How to build a customer focused Operations team

By Christine Armstrong, Director of Operations

For those Account Managers working with Enterprise customers, you know all about the time and care that goes into to nurturing that relationship for a long term, trusted advisor partnership.  It can be hard to feel confident handing off your project when it comes time for execution.  It requires a lot of trust in your team.  That was how I felt as an Account Manager when my CEO came to me almost 3 years ago and asked me to take on the role of Operations Director.

My inquisitive nature and Type-A personality was limiting my ability to hand off my projects.  I felt that I had to keep my fingers in it to see it through to completion and success.  Along the way, I was noticing and suggesting areas for process improvement, so naturally, I graduated into the role where I was shaping the definition of the structure, roles and processes for the national operations organization.

My CEO’s customer driven strategy:

He suggested I keep ownership of one major account to continue managing in a sales capacity while I was building a new and improved Operations organization.  To align with our corporate culture of “holding expert ability to make the tough stuff seamless to our customers”, I was handed the mandate to maintain a balance between internal process definition and customer experience.  By keeping my head grounded in my customer interactions, keeping up with technology changes, understanding contract challenges and paperwork frustrations, I was able to help focus my Operations team on executing every transaction with integrity and attention to detail for internal consumption and customer confidence.

Improving efficiencies for internal staff by developing experts:

When I put my Operations hat on, the first change I made was to remove the Contract Renewal process from the Account Managers responsibility and built out that capacity into a Contracts Department within Operations.  It was the thing I dreaded most while in my Account Management role.  It is time consuming and highly complex which makes it difficult to do when you are not constantly immersed in the tools.  It requires an expert.  So we developed the expertise and have seen the benefits every single day, and our customers and vendor partners have enjoyed those benefits alongside us.  With this function, Operations became a customer facing profit center for the organization and an efficiency enabler for Sales.  Customer win/Vendor win/Combat win.

Setting the stage for operational success:

The first line of defense for proper execution of an order is to ensure the right people have the right information.  Purchasing is the first department to receive the documentation agreed upon between the Account team and the customer.   By creating the role of “police officer” in this function to ensure all the required documentation is prepared, Purchasing becomes the maestro to orchestrate the delivery of goods, coordinate the information required for the services and contracts team to execute, and all the nuances for accurate invoicing.  Data integrity is key to a smooth transition throughout the quote-to-cash cycle and having experts at the helm sets our team up for success to meet the customer’s expectations and delivery timeframe with internal checks and balances for a closed loop process.  With so many things to consider, it is no small task so the importance of this role cannot be underestimated.

The customer is built into every process:

In our weekly Operations staff meetings, our mantra is “know what you are affecting”.  Every time you push a button, you affect something.  It may affect another person’s function, our services, our tools, our ability to report accurately, the validity of an invoice or our customer’s experience.  Becoming an expert in our processes and continually improving them is our collective task every day.

In a Service Organization, meeting deadlines and customer expectations is mandatory.  Success is measured on flexibility to maneuver and adapt to change so problems can be resolved before there is an impact to service.  The fluid team we have built is beautiful to watch in action when we face a challenge.

An Operations team that is as committed to the customer as the Sales team is a secret to success.  The customer comes first, middle and last so they can be handled throughout the cycle with confidence from all stakeholders in the relationship.  This strategy passes my litmus test proving “everyone is in sales”, especially if you are in the business of attracting and retaining customers.

 

…stay tuned for:  “Why strong Channel/Vendor Relationships make a difference”

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