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Qualifications for customer service reps

Jan 1, 2001 12:00 AM

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Not long ago, most printers did not employ a customer service representative (CSR). They had (and still have) production coordinators or job planners, whose duties included writing job jackets, planning jobs, creating press layouts and impositions, and dealing with customers and sales representatives.

Production coordinators were also required to obey this primary rule: "No matter what else you are involved in, never, ever keep a press waiting."

As a result, a ringing telephone was considered an unwanted interruption.

Customers sensed hostility on the phone from these employees and complained to their sales reps.

COMPLETE LIST Management responded by hiring people with friendly personalities and pleasant telephone voices. But these traits are far from sufficient. A more complete list of requirements for CSRs is needed, and should look something like this:

1. CSRs are sympathetic to people's problems. When a customer calls with an urgent problem, CSRs cannot be thinking, "What do I care?" Not only is this lack of concern easily discernible, it also does not lead the CSR to take the required action.

2. They have nice personalities. They are always polite, attentive and friendly. Be nice, and customers are likely to come back. Be nasty, and they will surely take their business elsewhere.

3. They are good communicators. CSRs understand what the customer wants and what the sales rep says. They accurately convey that information to plant personnel.

4. They have self-control. When things go wrong, many clients will yell at whomever they are talking to. Often, that's a CSR, who must not yell back or argue, but instead maintain self control and remain polite.

5. They are good negotiators. CSRs must try to get production to agree to carry out customers' and sales reps' requests, or get production to say what it can do. Then, CSRs should present that solution in an agreeable light for the customer and rep.

6. They are reliable. When CSRs agree to get something done, be it for customers, sales reps or production personnel, they do it.

7. They welcome responsibility. When sales reps land a job, CSRs do not moan about having additional work, but rather do everything to help shepherd the job through to a successful completion.

8. They are able to make decisions under pressure. CSRs should know their companies' policies and what they can do for customers. They should be able to make correct decisions and have the authority to implement them.

9. They are not clock watchers. Printing is not a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. environment. Many things have to be taken care of before or after "normal" hours, especially checking and transmitting proofs, press okays and getting new orders out on time.

10. They are not gamblers. If job specifications are not complete, CSRs cannot gamble by guessing at the right answer. For example, if the purchase order does not say how the pieces pack, that does not mean it's okay to pack in convenient cartons.

11. They are self-motivated. CSRs should want to do the right things at the right time. The desire to do a good job must come from within the CSR.

12. They have good organizational skills. New orders do not always arrive in an organized fashion. It takes patient, well-organized people to create order out of these messes.

13. They are flexible. CSRs have to be able to begin a task, stop to answer the phone, perform the actions that follow from the phone call and still remember where they left off before the interruptions.

14. They are detail-oriented. Almost all sales reps seem to hate details. Inevitably, CSRs inherit the task of obtaining all job specs and putting them in order.

15. They have a sense of urgency. All printing jobs have to be delivered by a certain time. CSRs must move at the pace required by each situation.

16. They are good team players. CSRs depend upon customers and sales reps to supply them with information. They rely on estimators to calculate costs. They need the production department to perform the actual work. (And, all of those people cannot perform their functions unless CSRs perform theirs.)

17. They are knowledgeable and willing to learn. When customers or sales reps ask for something, CSRs must understand what is being said and how to react. Inevitably, lack of technical expertise by CSRs leaves customers feeling insecure and irritates the production staff.

18. They know postal regulations. CSRs should know to take care when anything is slated for mailing.

19. They have courage. CSRs have to be brave enough to tell customers and sales reps when something is not possible, to fight with production for what customers need and to inform upper management of whatever causes customer dissatisfaction.

20. They are problem solvers. Certain mistakes have a way of reoccurring. Proofs go out with obvious errors. Jobs are delivered late. CSRs should help find ways to eliminate the causes.

CSRs who have all of these qualifications should inquire of their supervisors, "Haven't you been forgetting something? The raise I deserve."