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Advice wanted...

Author deanpanderson
#1 | Posted: 2 Oct 2006 14:36 
The current structure of our organization basically has me answering directly to the President/CEO and Chairman of the company. They are founders of the company and we are relatively still a small but growing company.

My challenge is that we keep getting more and more duties and responsibilities assigned to this department. Now we are involved with site production, client training and consulation, quality control, and even marketing. I can see the positive in wanting to prove that I can handle this, but honestly, where do I draw the line? I am observing that each rep has too wide of a responsibility, does that affect their morale?

What can I do as the Manager of customer service when it seems like we are doing 5 times more jobs than what most people perceive a cs department should do?

Thanks in advance!

Author xenoranger
#2 | Posted: 3 Oct 2006 09:19 
OK, I was in the same position a while back. I was not only CSM, but performing the functions of 6 other departments.

List the activities that are being performed by each rep and the aproximate time spent on each activity. You'll have to be patient, and run this for at least a week (if you don't already have statistics on this). Then file a PAF (Personelle Acquisition Form) and submit copies of your reports on who's doing what. So long as you can back up your position that there is a need for additional manpower with solid documentation, they can't in good conscious refuse a PAF.

Author KarenSB
#3 | Posted: 3 Oct 2006 15:19 
Hi Dean,

First, congratulations on having a CSM position that reports directly to CEO. That's a rare opportunity, but exactly where I've always believed the position should be.

That said, what does the CEO think about this? Have you broached the subject with him/her at all? For what it's worth, I would. To not do so is second guessing what his/her expectations are, and if you guess incorrectly, there could be some fallout. And I wouldn't address this from the perspective of "we're drowning in work and where do you think I should draw the line?", but rather from the perspective of "where do you see this going, and at what point (or what justifications are necessary) do we add staff?"

Another thought...have you analyzed the process flow as well as your talent to ensure that your department is currently running at optimum efficiency? It could be that your reps have too wide of a range, and changing the workflow and/or some processes may help.

As far as perceptions of what a CS department should do...perhaps it is time to write a vision statement for your department. Who do you serve? Internal or external customers? Both? If both, who has the priority? Why does your department exist? What is it's basic function? Sometimes I find that when I feel others need to change their perception, it turns out that mine was the one that needed changing. First I have to define what IT is...then I can address it.

Good luck!

Author deanpanderson
#4 | Posted: 3 Oct 2006 16:06 
Thank you both for the excellent advice! It's nice to know I was generally headed in the direction of the "PAF" however it is really helpful to get some affirmation.

I am in the process of running an "Individual efficiency evaluation" program where I spend a week observing, analyzing and documenting each of my members to determine wokload capacity, efficiency and to improve processes. I am using the current tools we have recently implemented (Call recording, new ticket system, and a workload update twice a day). I am starting to see certain improvements that I can make.

Since we are in the internet advertising industry, we do service both internal and external clients, with external clients holding the priority. However, we do feel pressure from our internal clients (namely, the sales team) because they work so hard to bring new clients in and they expect our department to keep them.

What is frustrating is that a lot of cancellations that occur cannot be helped no matter how excellent our level of service may be. We feel the heat and our processes are examined with a fine-tooth comb every time a client cancels.

Don't get me wrong, I am the biggest promoter of the "look inside first" philosophy. I don't seek to blame, rather I want to discover more what I CAN do to effect change (actually how I discovered this wonderful forum).

It looks like I have much to work with just in the above comments! Thanks again and I will give this my best effort.

Author KarenSB
#5 | Posted: 4 Oct 2006 14:05 
I was with an organization that was managed in a similar manner...sales sold and CS serviced...and CS was put through the wringer with every cancellation, even if it was budget-driven on the client side. Then, since we had the service revenue factored in our operating budget, we were expected to make up the monetary loss elsewhere...yet sales sold, not CS. It's a tough spot.

I have no idea if this would have any bearing for you whatsoever, but one thing that helped to alleviate being between the rock and the hard place was the implementation of service level agreements. I defined each level of service (with appropriate pricing), then wrote and published a methodology for each service level. All staff (including sales) were trained on the service levels and associated methodologies. These were widely published, in fact became the absolute de facto and still are in use today. They helped to detail to all interested parties exactly what would happen and when and why.

We got two-fers and even three-fers out of this. These methodologies became the guidelines for all work processes in the department, they became the roadmap for sales, and they provided perfect talking points with clients, especially new clients who were undertaking projects that were foreign to them.

Our effectiveness and efficiency rose exponentially, which obviously better served the clients as well as the staff. We also gained respect from the sales team, and situations that once had been the source of animosity became talking points for increased communication and mutual support.

