In some of my past articles I have covered customer service in the context of providing better equipment and products. We all know that if we have happy customers, we will keep them for many years; and, hopefully, they will grow their businesses and we will grow ours. There are times when something unpleasant happens that was caused by our company, and our customers do not convey to us that negative experience. It may have been a late delivery, poor attitude from one of our departments, broken equipment, bad-tasting coffee or a competitor quoting lower prices and making our company look like we are gouging them on pricing.
Whatever prompts it, that dreaded call comes in and we hear, "pick up your equipment, we now have another service." We then ask,"why are you canceling our service? I thought that you were very happy." The answers given are really not accurate overall, especially if the problem has to do with pricing. Most customers do not want to admit that they did not give you a shot at re-quoting your prices, since most of the time the difference is a small percentage of what you were charging.
If the complaint is about a service issue, you most likely would not have known unless there was a call to the office. Service people, as well as telephone customer service personnel, will, in general, not tell you that they made mistakes. The only way to find out is if your customers call to complain. However, there are hints along the way that could have alerted you that there was a possible problem with your account. Some of those hints are a reduction in order volume, calls about prices, inquiries about larger or single-cup brewers and complaints about their coffee tasting weak or bitter.
The larger your customer base, the harder it is for you to respond to every small hint that there could be a problem brewing, especially if you are not the person who handles most of your customers. Think back to when your company was small, when you and each of your customers knew one another on a first-name basis. You created a rapport with each buyer, and you knew that if they were unhappy, they would be loyal to you and tell you that they were having a problem. You would respond immediately to make them happy.
The normal sequence, as you expanded and had to shift over to running the operations side of your OCS, was to start by hiring your first outside sales representative; her/his responsibility was to obtain new accounts. You most likely structured a compensation plan that gave the salesperson a large dollar amount for every new client and a commission (residual) for all allied products that were sold to that client. This residual was short or long term, but never enough to concern the salesperson if an account was suddenly lost after it had been on the books for a year or more.
This is the dilemma for management. Should I be able to charge back commissions for lost accounts if the salesperson does not revisit them on a regular basis, or not charge back? You also know that when the sales staff must revisit their existing accounts regularly, they lose valuable selling time.
Now that your firm has expanded over the years, and the personal rapport you had with your clients has vanished and your sales staff is busy putting on new business, you have to make a major decision -- Hire an outside customer service representative! "Oh no, I can't afford to pay someone else to service my accounts," you say? Well, I believe that you can't afford not to. You see, you think that this extra person will be an expense. I have always felt that he or she is an investment in expanding your company, in several ways.
Firstly, a CSR will save you numerous customers over time. This rep is in the field and, if a problem arises, can be called at a moment's notice and directed to get over to see an unhappy customer and resolve any issue that has arisen. Problem now solved, and no need for the client to call in another service. Secondly, a CSR who is trained properly will increase your allied sales and expand the menu of services you provide to many of your accounts. Thirdly, a CSR will get referrals from your accounts and expand your client base by selling many of those referred prospects. Lastly, over time, good CSRs may want to become outside salespeople, who will then bring in new business through door-to-door selling.
Now that a decision has been made to hire a CSR, you have to plan for the new position to generate as much profit as possible. Next month, I will go into detail on the CSR's role in your company, and how to plan his or her visits to your existing accounts.
Please let me know whether you have hired CSRs and, if you have, how they've have worked out for you. I can be reached at (516) 241-4883, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
LEN RASHKIN is a pioneer in office coffee service. He founded Coffee Sip in 1968 and after 22 years merged it with Dell Coffee, of which he became president in 1991. Sales at Dell topped $7 million dollars. Rashkin is also a founder and officer of Eastern Coffee Service Association and National Beverage Products Association. His industry honors include NCSA's (now NAMA) Silver Service Award and NBPA's Lifetime Achievement Award; he was inducted into NBPA's Hall of Fame in 1996. His marketing excellence earned him NBPA's Crystal Bean Award and three NCSA Java Awards. He is a frequent speaker at national and local trade conferences, consults on OCS sales and marketing and has is the author of two OCS training programs.