s productivity.
First, let’s think about calling the position “account manager.” On a day-to-day basis, it’s most likely your CSRs who are managing the account’s interaction with your company, and thus your organization’s productivity.
Here are but a few of the responsibilities we see being implemented that aren’t in most CSR job position descriptions. (And, as you review these items, ask yourself, “Does our internal education and training address any of these issues?”):
1) Capturing and reporting of customer complaints.
It’s the rare organization that takes “customer complaints” seriously—to the point that any complaint is required to be documented and forwarded to a central position for review and followup. What most organizations “know,” but don’t yet deal with, is that most of their customer complaints result from just a few processes and structural flaws. The CSR is the person most often to hear and/or record the “customer’s complaint.”
2) Reporting all missed customer opportunities.
Recently I interviewed about a dozen key employees at a prospective client. During one-on-one sessions with CSRs and sales reps, I uncovered numerous jobs being returned to customers for “lack of proper equipment and resources.” I asked, “Is anyone tracking how often this is occurring, and the details of who and what? The fact that this organization has averaged more than 10 percent revenue growth, and an improving bottom line, to me is irrelevant. (P.S.: No one was tracking the amount of work being returned.)
3) Customizing requests for estimates.
Estimate requests are managed by many CSRs. And they usually have access to intimate customer information, not to mention daily (even hourly) contact. Too often, an estimate is “generated” from the estimator, and goes back to the client with nothing that differentiates the supplier. Now place yourself in the buyer’s position—reviewing three quotations from three suppliers that look like they were generated from the same software. Is it any wonder that “low price wins” has become the poster child for our industry’s low profits?
4) Accessing and coordinating critical technical resources within your organization.
Whether we’re dealing with (a) file preparation, (b) accessing digital images, (c) database management for personalization, or (d) postal regulations, every sales rep, CSR and customer is usually not an expert on everything that’s technically evolving in this great industry.
If the customer needs advice and counsel, the CSR is often the lead person with the opportunity to access and coordinate invaluable resources for your target accounts.
5) Researching target account-useful information for a sales rep.
Research takes time, and needs to be timely. Someone recently pointed out that a great CSR needs to be able to do everything that the sales rep does, except open new business. That said, providing the salesperson with needed research about a major new or current account can make the difference in that sales rep’s productivity. Such skills can also impact a customer who needs selective information, but lacks the resources and time. If differentiation counts, providing needed information is more than worthwhile.
6) Obtaining updated customer profiles.
This entails gathering names, titles and e-mails for company communications (including self-promotion) to a target account’s “enlarged buying centers.” Most graphic communications organizations do not have an updated mailing list or e-mail directory. More importantly, the design of that directory does not call for “the enlarged buying center,” which includes your target account’s president, CFO and director of sales and marketing, along with the buyer’s assistant and supervisor.
7) Preparing materials for “new buyers.”
Buyer turnover is a primary cause of customer attrition. Developing a renewed working relationship with new buyer personnel is required if customer turnover is to be reduced. Sales reps should stay on the road, and usually aren’t the best at organizing such programs. A CSR trained in organizing “new buyer program” materials will not only improve the sales rep’s productivity, but also impact customer retention and future revenue streams.
8) Preparing materials and the agenda for an all-important Periodic Business Review.
Periodic Business Reviews (a.k.a. PBRs) are slowly becoming expected. The degree to which they are prepared and implemented drives their effectiveness. A small, but growing, number of companies are institutionalizing the PBR, having experienced profound revenue and margin improvement from salespeople willing to “push the activity.”
CSRs should not only participate, but be an integral part in their preparation and agenda development.
9) Handling bad news.
Most of us have observed at least one case where a salesperson failed to notify the customer of something that wasn’t going to happen when promised. The CSR knew, but believed it was the salesperson’s role to “make the call to the customer.” However, if the supplier’s reputation is an outgrowth of performance and communications, and the CSR has more day-to-day contact with the customer than anyone else, then who do you think the customer might have expected to hear from? Certainly making unpleasant calls to the client is a challenge, but not making such a call isn’t the answer. And I submit that reliable CSR communications are a primary reason that customers stay with a current supplier.
CSRs need to know their sales reps’ performance objectives and goals—customer by customer, quarter by quarter—in writing. If the salesperson hasn’t develop that information, then he/she should, and it should be systematically updated to the supporting CSR team. A CSR that has that information can be proactive in support of those account performance objectives. If they don’t know, they’re reduced to a “reactive position.”
Another important consideration is a signed confidentiality agreement. Customers are increasingly looking for suppliers that can manage intimate information, such as customer lists and products sold to those customers. If a buyer hasn’t asked you about your policies for managing their confidential information, you should go ahead and initiate the process. Just being able to say that you have strong policies in place to protect your customer’s information not only elevates your credibility, but it also improves the value of your company.
A great customer service department leader who can develop a strong CSR team can accomplish great things. The position has profound—even unparalleled influence, responsibility and impact—on your organization’s accomplishments and future. To deny, neglect, or totally miss this position’s potential contributions is to possibly “lose the game—early.” PI
About the Author
Chadwick Consulting’s mission is to improve company and individual performance in the graphic communications industry through business development—resulting from research, strategy development, education and training, and publishing. Sid Chadwick can be reached at (336) 945-0645 or www.chadwickconsulting.com.