I am not the customer service process!
September 22, 2015 8:06 AM   Subscribe

How do I tell my customer that we have a customer service process that we stick to and that I am not, cannot and will not be that process no matter how much they want to fight it?

I represent a mid to high end appliance manufacturer who is the largest manufacturer in its market. I am an independently contracted manufacturer’s representative and my primary responsibility is sales. I do make service calls from time to time but only when it is the last resort or an emergency (which this has become). I have ten servicing stores in town because I am not a servicing agent. I have multiple other responsibilities and brands to represent and our service network was built for us to pay the agent for their time.

I signed up this very high end appliance dealer a year and a half ago and have felt a little uncomfortable with them from the beginning. They have always come off as arrogant, standoffish, and pushy. Their bread and butter is custom kitchen design and they carry appliances with $10,000 price tags. My products sell for $400 to $2500 and my focus is on hardware stores and mass merchants.

My company has the best customer service of any large consumer company I have seen recently and I strongly believe that we are a market leader because of this. If a consumer calls our 1-800 numbers they go directly to a customer service rep in the United States, there is no automated directory and the reps are GOOD. Most consumer problems can be handled over the phone in ten minutes and if not we send out a service agent to fix the problem. It’s pretty painless if not always perfect.

I get a call from this dealer three weeks ago saying that I needed to go make a service call on a consumer that can’t get their appliance to work correctly. He wanted it done that day and It turns out that he has an install that is non-standard and I have no experience with. Even though it is easy enough install for a consumer to do, our manuals and guides strongly RECOMMEND that these installs are handled by a licensed professional. If there are problems with install the professional can address issues with the existing infrastructure. I am not qualified to do this. I tell my dealer that the consumer needs to call our excellent customer service dept. and they can help determine if a professional needs to go resolve the issue or if one of our service agents will be dispatched. Dealer does not like this answer but there is nothing else I can do until customer service is involved. The call ends frigidly.

I get an email from dealer last week after returning from traveling with a picture showing me that the appliance is not working and back at their warehouse and that I need to fix it. I try to have them walk me through what has happened and how has customer service been involved. They are giving me little info other than they want me to HANDLE IT. The appliance never should have been returned to the dealer and should have stayed at the consumers home for the service call to take place as soon as it could be scheduled.

On Friday I call the consumer and speak with him. I was told by dealer to expect that consumer would “light me up” but he was the most pleasant person possible. He was so much more helpful in explaining the situation to me than the dealer and we chatted for a while and had a laugh or two. When I told him that I would give him a gift of some accessories or a cook book for his inconvenience, he told me no, he didn’t need compensation. This guy is a customer service dream. That same day the customer service manager and I scheduled a service call for today but yesterday they tell me that, “No, service agent from local hardware store will not be servicing our grills, Manufacturer Representative will be doing so. This is what we expect.” Anticipating this I had already made arrangements for parts to be quality inspected and tested and overnighted to my office; this is what the dealer wants, even though it will be at least Thursday if not Friday before I receive them. We could have had the service call handled this afternoon by somebody else if they would allow it.

The bottom line is that by dealer refusing to not following our customer service process the consumer is not getting to use their appliance while dealer and I work at cross purposes wasting our time and money and pissing each other off.

Yesterday I was told that my service is terrible and they asked if I didn’t just have enough time for them because they were not selling enough. I told them, as I had explained previously last week that I was not available until after Wednesday due to other obligations and would be out after my quality checked parts arrived.

In reality, I am too busy. I am currently in a very stressful situation and this pissing contest for a lack of better term is causing real anxiety. This thing woke me up at 5AM this morning. In addition to my regular work and a few looming deadlines, I am trying to find a tenant for a property that I am just finishing renovating and to buy a new home in a very tight market. This takes a lot of work and I have lost time and money on my rental because I have been letting work get in the way of my personal business. I made a promise to myself last week that my current real estate projects would be my priority this week and even took a few personal days off just to focus just as this service problem arises.

