Customer Service and Order Processors

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The Human Side of Management
Assignment  
Repairing Jobs That Fail to Satisfy   
Learning Goals  
Companies often divide up work as a way to improve efficiency, but specialisation can lead to negative consequences. DrainFlow is a company that has effectively used specialisation to reduce costs relative to its competitors’ costs for years, but rising customer complaints suggest the firm’s strong position may be slipping. After reading the case, you will suggest some ways it can create more interesting work for employees. You will also tackle the problem of finding people who are qualified and ready to perform the multiple responsibilities required in these jobs.   

Major Topic Areas  
Job design 
Job satisfaction 
Personality 
Emotional labour   
The Scenario
DrainFlow is a large residential and commercial plumbing maintenance firm that operates around the United Kingdom. It has been a major player in residential plumbing for decades, and its familiar rhyming motto, “When Your Drain Won’t Go, Call DrainFlow,” has been plastered on billboards since the 1940s.    Leigh Reynaldo has been a regional manager at DrainFlow for about 2 years. She used to work for a newer competing chain, Lightning Plumber, that has been drawing more and more customers from DrainFlow. Although her job at DrainFlow pays more, Leigh is not happy with the way things are going. She has noticed the work environment is not as vital or energetic as the environment she saw at Lightning.    Leigh thinks the problem is that employees are not motivated to provide the type of customer service Lightning Plumber employees offer. She recently sent surveys to customers to collect information about performance, and the data confirmed her fears. Although 60 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with their experience and would use DrainFlow again, 40 percent felt their experience was not good, and 30 percent said they would use a competitor the next time they had a plumbing problem.    Leigh is wondering whether DrainFlow’s job design might be contributing to its problems in retaining customers. DrainFlow has about 2,000 employees in four basic job categories: plumbers, plumber’s assistants, order processors, and billing representatives. This structure is designed to keep costs as low as possible. Plumbers make very high wages, whereas plumber’s assistants make about one-quarter of what a licensed plumber makes. Using plumber’s assistants is therefore a very cost-effective strategy that has enabled DrainFlow to easily undercut the competition when it comes to price. Order processors make even less than assistants but about the same as billing processors. All work is very specialised, but employees are often dependent on another job category to perform at their most efficient level.    Like most plumbing companies, DrainFlow gets business mostly from the Yellow Pages and the Internet. Customers either call in to describe a plumbing problem or submit an online request for plumbing services, receiving a return call with information within 24 hours. In either case, DrainFlow’s order processors listen to the customer’s description of the problem to determine whether a plumber or a plumber’s assistant should make the service call. The job is then assigned accordingly, and a service provider goes to the location. When the job has been completed, via mobile phone, a billing representative relays the fee to SHR034-6, 12-13

the service rep, who presents a bill to the customer for payment. Billing representatives can take customers’ credit card payments by phone or e-mail an invoice for online payment.    The Problem   

Although specialisation does cut costs significantly, Leigh is worried about customer dissatisfaction. According to her survey, about 25 percent of customer contacts ended in no service call because customers were confused by the diagnostic questions the order processors asked and because the order processors...
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