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Customer Service Center

The Customer Service Center was consolidated in 1994. Over 50 percent of the customer service representatives in the field moved to Charlotte, creating a Customer Service Center that was the envy of the building products industry.

Work actually began eight years earlier and was lead by Fred Macholz and championed by then Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Tony Maraia.

"We were changing mainframes in 1986, and it was a good time to look at the way we did order entry, pricing, and customer service," Macholz said. "Customer service was practically nonexistent at that time. We had 39 sales offices and each had three to eight people working in them, including an office manager, a secretary, sales order clerks, and computer terminal operators. The sales order clerks took orders on a pad of paper as the sales representatives called them in. Those handwritten notes were passed to the computer operators who keyed the information and sent tapes to Charlotte every evening."

The team streamlined the process eliminating the sales order clerks and computer operators and creating customer service representatives.

Customers could now call their customer service representatives directly. Each customer service representative was tied to one or two sales representatives, giving the customer a consistent voice from the company.

"These steps allowed us to catch up with the competition," Macholz said. "But, our system was still archaic. Each time we received an order, we had to call a plant to see if and when material would be available and call a carrier to deliver it."

"Our first customer satisfaction survey confirmed we were equal to our competition in service. We saw this as an opportunity to leapfrog them. We embarked on a project encompassing order management from planning and forecasting to final payment."

Macholz led a 13-member, cross functional team which developed 17 recommendations, a cost/benefit analysis, and an implementation plan within a three-month period.

The team defined the existing process in 180 steps and eliminated 100 of them but, as Macholz admits, they got in each other's turf, stimulating lively discussions.

"The Manufacturing team members wanted order entry to occur at the plant. Sales didn't think that could happen. Credit had real problems with the idea of customer service representatives involved in credit approvals.


 

"Implementing our 17 recommendations was not easy. We were convinced we could not do forecasting and demand management, for example. We found out we can do that and do it quite well."

Macholz has high praise for all team members, particularly those from Information Systems, the plants, Manufacturing, and Sales.

"Mike Brannon, David Lee, and Chuck Price worked tirelessly to get our systems established, including the automated call distribution system which sends the 800 numbers the customers call to the right customer service area. The pop-up profiles on the computer screen tell the customer service representative who is calling and all the information about that customer. When a customer hears, 'Oh, hi, Bill, I've been waiting for your call,' it has a powerful impact."

Jack Rech (IS) and his team devised the available-to-promise inventory and inventory accuracy systems which eliminated calling plants each time an order was placed. The carriers were also tied into the system so the customer service representatives could handle delivery as well as scheduling.

"Our old system tended to leave the plants out of the loop. We also engaged the customers and found out they wanted to hear a real person on the phone and they wanted that person to be able to answer all of their questions, including availability, pricing, credit, and delivery."

The most challenging task laid ahead – developing and implementing a plan and process to establish a consolidated Customer Service Center in Charlotte.

"We had to tell the world we were going to shut down our sales offices," Macholz said. "One of our large customers in Boston said he would not do business with us if we implemented our plan. The next year, orders from this customer continued to grow. His sales representative, Steve Concannon, reported the customer's delight at hearing his name when he called with an order and getting all the information he needed, as well as his orders expedited."

With the Customer Service Center and the systems tied to it in place, the customer has also benefited from lower inventories and greater inventory accuracies.


Written by Nancy Spurlock and reprinted from NGC Across the Board in 2003. Fred Macholz retired in 2003.