I think the problem is twofold:

1. Different cultures and expectations of customer service. They work in a high dollar, heavily customer service oriented market and most of their reps have a handful of accounts in the state. They have reps that are prepared and expected to drop everything and resolve a problem. I work in high volumes and have responsibility for around 160 dealers. I cannot be prepared to drop everything and personally call on every problematic product in my territory. This is why I have ten servicing dealer in the region. Unfortunately, being a big company means there are policies and procedures that have to be followed.
2. Ego. These guys just want to say “jump” and hear back “how high”. I’ve felt uncomfortable with this company and their attitudes from just about the beginning. I think that they are really just being assholes and I don’t feel they are concerned for the customer. I feel they just want the problem to go away with their minimal effort.

So not only do I have to artfully get through this issue but I have to make it clear that this is how service works and that I am not a monkey on a string. I would love to drop the dealer, but I am not in a position to suggest that we part ways yet. Any thoughts on how to address this?
posted by Che boludo! to Human Relations (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
I would love to drop the dealer, but I am not in a position to suggest that we part ways yet.

That seems to be the crux of the whole situation. These people are terrible. What's keeping you tied to them?
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:11 AM on September 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


Any thoughts on how to address this?

High end customers require high end customer service, but pay high end prices. If you are charging your mid range price for a high end customer, you will lose money and drive yourself insane, as seems to be happening.

Solution: Charge more.

You are radically overthinking this problem.
posted by saeculorum at 8:17 AM on September 22, 2015 [16 favorites]


The bottom line is that by dealer refusing to not following our customer service process the consumer is not getting to use their appliance

So not only are they wasting everyone's time, they are damaging your brand and reputation with customers. It sounds like both you and your manufacturer would be well rid of them.

Can you talk with your manufacturer about what to do here?
posted by grouse at 8:19 AM on September 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


Cynically, I wonder if you just renamed or redescribed/tweaked your customer service process to sound more personal/high-end, if that would be enough. Like, give them the name and direct number of one or two people at customer service, and call it the Concierge Luxury Direct Line 5000, and call the service call the White Glove Personal Expert Housecall and try to be sure the most socially-savvy service tech handles it?
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:28 AM on September 22, 2015 [46 favorites]


Yep,yep,yep: LobsterMitten's idea. You just need to do a little bit of theater. Can you and the actual technician who can actually help show up together in character? You lord it around like the overseer while the tech does the work and fixes the damn thing? Dealer gets the LUXURY they're selling, customer gets the functionality they paid for.
posted by Don Pepino at 8:34 AM on September 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


When Bob calls you say "Bob, I just sell Acme stoves to stores. I don't fix them. I don't know how to fix them. That's not the way that Acme Stoves has set up its distribution and repair. You don't want me fixing them. Call 1800-acme-stov and talk to technical support and they'll deploy a technician. Calling me just slows you down."

And in the future when you're dealing with this type of store make it very very clear that there are different channels for sales and repair.

I think you made an error by doing a few services calls already.
posted by k8t at 8:42 AM on September 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


When I used to work for Large Insurance Corp., there was a small portion of the customer service department designated to a specific VIP phone line, given only to touchy customers like the ones you describe. The service they got was pretty much the same and the reps were trained the same as everyone else, but it made the customer feel better because they thought they were getting special treatment with their "private" direct phone line, and the reps got to know the callers by name because each rep handled fewer customers. You say you work for a very large corporation; I would bet the corp. has a department like this... as an agent of the company can you not find out and provide this VIP number to that particular store/seller?
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 8:47 AM on September 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Does your phone handle 3-way calling?
"Oh, Bob, I'm sorry you're having issues, let me put you through to my service rep." 1-800-help, get a human on the line. Tell them you're a sales rep passing a customer along to them. "Bob, I've got Sara in customer service, she can help you. Sara will tell you how to follow that through to a service call. Let me know if there's more I can do for you." They introduce themselves. You hang up.

