The path that carried BullsEye Telecom Inc. to its 10-year milestone this year has been full of dips, twists and turns. But Bill Oberlin, the company’s founder, chairman and CEO, relies on his customers like a compass, using their feedback to reveal new directions for the telecommunications solutions provider.
“If you ask people around here what’s the real constant, they would probably say change,” Oberlin says. “We have to adapt [to make] the customers happy.”
When Oberlin monitors how his 140 employees interact with customers, he tackles two tasks at once. He listens to the customers to gauge their satisfaction and to the employees to measure the service they provide. Then he tries to bridge the gap.
“Ensure your customers are satisfied,” he says. “Do everything you can to make them satisfied, because it costs too much to replace them.”
Oberlin’s approach has kept the company nimble and led it to 2008 revenue of about $65 million.
Smart Business spoke with Oberlin about staying in touch with your customers through your employees.
Monitor customer service. The major thing that any company should be watching is their own customers and the degree of customer satisfaction that they have. You have to listen every day to your customers.
Our executive staff — including me and directors, plus the people who are managing these accounts — all monitor calls. Every month, we have a different person we monitor. What we’re looking for there is what is it that we’re doing to satisfy customers and what could we do to impact it?
Not only do we pick up teeny little issues that we ought to have some training done on — how to present a new feature or something like that — but we pick up what customers are saying they need. Instead of getting it washed down by staff as it bubbles through the organization, it’s much better for us to get closer to the customer.
Are we formal enough with them, even though they may know their first name and be close to them [or] may have handled them for five years? [Do we] still treat them with respect? They’re our customers. Make sure that we thank them for their business. Make sure we tell them what we’re going to do, how we’re going to do it.
My big thing is if you tell a customer you’re going to do something, do it. If you can’t do it for some reason, at least you should tell the customer. Tell them that you haven’t forgotten about them, that you’re following up. The worst thing for a customer is to expect something to be done and then they don’t hear anything. It does two things: No. 1, they think you’re not doing anything. And No. 2, it causes another call, and then you’re right back to where you started. I call it closing the loop. Make sure that we do what we say we’re going to do, and we do it on time.
Pinpoint problems. We hear what the customers hear, but we might find a problem with it. Like, ‘I’ll get back to you on that tomorrow,’ doesn’t sound bad to the customer. But it is bad if they should have known the answer to the question. So we pick up a lot in monitoring that we want to add to training. We want to isolate that for the whole group because it’s a question we’ve heard more than once or twice.
It’s highlighted by monitoring as to whether or not the whole group needs training on a new product or down to the individual level, where we heard something that says this person really doesn’t know how this works. We know that just from the repetition of monitoring. If it comes up all the time, you know it’s a problem that everybody needs to be trained on.
If it’s something we hear constantly, more likely a product or something that we’re not able to give them quickly via our system, we’ll say, ‘Hey, we need to enhance the system to make sure that our customers are satisfied right then and there on the phone.’
[If] we see that all of our account managers are having trouble describing this new product or how we do this particular thing, this way of processing an order, we’ll make that part of training.
It comes down to either [that or] it’s an individual issue that we hear on monitoring, and we’ll give them remedial training. Sometimes it is as simple as, ‘There are a lot of long pauses where you’re probably looking in the system or you’re thinking about something. But you’re spending time with a customer that you don’t need to. In those cases, maybe it’s better if you do call them back with an answer if you can’t get it right away.’
Share your results. For the top staff in the company to spend the time listening, it really helps. Not only does it help what we’re trying to do, which is customer satisfaction, but the people that are in finance, they very rarely know what customers are saying. It’s really an eye-opener for them. It really allows them to understand customers more.
We go over these monitorings in our meetings. Now, not everybody will listen to the whole monitoring, because that might have been 30 minutes or more. But everybody [hears], ‘This is what we need to work on.’ That’s what gets passed into training.
We don’t take all these monitorings and share it with the whole company so that Sally Jones’ bad call is shared by everybody. What we do is I find out that Sally Jones doesn’t know something about a product. That gets to account management, and they’ll talk to that employee or they’ll add training.
We are sending the monitoring down lower and lower in the company so more people can hear it. Not enough people in the company understand the value of a customer, what customers are saying, what customers want, and how hard it is to match up what customers want and what we provide.
How to reach: BullsEye Telecom Inc., (877) 438-2855 or www.bullseyetelecom.com