The Customer Service Manager’s Challenge:

Article by Donna Earl

Most customer service managers are acutely aware of being caught in the middle. We feel the pressure from upper management and their goals, plans, and decisions. We also feel pressure from our department — the needs of our employees for support, information, resources, and often for explanation.

(What was management thinking?) If you’ve ever felt the pressure from both sides and wondered how to cope, read on for definition and awareness of your role plus some ideas to help cope productively with the “squeeze play.”

From upper management’s perspective, the customer service department is sometimes viewed as the “complaint department” — an organizational reform school for transforming angry customers into quiet customers. Sometimes our department is seen as a lower priority “step-child” behind Sales, Marketing, R + D, and other departments vying for attention and resources. As customer service managers, our primary role is to represent the value of the customer service function. The customer service department is the vanguard of our company’s customer service reputation. Our department is a powerful insurance policy in maintaining a loyal customer base. Studies estimate it costs 5 to 17 times more to generate a new customer than to keep the ones we have. Effective problem resolution is a powerful way to generate customer loyalty and positive word of mouth. Most people have either heard a positive customer service story from Nordstrom, or have a personal experience of their own to share. These shared stories are the most effective source of advertising. Our company’s reputation depends on positive customer relations. As our department’s function is no less important than the sales or advertising department, we represent it thus. We negotiate from a position of priority for resources (budget, training, tools, recognition, etc.)

We also represent the best interests of our department in management decisions. Most top managers have never had direct customer service management experience, and don’t know what makes the department thrive. We are responsible for representing the customer service function and its needs. The needs might include budget, tools, personnel, training, recognition, and especially supportive organizational policies and structures. On behalf of our employees and our department, we represent their best interests to upper management and affirm their value to the organization.

Just as we serve as an ombudsman for our employees to upper management, we are also responsible for interpreting upper management’s perspective to our people. Often management decisions make sense only when viewed from a larger perspective. We have access to the “big picture.” In sharing our interpretation we help people understand the company and the importance of their contribution. They become more knowledgeable about their role in the company. They gain a sense of purpose and commitment. Customer service managers strengthen the role of the department by implementing ten key actions:

  • Circulate results of customer satisfaction surveys.
  • Publish customer service victories.
  • Reinforce value by researching how much company spends to acquire a new customer.
  • Document cases of “valued customers/business saved” and estimate dollar savings to the company.
  • Promote alliances with other departments and champion interdepartmental communication.
  • Document potential career paths for Customer Service Representatives so the job won’t be perceived as “dead end” or “low end”.
  • Manage positively and develop “esprit de corps.” Make your department the “in” place to work.
  • Read current industry and customer service publications to stay informed and motivated.
  • Encourage employees to develop visibility and professionalism.
  • Train people thoroughly. If training budget is limited, train them yourself.

Copyright © 2003 Donna Earl. All rights reserved.

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