If it's at all possible that you could get a direct line to someone at the 800 number, that would streamline the process even more.

posted by aimedwander at 10:27 AM on September 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


That same day the customer service manager and I scheduled a service call for today but yesterday they tell me that, “No, service agent from local hardware store will not be servicing our grills, Manufacturer Representative will be doing so. This is what we expect.”

Do they have any reason to expect this, other than being a bunch of jerks? I'm not familiar with they way things run in this kind of business, though I used to get a lot of this supporting some software for major client. You must have some agreement with them - does it specify you personally have to make service calls at their request?

I bet it doesn't, in which case you politely tell them this is not covered by your agreement, and if they want it you can offer this level of service with a clearly predefined set of requirements and an appropriate compensation scheme.
posted by Dr Dracator at 10:45 AM on September 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


k8t: "When Bob calls you say "Bob, I just sell Acme stoves to stores. I don't fix them. I don't know how to fix them. That's not the way that Acme Stoves has set up its distribution and repair. You don't want me fixing them. Call 1800-acme-stov and talk to technical support and they'll deploy a technician. Calling me just slows you down.""

If you take this take this approach firmly and unwaveringly they will eventually either conform to your process or drop themselves. aimedwander's approach will also work if you or the company you work for would actually like to keep their business but be aware it'll mean doing the 3-way for them every single time they need service. Some customers just aren't worth the time they take up.
posted by Mitheral at 11:55 AM on September 22, 2015


They need to understand that the local service agent IS the manufacturer's service representative. And they have to learn to deal with it or you have to pull their dealership.
posted by Gungho at 11:58 AM on September 22, 2015


I have some experience with the independent manufacturer's agent model, and I think the customer is abusing your courtesy in a big way.

Typically a rep in your situation gets a fixed percentage of sales (i.e. a commission), pays all their own expenses, and you are supposed to perform HIGHLY standardized contracted services, which are usually minimal after the sale. As you said yourself, the manufacturer has a highly developed service function, and your entire role would begin and end with orienting the customer to the fact that this is where they go for service.

What they're doing to you would be like (worse than) me buying a car from a car lot and then coming back and saying "I don't want to deal with your service department; I want you to change the oil yourself" to the sales rep. Whereupon they would laugh at me and point me over to the service department. It's that simple (and that ridiculous).

The situation has become muddled by your stepping in, but the time is now to say "I tried to help as a courtesy, but this situation is now between the final consumer, you, and the manufacturer's service department."

If it were me I'd likely also inform the manufacturer so that your side of the story is heard first. I'd feel pretty confident that the manufacturer will see your side of it. If, in violation of the No Asshole Rule the manufacturer wants to provide some kind of white glove service because they're big and loud, they can pay you (or someone) to do so on an hourly rate. This is NOT covered by your commissions. I wouldn't want the job.
posted by randomkeystrike at 12:00 PM on September 22, 2015


As I suspected, I just found out the dealer went around me to my manufacturer and got a hold of my operations team to get the parts and has not been informing me about it. He had the necessary parts ordered behind my back and refuses to inform me of this.

My customer service coordinator at the manufacturer told me this sounds like the most difficult dealer she has ever heard of.
posted by Che boludo! at 12:31 PM on September 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Excellent! In that the manufacturer now has direct information that the dealer is a jerkass. Sorry to thread-sit your thread, but something else occurred to me -- dealer sounds like they're trying to mire you down in this situation because they have installed your product in a non-standard way. Now the situation is over their heads and probably not entirely covered by your service department. In other words, they will have to pay for someone to work on the part of this problem that ISN'T your product, and they're trying to avoid that. All the more reason to hang tough.

As a young seller/servicer of what was supposed to be a table-top machine, I encountered a situation where a reseller had mounted our equipment on swing-arms and was trying to make it work while flying through the air... fortunately the end-user was extremely perceptive of the situation and had brought me in, at his expense, to basically say "that's not gonna work..."
posted by randomkeystrike at 12:43 PM on September 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


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