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Seeking Advice

Author michaelnelms
#1 | Posted: 1 Sep 2009 13:56 
I am reaching out to every Customer Service person I know looking for some ideas on how to improve my support department. I know time is money and usually not cheap but any advice you can give would be appreciated. Here is my current situation in bullet point form.

1. Small support department. 5 people, 1 works remote
2. Small budget, very small. CEO still like to control the budget.
3. Looking to do more with less.
4. Reps are responsible for setting up new accounts, which requires them to work with large retailers. We have very little control of what goes on once the retailer is involved. I need to figure out a way for us to do more setups, faster.
5. Need to drive innovation. Not counting R&D, but internally within Support (which is staffed by $15/hour employees(avg))
6. Then all of the normal support stuff like call volume, satisfaction levels, call resolution, etc.. All with no systems or anything in place.
7. All on a homegrown CRM system that does a fraction of the tracking and metrics needed.

Thoughts? :)
Thank you in advance. Any advice is appreciated.


Author KarenSB
#2 | Posted: 4 Sep 2009 06:10 
Hi Michael,

A major undertaking...an entire overhaul of system, sans tools and resources, hey?

I feel and hear your pain. Been there...successfully, unsuccessfully, but always with some pain and ultimately, lots of growth personally and professionally. Gotta love it! I wish you all the best.

Using your bullets, what I see as the primary compelling needs are #4 and #6.

#6 - This might be impractical, but. There are tons of free - or very low cost - tools that you can use. My org is a not-for-profit, and this here economic recession they got going on has cut off 2/3s of our revenue stream (construction and local governments). We've just gone live with a new website that was built on free (open source) technology. We have a free CRM on the backend (sugar crm), and now can capture visitor data, run campaigns, get all sorts of report data, know who talked with whom, when, and what the outcomes were, etc. It was very difficult for boss-man to turn down "free."

#4 - I see this as a process flow issue...and perhaps a tighter methodology will help ease the pain. You control the process until The Big Boys step in, then you become the liaison/information gatherer and processor....? (My assumption). What does this look like on paper, all mapped out? What steps are taken? Are the steps the same for every transaction, or are there transactional variances?

Time is critical here ("need..to do more..., faster"), So if Point A is the very beginning, what steps are taken to get to Point B (the endgame), who is involved, what do your historical and anectdotal data tell you, and where oh where can you effect change to shore up the spongy spots?

If you map this out, good old fashioned paper and pencil (with a big eraser), I'm betting that patterns will emerge, ideas will flow, and you'll gain ground.

Michael, with regard to your #5...I don't know your situation, but my head is staying stuck on this one, so I'll do my best to capture my thoughts here without sounding like a total doofus.

Have you considered that this item is not best resolved by you, but rather by your support staff? I'll make some assumptions here that are probably fairly accurate: your staff know their jobs and how to get 'r done. That said, they know the tools and resources that are available, they know the systemic problems they need to overcome, and I'll bet dollars to doughnuts each of them have thoughts (valid or not, expressed or not) on improvements.

Money is not an effective long-term motivator. Being recognized as having value, however, is. Could you lay this problem at their feet (perhaps in some sort of structured manner), and give them the Captain Piccard: MAKE IT SO.

FWIW, staff who are jazzed can move mountains. Give 'em a project, and give them 'control' of their destiny. Sit back, offer guidance, and watch Stonehenge get built.

Just my two cents (devalued like my house, so maybe you can currently get 1/4000 street value) :-)

Good luck,

Author michaelnelms
#3 | Posted: 10 Sep 2009 14:46 

First, thank you for the awesome response. Now on to the meat and potatoes.

#6 - Thanks for the info. I presented SugarCRM to the boss before. His quote was "egh, I don't really like SugarCRM". I will continue me search.

#4 - We know this process is a 9 step process. Steps 1-5 and 8-9 are always the same (those are the ones we control 100%). Steps 6 and 7 have transactional variances. What we do know (based off of historical data) is who are our biggest problem spots (specific to retailers), how many days it takes to get from step 1 - 9 and how many hours are invested in those steps (as a whole). Trends show that even though steps 6 and 7 are "out of our hands", that is where we spend the majority (avg of 80%) of the time (doing things like following up with the retailer to make sure they did what they needed to do, taking calls from the customer about the status etc).

#5 - I have done just this. Months ago I started holding a bi-weekly meeting for the team to get together and make suggestions, present their ideas etc. We would then put them on a project list and launch "mini" projects to make these small changes (our own little SCRUM projects). This was working great until we got to the point where we could no longer run the projects within the support team and needed the help of other departments to do them. Then, they were not "high enough on the priority list" to require outside resources and our forward momentum stopped.

The tough part is the CEO is looking to me to "drive change" but we either lack the systems we need, or I cannot get the systems I need. I was told to "call the retailers myself and work with them to make it better, faster, easier". But at the end of the day, we have the same system, same, processes, same tools and same people. I feel like I am being asked to drive change, without being able to change anything.

My new obstacle is addressing the attendance issue (which is an accountability issue as well). We need to track when people get here, breaks and when they leave. But do so without any time clock or time clock feature (the CEO does not want to "go down that road"). Which in my mind leaves us open for some huge legal issues.

Another day in the life of a manager.

Author KarenSB
#4 | Posted: 15 Sep 2009 07:03 
Hi Michael,

Oye! Rock and hard place, hey?

Can you affect change by having a conversation with the retailers? Is there anything that can be done in re: steps 6-7? I'm certain you've been all over this, and I'll assume that everything that can be done, has been done.

What kind of learner is CEO? What gets his/her attention? Reason I ask is this: to get my attention, paint a picture with words/vision...add in some data (verbal is good), and I'm hooked. To get the attention of my boss, bring on the data in attractive reports (charts, graphs, numbers), be prepared to talk through every excrutiating detail, and be prepared for a resounding no today and a probable yes tomorrow.

My point is...have you used the best approach?

I love data, but my normal action is to broach with words/vision, and "what if" things to death. But I need to rein that in when I'm going for something that I really, really want. Then I have work hard for it: research, study, prepare.

BTW...your attendance issue....LOL!!! Right out of Dilbert...


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