“What is this in regards to?” I ask after answering the phone.
“I’m a third party researcher and am conducting a customer survey for our newly merged company,” says the lady at the other end of the phone.
“Well, in that case,” I respond, “I don’t have a minute. But I’m willing to give you 15 if you’ll have a conversation with me in addition to going through your questions.”
That seemed unusual, but she quickly agreed. Maybe she was timing her calls and needed to keep things going. In a very pleasant and rehearsed tone, she then proceeded to go through a list of questions representative of areas in which my vendor operates as part of our contract. The answers ranged from degrees of “agree” to degrees of “disagree”.
As negotiated ahead of time, I would reply to the question her way, and then begin a conversation on specific points to address. For example: when we got to the administrative and accounting parts of my experience with that vendor, I expressed my thoughts on ways to improve. I made sure I added specific suggestions and desired timelines for the company to amend their ways in those areas.
And so we went. The nice researcher asking her questions, no doubt agreed upon in advance with the company in review, and I kept adding my two cents whenever I felt the survey was not capturing the information and feedback my vendor needed to improve the quality of their service to me. There was even a courteous recap at the end.
Well, I thought: if nothing else, this is going to be a good use of my time. At least now I know the reasons why I’d like to listen to the numerous pitches I receive from other providers, should things continue the way they are now. Then I went back to my projects without giving that phone call another thought.
To be fair, the account representative from that vendor is the reason why I have kept my business with the company. He is attentive, pleasant to deal with, and always looking for ways to go above and beyond expectations. Except for the back office was not supporting him properly. The company was getting bogged down in its own procedures and regulations so my bills were often late, coded improperly, and sometimes even redundant.
On the administrative side they have an online system for our sales team to shop for marketing materials, promotional items, and literature, yet the inventory was often out of date and my indications and corrections were not implemented fast enough. I was starting to doubt that one person alone could continue to support our workload, including managing to supervise multiple mailings per week to separate markets and regions.
I didn’t know it at the time of my phone conversation with the third party researcher, but by choosing to provide candid and personalized feedback, I was saving my company the headache of having to move our whole warehousing and printing business yet again. In fact, my comments and suggestions made their way directly into the executive suite and an urgent meeting was called.
All my rep needed was ammunition from me to lobby for the level of support he had been requesting for months already. I learned about it when he showed up with some digital print proofs one day and a big smile on his face. It said: finally we’re getting somewhere.
Things are not perfect now; they rarely are when dealing with the kind of volume and diversity of projects we deal with every day. Yet, I can tell that there has been a remarkable improvement in a short period — bills come on time and are often correct, and the online ordering system… that’s a work in progress and our field team can call a live person to take an order when on the road.
I could have continued to get frustrated with my account representative, or asked to speak with his manager and complain, knowing that the company at that level may or may not decide to fix its problems as it had not done so far. I could have decided that no, I did not have a minute to talk on the phone, or I could have chosen to take the path of least resistance and just answer the questions.
Instead, I decided to take a little longer to utilize the channel chosen by my vendor to receive feedback, hoping that our conversation presented to the new company owners by a third party might actually make a difference in supporting the account rep and ultimately my company. I chose to trust that those wheels set in motion would work — and to provide my own modifier in the guise of actual people talk.
Try it next time, it worked for me.