Salt & Pepper February 2017: What Is the Better Supplier Customer Service Model - Dedicated Personal Reps or Reps Grouped by Region for Speed?

NOTE: Salt & Pepper is intended to foster intelligent dialogue between professionals. This is not a dagger throwing contest. Be honest and authentic, but please also be kind and keep it classy.


As suppliers continue to seek ways to create a meaningful customer experience, does a dedicated customer service representative with potentially longer wait times serve clients better than a large queue with better operational effectiveness and shorter wait times? Another way to look at this question is, “what serves customers better: a personal experience or efficiency in providing answers.  This month, Kirby “Salt” Hasseman and Bill “Pepper” Petrie try and answer the question.

Salt – Kirby Hasseman

Time is money.  

When it comes to business today, speed and efficiency matter.  We all love the idea of the business down the street knowing our wants and needs.  But when it comes to the fast-paced world of business to business, sometimes we simply need to get an answer.  So many times, as distributors, we have a client that wants an answer now.  If we are held up waiting for “our person” to get that answer, it can be the difference in getting the order or not.

Too many times, when it comes to business, we force our employees into “silos” that we create.  Then we wonder why there is a “that’s not my job” mentality.  We, as business leaders, often don’t properly set up our organizations so that employees are able to step up and help when the organization needs them.  

As I mentioned earlier, we romanticize the idea of the mom and pop shop taking care of our every need.  The problem is, as a customer, most of us are buying from Amazon.  So, while personal service is wonderful, faster service is preferred.

Pepper – Bill Petrie

While both approaches have merit, the personal experience wins every time. We have all waited in the dreaded “queue” as we wait (and sometimes wait, and wait, and wait) for a live voice only to have to educate and reeducate that person on your name, the name of the distributor, the order, the product, any previous communication, the in-hands date, the ship-to location, the middle name of your first child, and the transient theory of synchronous generators under unbalanced conditions before we can even approach getting help. This is why the gold standard of supplier customer service continues to be the dedicated account representative and why distributors who have dedicated supplier reps tout them in recruiting efforts.

The dedicated account representative creates what every distributor tries to sell their client on: a relationship. When you work with a supplier who partners you with a dedicated account representative, a relationship is forged and they are invested in you, your business, and your concerns. Waiting in the death spiral that is the customer service queue might get a faster response, but faster isn’t always better. Ask any distributor that gets bounced around a supplier call center and they will tell that the service is, at best, hit or miss depending on the person who happens to pick up the call.

To be sure, there will be times when working with a dedicated representative you will have to leave a message or wait for a return call, but that slight delay is a small price to pay for the comfort of working with someone who knows you, your needs, and your business. In the case of suppliers, the speed of the rotating customer service queue is a negative when it comes to building relationships that are the lifeblood of the supplier-distributor partnership.