A major responsibility of the customer service manager is the maintenance of flawless records of account activity indicating previous shipments of particular products, reordering frequency, returned goods rate, satisfaction with service and product, and ordering consistency. These are but a few of the indicators of the quality of relationship between the company and customer. Accurate records form the basis for future marketing and distribution plans.
The customer service manager must constantly be aware of peculiarities in the accounts to provide for the correction of problems, both for the customer and for the company. Errors in shipping, billing, order entry, or product allocation cause ill will among customers (and the sales force) and increase costs as the company "makes good" by shipping the correct goods the second time around.
To perform the services to the customer, coordination must take place among the other functions of distribution. The customer service manager assures proper allocation of products to areas where sales or promotions are taking place. Customers must be able to build up inventories during peak seasons and be assured that rush orders are handled with speed, that orders arrive on schedule and intact, that appropriate displays are delivered, that billing policies are equitable, and so on. Although these needs are sometimes the responsibilities of other groups within the firm, the customer service department initiates most corrective actions to solve discrepancies.
The customer service manager evaluates factors such as sales procedures, order systems, advertising effectiveness, product quality, shipping efficiency, and product allocation, all of which lead to better service to the customer and cost savings to the firm. Evaluation of billing success and order consistencies can indicate the value of certain customers to the firm.
The customer service manager also attends trade shows during the year. The purpose of this is twofold: to promote the firm's new products for the coming season and to observe other offerings that will eventually compete in the marketplace.
In addition to the necessary skills required for any marketing position, unusually high levels of tolerance and patience are needed by the customer service manager. The customer service manager takes corrective or supportive measures to satisfy the customer's claims. But initially, the customer service manager has to listen to the customer, who generally equates the former with the company. (Remember taking the rap for shaving the neighbor's cat when your little sister really did it? Multiply the frustration, tie in dollar signs, and you have an understanding of the role of the customer service department.)
Question - What type of career path did you follow?
Answer - People starting out in this company start as an order entry clerk, physically taking the orders from the customer and salespeople and putting them into the computer. Then they could expect to work their way up to a customer service representative, where they would be dealing with some customers and salespeople but not with the top sales managers or the key accounts. They would be dealing with some of the smaller accounts. That path takes them to the key account representative, who deals with the key accounts and the district sales managers. From that point, there are actually a couple of paths they can take. One is to the order entry supervisor or to the customer service supervisor. So there are really two areas-order entry and customer service-and both report to the customer service manager. Starting from order entry clerk up to customer service supervisor or order entry supervisor takes three to five years.
Question - What are some of your responsibilities?
Answer - Right now, for example, we're being pressed for shipments, to get dollars out the door. It's the "order, order, who has the order?" game. There are so many millions of dollars in the system, and the people at the top are asking, "Who's got them? Where are they?" It's my job to find them, to track them down, and to make sure they keep moving. Once they leave customer service, they go to physical distribution and then to the warehouses. Once they leave here, I start pushing the physical distribution coordinator to get the stuff shipped. Even though it's out of my hands, it's still my responsibility in the end to make sure shipments take place on time.
In new product situations, I have to assign somebody to find out from our marketing and accounting departments about the quantities and what the prices should be. Once that is offered to our salespeople, we start tracking all the incoming orders and so forth. We must keep the open order files as current as possible, cleaning up dead orders, orders that have gone astray, orders that have been printed in error, orders that show being printed but have never been printed. I have to keep everything up to snuff.
I supervise customer service operations other than order entry. I'm the liaison between customers and salespeople, and I coordinate in-house departments, such as inventory control, marketing, and sales, with the outside world. I observe the movement of shipping orders, allocation of critical product, and distribution of new product.
Everything feeds through this department right here. We also coordinate closeouts, products that are out of line that were in our line last year, and the method of disposal, which is through different channels of distribution.
If a salesperson has a problem, a delivery schedule or something not running smoothly, they either go through the people who work for me or come directly to me. The same thing is true with customers. If they are not satisfied with the answers that they are getting from the people who work for me, they come directly to me. I deal with customers and salespeople on an exception basis.
I have to make sure programs are administered properly and to make sure that one customer doesn't get too much product and another one gets nothing. Being in the type of business that we are in, it's kind of a touchy situation. If one store has all products on the shelf and the one next door has none, the second store's manager takes a walk over and looks at the item that was ordered and never received. There's obviously a problem.