At T&S, we’ve long been known for our outstanding customer service. From going above and beyond with product testing and certifications to making same day shipping a priority, we think most of our customers would give us an A+ for meeting their needs. But taking things for granted isn’t the way we do business at T&S so, recently, we embarked on a mission of having our service department become a “world class contact center,” with the goal of establishing some very specific and challenging goals and becoming even more responsive to customer needs.
The T&S customer service team includes 13 representatives at our main site in South Carolina, two at our distribution facility in California, and three clerical/data entry associates. Our facility in China also has a customer service call center, which operates independently. Says Customer Service Manager Glenn Evans, “The T&S customer service team has an average tenure of 13 to 15 years. That’s unusual—and it’s wonderful!—because, usually, in the middle of trying to get things done, a company constantly has to train new employees. We don’t have that issue. Not only does a finely trained, experienced team make it easier to handle a lot of calls and emails, it affords the opportunity to ‘show some love’ to the customer—and the T&S team definitely loves their customers! They make every one of them feel important; I can consistently rely on that.”
Evans has a long and proven track record in contact center management, but he’s fairly new to the manufacturing environment. Coming in as an outsider to oversee this team of T&S veterans presented an immediate challenge. “Team dynamics are complex. No matter what type of team—sports, church, work, whatever—when you add someone new, in this case, me, you always have to go back to the beginning because there are four stages to team building: one, forming; two, storming; three, norming; and four, performing. As the head of the team, it’s my job to try and interpret where the team’s going to go, but, as the new guy, I first have to get to know each member individually and make a personal connection. These ladies [T&S has an all-female customer service team] know T&S products inside and out, so I have a lot to learn from them—even though I’m technically the teacher.”
AT T&S, unlike many organizations—including those with which Evans has worked in the past—the customer service team handles customer phone calls and emails simultaneously. “Handling both is a challenge,” explains Evans, “especially in terms of keeping the service level at an exceptional rate. In 2014, we answered 84.5% of our calls in 30 seconds or less; in the first quarter of 2015, we improved that metric to a 90.15% service level.” That improvement came through various means, including an adjustment of routing schemes, more involvement of the company’s California customer service team, and a daily/hourly review of customer calling patterns to ensure that customers are being cared for in a timely manner. “Another important metric we’re currently focusing on is reducing our abandoned call rate,” says Evans. “That number has gone from an average of 5.06% in 2014 to 3.6% in thus far in 2015.”
There are more improvements to come. A new facility has already provided more space and functionality for the China operation, and the installation of new CRM and ERP systems will, says Evans, “make things more intuitive for people like me who don’t have a decade or two of experience under their belt.” A chat option is also on the way. “We did a survey and found that our customers want chat communication in addition to phone and email, so we’re working with our IT department to add that in 2015.”
“There are two more important processes I want to tackle,” says Evans. “One is to capture our email volume and put metrics in place to ensure we’re exceeding our customer’s expectations on responsiveness. Two is to improve what I call our ‘warm transfer process.’ End user customers don’t always know what products we have. We might be able to suggest something that’s a better fit than what they’re asking for. It’s just good customer service to introduce a customer to a product he might not know about when it’s the product he needs. I want our process to go that extra step and connect a potential customer with a top notch distributor in his area by actually transferring their call immediately so they can place an order.”
That won’t be difficult, Evans predicts. “T&S has an amazing customer service team. They’re smart, they’re experienced, they take their job seriously and they know they’re an integral part of the T&S brand. This is not a group that’s easily intimidated,” he continues. “They take 450 - 500 calls a day and manage to convey their personality—their warmth, their concern, their investment in the person they’re talking to—over the phone. That’s an art, and it’s just one more thing that puts T&S in a class by itself.”
“Stay tuned,” Evans suggests. “My ultimate goal is to turn all T&S customers into ‘raving fans’, so we’ll continue to search for solutions that exceed expectations and set new standards for exceptional customer service.”