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Distributor's Link Magazine Winter Issue 2014 / VOL 37 / NO.1


30 THE DISTRIBUTOR’S LINK Jim Truesdell James Truesdell is president of Brauer Supply Company, a distributor of specialty fasteners, insulation, air filtration, and air conditioning with headquarters in St. Louis. Mr. Truesdell is adjunct professor at Saint Louis University and Webster University. An attorney and frequently published writer, he is the author of “Total Quality Management: Reports From the Front Lines”. “YOU WILL HAVE TO GO TO OUR WEBSITE” Technology is a wonderful thing. Immediate access to information has saved us all a lot of time and helped us perform tasks much more efficiently. But it can also be a tricky way for a company to shift its work to its customers. It can allow laziness to creep into customer service departments. It can eventually lose customers to competitors who know when it is time to provide the help of a real human being in solving a problem. Technology gets in the way of good customer service when it (1) compels customers to spend more time navigating a website than it should require for them to ask and receive an answer from a knowledgeable representative, (2) when it serves as a way of sheltering staff from listening to the complaints of a dissatisfied or upset customer and (3) when it puts customers into a loop with nowhere to go to get the desired answer or solution to a problem. A good way of evaluating electronic customer service systems is to determine if the customer is left feeling more or less valued by the seller or if he or she feels the company is just trying to avoid dealing with its clients directly (or is only interested in saving payroll costs by substituting an electronic process for human interaction. Let’s take a look at the three scenarios I have listed. First is the website as the primary source of information to which the customer is shuttled at the outset. This can be very helpful for background research about a product or the company’s service capabilities. A well-designed “store-front” can meet the needs of a lot of customers who know what it is they are looking for and who are mainly interested in price and delivery. But when technical guidance is needed or if there is a problem with product or service then the website becomes a rather sterile and uninviting device. When a representative already talking with a customer tells them they must “go to our website” for assistance they are basically stating that they are incapable of assisting the customer or they are too busy to be bothered (or that management does not trust their own people to get policy right or has muzzled them so that policy can be consistently enforced by requiring a set of boilerplate pages and responses to be used). An inquiring customer may only use the company’s interactive website one or two times during his or her life. Why should he have to master its use when a professional employee of the seller company is on the line What if the company’s customers are regular commercial buyers who will be interacting repeatedly with the selling company Here I have seen customer service reps who refuse to answer direct questions or perform simple tasks as they condescendingly “teach” the customer how to use the online facilities. I find this particularly annoying with benefit companies (insurance, etc.) who want to have the customers do all the work for them when it comes to adding and terminating employee participant, changing dependents, or increasing insurance amounts. If they can just train the customers to enter the data directly they will not have to be bothered with in the future! please turn to page 188



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