Best wishes,

Author deanpanderson
#6 | Posted: 11 Oct 2006 17:09 
That is excellent Karen!

I would like more information, perhaps a model on "service level agreements?"
I am not sure how I could apply to my situation, but I am open to any idea that will help my department function better with the Sales department.

There seems to be a lot of crossover in terms of service. The Sales reps are commission based and are set up to recieve a percentage of the revenue they generate for the company. This is set-up to be residual, so it is clear that their motivation for "customer service" would of course be to prevent income loss.

My department is paid hourly and, in a sense, does not have motiviation to work harder to keep clients (well, other than losing their job, or some bonus incentives) compared the sales team. Then i get complaints from the Sales manager that the sales team is spending too much time with "customer service" of their clients and not bringing in new business, which is their main function. Does something seem out of place?

That is why I am wondering if their should be a different team created. One for new business and one for client retention, AND in addition, a typical call center for tech service and training.

What do you think?

Author KarenSB
#7 | Posted: 14 Oct 2006 05:52 
Hi Dean,

If you Google service level agreements (or SLA) you should be able to access a lot of different models.

My assumption: Sales turns over a new client, and if the sailing is smooth, there are no issues. But when the waters get choppy (customer is unhappy), there's "triangulated" strife, i.e., Sales vs. CS, Sales vs. Customer, CS vs. Customer. And everyone points fingers at one another. In my experience, Customer Service NEVER comes out of these triangles very well.

I would analyze the situation to determine core communciations failure...because surely that is the root cause. Customer's expectation is one thing, delivery of service is another. Did Sales promise something that wasn't communicated to CS? Did Sales promise something that wasn't in CS's capability to deliver? Did CS promise something that couldn't be delivered, outside of the knowledge of Sales? Did customer exaggerate a situation to manipulate an outcome? (Happens all the time).

In my humble, the best way to circumvent is to have clear expectations for all parties, i.e., bridge the gap before the gap is created. I like to build a strong, mutually beneficial relationship with Sales by answering some key questions: What is Sales' expectation of CS? How can CS best support the goals of Sales (from SALES' perspective)? At what level of customer dissatisfaction does CS need to give Sales a heads-up? At what level of customer dissatisfaction does Sales need to step in? If Customer says X happened and we BOTH know that it could not have possibly happened in that manner, how will we address it with the customer without "throwing each other under the bus?"

Meeting with the Sales Manager to hammer out details is always a must for me. I can't properly serve them nor the clients without a crystal-clear understanding of what their expectations are. This also serves as the opportunity to delineate exactly what CS can and cannot support. Sales may feel that CS is responsible for X, when you know full well that CS cannot possibly support X. Thus, educating Sales on what CS is capable of helps alleviate strife.

Having gained an understanding of Sales' expectations of my team, I would then evaluate the structure of my team, and make any necessary changes. Which really means that you need to have intimate knowledge of the capabilities of each of your team memers. Some people absolutely collapse under pressure from an unhappy customer. Some people can "read between the lines" and accurately predict when a relationship is turning sour. Some people know exactly what is/what not is important to communicate internally (for example, Customer tells CS they just received a promotion. That is really good information to share with Sales, helps cement relationship with Customer. Some service workers do not understand the importance of sharing that). Build your service teams making sure that the appropriate talent is on each team.

After gaining an in-depth understanding of how CS is to support Sales, and after structuring (or re-structuring) the CS team to deliver, then I would document and publish the outcome, whether internally, externally or both. (Thus the methodology to support the service level).

And, when a Customer relationship "goes down the tubes," I always, always, always interview the Customer to determine how they feel their needs were not met. "Can you tell me what happened?" "How did my staff react?" "What could we have done/what should we have done?" Then, perhaps most importantly, I always, always, always share those outcomes with Sales.

As far as sales gets commissions and CS gets hourly with not much incentive...there are reasons for that. And the reasons lie with the talent in question. Generally speaking, people are in CS because they don't want to have anything to do with sales and selling. Inherently, they understand that in Sales it's feast or famine, and that level of risk is not acceptable to them. They understand that they get a lesser wage in good times. They also understand that they have a dependable, steady income in bad times. In other words, they have made a career choice, so don't fret about it. Of course you'll hear grumbling from time to time, especially when CS feels that they have saved a relationship that Sales screwed up. People need to vent, and I wouldn't put much weight to that, unless it is creating a morale issue within the department.
Generally, recognition of a job well done is all that a CS rep really wants or needs.

Sorry for the long post, Dean! To answer your question from what you have described, yes, something seems out of place. I have always found that lack of clear communication is the culprit. And I believe that once that is understood, it becomes MY job to open the pipes and get people talking constructively.

As always, take what you want and leave the rest! I hope that you'll find some of this to be helpful.


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