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Call Center versus Relationship Center

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#1   Posted: 20 Aug 2007 13:01

I was hired in last November as a Director of Customer Service for a rapidly growing high-end plumbing and heating systems business from Germany. They have only been in the US since 1998. Hiring in as a director I assumed that they wanted to add customer service as a strategic element to the overall business. However, in the past several months there have been signs that tell me my views of how customer service plays overall in the company and what my bosse's view are very different. Since we fall under operations he has more of a call center mentality as well as we are beginning to setup an inside sales team. Now having my first chance to setup my budget I have dramatically increased my travel schedule to be out visiting customers with our salespeople and also giving my direct reports that opportunity as well. He has twice slashed my proposals without even talking with me. How do I communicate/convince him the worth of having customer service involved at a higher level and doing more relationship building, not just taking orders and answering questions as well as being a checking point for all customer related changes.

#2   Posted: 20 Aug 2007 13:40

I can sympathize with you as I have been in CS for a long time - over 30 years- 27 with my present company.

They want the 'world class' customer service but don't want to spend the money to have the reps meet the customers. There are customers that I have dealt with for 20 years or more and have never met.

I hate to travel so I am not upset by this. I have formed the relationships by my timely and accurately processing of orders and problems and always emailing or calling my customers after any issue or order to follow up.

Over the years, I have been at some shows where I have met the customers but all in all, most of the reps here have never been outside the building to visit a customer. I disagree with it but once it costs money to do things- then CS goes to the bottom of the pile.

We are now part of supply (previously part of sales). I think until a CS department stands alone with an upper level management person totally dedicated to seeing that CS is part of the process and solution will it change.

I also think it leaves a bad taste in the reps mouths when only the manager gets to visit the customers and they do not as they are the ones that handle the day to day interactions. Morale is affected and I don't think upper management really cares unless it affects them or sales directly. Since most good CS reps can handle the calls and orders from a 'call center' or inside sales situation, they will not get the chance to get out there..

Good luck...let me know how you make out..

#3   Posted: 20 Aug 2007 16:13

Cmolen, when I read your posting, I see two ways I need to interpret the situation. One is picturing you coming in as a new person heading up a CS group, and the other is picturing what this CS group was, is, is perceived to be, and what the uppermost management wants it to be.

When I look at the "you" version, I think you want to backtrack and see what was literally said about what was intended for your role when they originally met you (and rightly so). Were there indications this company would not see the CS employees as the higher crust of relationship management that you want to build in them? (That they would not be considered "senior enough"?) If so, then you would want to take those historical impressions and conversations into account when assessing your own satisfaction with the taste in your mouth right now.

Also on the "you" track, I think you have an issue with your boss (not sure if that is a VP or otherwise) slashing ideas/allocated budget without even discussing with you. You would be right to have an issue with that. I don't know what the terms and boundaries would be at your company, but I would think that a director is the next layer (after your boss) of holding a vision on what a division of people will do, and the ownership of where money goes and where the empowerment in the ranks reporting into that larger umbrella ought to be in your hands... and it's up to you and the next one up from you to work out how agreement/disagreement is worked out. There's a misalignment of vision there (not necessarily enormous.

From my most realistic as well as optimistic perspective, I can see more than one possibility where relationship management can take new heights for the people in the CS group (and I am starting to segue into that other interpretive path). Part of me sees this as very costly and not automatically worth it from a brass tacks mindset. A lot of people who look for dividing lines between account management and project management and "service" itself ought to be interested in this part of my reply. You could say that the ownership of the relationship between how a group of CS professionals and the company is more of an account management role than one in the CS arena. That wouldn't sit well with some other posters, but I know this is how some companies need to operate. In your company, I think the higher ranks of customer service have a greater opportunity at being involved in the relationship with clients signing onto business contracts. In others, that isn't how it works, and a "workforce management" approach is fostered instead, and employees in CS either leave the company or move to a different function of the company or stay if they are getting what they want. (Very broad brush there.)

One of the reasons why it could be important for clients to meet CS people is that clients usually like having one point of contact they can rely on if there are going to be frequent interactions between businesses. They want a person and not menu options. If it's not possible for travel to be expensed for multiple CS individuals in your company, then whenever clients are on site at your place, then you can maximize the opportunities for them to meet the CS staff. Results-minded clients sometimes want to see who they or their people are dealing with--and sometimes who is being entrusted to take on tasks that are being farmed out.

And a reason I think it would be important to empower at least some of the CS staff to be more engaged with client relationships is that when you create echelons within the department you are allowing for stages of growth, and if your company wants to induct a certain number of client relationship builders, then there is plenty of room for that career growth to start with people that work in CS, as they may move into sales or other types of operations or management. (Unless they want to stay in CS longer, which is not the environment within which I work, due to the nature of the company/industry and the types of people we attract.)

Without having Clue One as to the reasons for your boss slashing without even discussing (which I don't condone, if that's literally how it happened), I wonder if that person has done any of the thinking I rambled up above. If there are ways to retain good employees that can represent the product and the identity that you guys have, then there are ways to find to grow them in the organization that do not have to amount to them traveling to see clients at the expense of your company. (I see this as a sales or pre-sales function.)

I don't see a lot on what you think about the inside sales team that you are setting up. Does the design of this group fit in with what you want to accomplish?

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