- Created on Tuesday, 03 January 2006 03:56
- Written by Ed Nevins
When I begin working with a company, the first thing I want to do is go out on the routes. The client may have the most technologically advanced plant in the world, purchase the finest textiles or uniforms and have state of the art route accounting. But it’s not about processing data or textiles. It’s about service.
Service happens on the routes by the route representative. You can make the job harder in the plant, the office or the boardroom. But a good route service rep can work miracles in the area of customer understanding and tolerance. Even when everyone and everything else in the organization isn’t working up to par.
So what should you look for in a service rep? It’s not about route efficiency, clerical accuracy or product knowledge. It’s about ownership, attitude and a commitment to service. One of the best indicators of an effective service rep is observing what he or she knows about the customer.
Initially I look for name recognition. Recently I was riding along with a rep that greeted eight people he ran into in the course of delivering one account by name. It is also important to see a depth of recognition of the individuals in the account and an understanding of their business. Remembering names is of little long-term value if the rep doesn’t know who the person is behind the label. “How was your daughter’s graduation?” and “Congratulations on getting that federal contract,” are music to my ears.
I also look for the “we”. Particularly at times when a “they” would have been more comfortable. “Sorry, we couldn’t get that size change out to you this week.” instead of “Sorry, the plant told me that they couldn’t get it for you this week.”
Ownership is crucial. Every effective service rep I have ever met is a team player who is not afraid to take a hit for the good of the team. They may come in at the end of the day and want to have a discussion about the awkward situation another team member put them in by not following through, but at the customer’s location they take responsibility for the service -good and bad.
I have also seen cases where disgruntled service reps have actually eroded their routes to extinction by lamenting the shortcomings of the company to their customers. Often the customer felt loyalty to the rep, but were so “understanding” of his personal helplessness in solving their problems that they felt compelled to shift their business.
Much of my time as a consultant is also spent in the field riding with sales reps and critiquing their techniques. On cold calls it’s not uncommon to run into a prospect that will tell you they are not enthralled with their current supplier, but wouldn’t think of changing unless their service rep retires or dies. Your reps are the personification of your service. Without their expertise and commitment, service becomes commodity, price becomes paramount, and loyalty evaporates.
I can usually pretty accurately rank the caliber of a company’s route reps, sight unseen, by looking at three numbers: route sales, losses and price increases. Think about it. Then take a look at the numbers in your own operation.
It’s all about getting personal. An exceptional service rep is not merely a delivery driver to the customer. That’s why decades ago “driver” became a dirty word in this industry.
But to this day even some of the largest and most profitable companies in the industry just don’t get it. Exceptional reps bond with the customer personally and professionally. They form a partnership from which the customer derives a feeling of importance, and value.
It’s not uncommon during one of my tours in the jump seat to hear a customer tell a rep “Your competitor was in here and I told him we were happy with our service.” It’s also sadly common for me to walk in with someone and be told, “We’ve got another service. Please get your stuff out of here.” Both events could happen to anyone, but the former happens far more frequently to someone who owns their route, and the latter happens more often to one who merely runs it.
Try this exercise:
During a service meeting put a piece of paper in front of each service rep with the name of their largest account on it. Ask them to write down the following information:
- List everyone you know in the account by first name and anything personal or professional you know about them.
- How is their business doing?
- What do they do?
- How did we get the account?
- Have we added any additional services since they started with us?
- What does our service mean to them?
- When is the contract up for renewal?
- Who in the company decides on renewal?
- How comfortable are you that the customer will renew with us, and why?
- What, if anything, would cause them to switch to a competitor?
Have a volunteer share their answers and conduct an open discussion of the value of such information. Then ask all the reps to pick one of their accounts and provide the same information about them at the next meeting. I suggest doing this monthly. Should you decide to do so, keep a tally on the information derived from this exercise that directly influenced retention or increased business. I expect you will find the results surprising.
Everyone in your organization is important to success, but your service reps, and the supervisors and managers who support them, are 99% of the company to your customers. Your service rep is the most visible extension of your team. The more effectively and expediently the rep and the organization work together translating the customer’s needs into superlative service, the more likely you are to keep them.
Ed Nevins is an independent sales and service consultant based in Peabody, MA. He has more than 30 years of experience in the uniform and textile service industry. His company, EJN Consulting, services an international clientele involved it the textile, insurance, finance, retail, accounting and aerospace industries. Information may be requested online at http://www.ejnconsulting.com
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