Backroom Customer Service

"ikea effect" by Flickr user myuibeBack in college, I had a summer job working the backroom at one of those mega retail stores that sold everything from frozen pizza to men’s socks.  Luckily, I worked the day shift, which meant I didn’t have to break my back unloading trucks, but it did mean I had to continually pull items for the sales floor team so that the shelves were always stocked.

I’d get a pull request on my little handheld device, which closely resembled a Star Trek phaser gun, and I’d fill the requested merchandise into something we called a tub, then push that tub out onto the purgatorium where the backroom opened up into the bright, intimidating sales floor.  This was as far as us backroom guys were willing to go.  In fact, we avoided the sales floor whenever possible.

When it was time for our lunch break, or time to clock-out for the day, we would do our best to walk across the sales floor undetected, dodging customer contact whenever possible.  We would go as far as disguising ourselves, like throwing on a jacket (despite the fact that it was summer in Texas), or taking off our nametags and untucking our shirts.

You see, we were avoiding the dreaded question from customers:  “Excuse me, can you tell me where I can find the ______?”

The problem was twofold.  As backroom employees, we weren’t properly cross-trained to interact with customers or even how to direct people to the aisle they were looking for.  On top of that, the culture at this particular store allowed for a certain group of employees—mainly those in the backroom—to get away with being downright lazy.  It wouldn’t have taken more than a couple of hours to really learn the sales floor.

Here at Newtek, the culture could not be more different.  One of the things I quickly learned was that no one in the company is free from talking with customers, and this includes the President of the company on down.  And this is the way it should be, at least in my humble opinion.

Just the other day, a customer gave our sales department a call wanting to know more about our communication process, such as how we notify customers when we encounter an issue.  Instead of reverting back to my old stock boy days, my immediate response was to have the sales rep let the customer know they could speak directly with me, or to anyone else in our communications team. I was more than willing to discuss any concerns they might have, or to clarify any of our processes or polices, and the same goes for anyone in my department.

Letting a customer know they can speak with anyone in the company goes a long way to earn their trust.  And this, of course, is something we value a great deal.

How do you delegate customer-facing responsibilities at your business?  If you’re a design/development shop, are your creatives and coders encouraged to speak with customers directly?  If you’re a business owner, do you let your customer service team handle all contact with customers?

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