Managers Share Secrets of Success
A second challenge is maintaining our housefile. We do some telemarketing with our customers. If someone who has bought from us for, say, several of the last few months, and then suddenly stops, we’ll give that customer a call to try and reactivate them.
CS: How do you train sales associates?
Pitkow: We do most of it in-house, but sometimes we bring in sales motivation trainers or call center trainers.
CS: Is yours a seasonal business?
Pitkow: Our big seasons are Father’s Day and fourth-quarter holiday.
CS: What one call center accomplishment are you most proud of?
Pitkow: Cigars comprise a niche market; there are only a couple million cigar-smokers in the country. We’re recognized as superior in customer service in the cigar business, and so it’s great to get e-mails, letters and calls from customers lauding our associates for turning a negative event into a positive.
We empower our associates to make customers happy. When someone calls with a problem, associates are allowed to offer free shipping, a credit on the customer’s next order, and even free cigars. Associates don’t even need to ask a manager. We give them parameters of course, but then we have complete trust in our associates that they’ll do the right thing. When gray areas crop up or the associate thinks a customer is trying to take advantage of a situation, there’s always a manager on duty who can make the judgement call.
CS: Happy with AnswerNet, your overflow contact center?
Pitkow: They have fantastic people. I was skeptical of using an outside call center at first, but I also know that we wanted to have 24/7 coverage, and yet we’re a small company and couldn’t afford to keep our in-house call center open that many hours.
AnswerNet has a good management philosophy. They’ve been a great adjunct supplier for us. We have monthly phone conferences with them, and they’ve helped us in many ways by, for example, pointing out things in the catalog that need to be fixed or offering suggestions in some way. We have a lot of great personal interaction with them, and it’s been a cost-effective plan for us.