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Improving the CSR/production relationship

Aug 1, 2002 12:00 AM

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Most customer-service representatives (CSRs) harbor grievances against production people. Here are their more frequent complaints:

  • Production people have only one response to requests: “It can't be done.”
  • They use heavy technical language that only they understand.
  • They fail to learn the end use of jobs.
  • They blindly follow specifications — right out the window.
  • They alter specifications without telling customer-service or sales personnel.
  • They put customer disks into production, no matter how poorly they were prepared.
  • They insist that if the customer okayed it, that's how it will be done, even if it's clearly incorrect.
  • They build a lot of hedge time into schedules, creating unnecessarily slow turnaround times.
  • They don't tell sales reps or CSRs that jobs will be delivered late until after they already are late.
  • They send out proofs without checking them.
  • They say what they think others want to hear.
  • They let mistakes happen.
  • They never admit that anything is their fault.

Not every one of these complaints is valid everywhere, all the time, with every production person, but to the extent that they are true, there is no excuse for this kind of behavior. CSRs should not have to plead with production people to do the right thing for clients. All they should have to do is let production know what the customer wants. After that, if at all feasible, production does the rest. When production staff fulfill customer-service requests, they are not just doing customer service a favor. They are also helping the customer, and thereby helping their company and themselves.


Production runs more smoothly when there are sensible, up-to-date job descriptions for each company position. That way, at the very least, all employees know what is expected of them. (Check out “A good job description for CSRs,” April 2001, p. 66, for a generic CSR job description. It is also available online at The following is a job description for production managers. Naturally, it requires fine-tuning to adapt it to specific company conditions.

  • Is the liaison between sales and customer service as well as the entire production function.
  • Helps teach estimators how to devise the best production plans.
  • Takes responsibility for receiving accurate specifications and understanding what the customer wants. If accurate and complete specs are hard to come by, the production manager helps implement a system to guarantee that the job is produced to customer expectations.
  • Helps judge whether client specifications match the job's end use.
  • Points out differences between jobs on estimating day and when they are received, so they can be re-estimated.
  • Is responsible for order entry, job planning and scheduling.
  • Informs sales and customer-service staff on how new orders can be worked into the schedule, and on the progress of jobs in production.
  • Constantly revises schedules, focusing on delivering all jobs on time and holding down idle time and overtime.
  • Is heavily involved in the selection of outside materials and services directly chargeable to jobs.
  • Guarantees the accuracy and quality of work done both internally and outside the shop. To make this possible, establishes checkpoints on work-in-progress.
  • Guarantees that proofs are checked before they go to customer service, sales or the customer.
  • Motivates first-line supervisors and shop-floor workers.
  • Adjusts schedules to provide time for preventive maintenance and overhauls.
  • Informs upper management of any discrepancies between estimating standards and actual manufacturing performance.
  • Reports to the company president.

To summarize, production's role is to deliver all jobs to the correct destination — on time, undamaged, free of errors, at the proper quality level to satisfy their end use and delight customers, and without causing worry for customers, sales reps or CSRs. No matter how good a company's CSRs are, customer service cannot exist without excellent performance by production staff members.