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5265635204_41387a2968_m (2)My neighbour runs a medium sized telco. The company is doing well and seeing strong growth. There’s a decent year forecast and there are some new products on the market this year. Their telephone sales team is up to full strength and there are high expectations.

The company has progressed like others. They took on a few staff in the early days to answer phones and do some processing. Before they knew it they had a large customer services team; together with customer retentions and collections.

My neighbour told me that they’d lost a couple of senior staff two-months ago; the heads of the customer services and collections teams. He was concerned about collections, so he moved the deputy in customer services across to run that team. This left a big gap in the senior management of the customer services team (who also have customer retentions reporting to them).

My neighbour confessed he’d been ‘slow off the mark’ in recruiting replacements. He has a finance background and wasn’t ‘totally clear what he was looking for.’ The head of marketing is a ‘people person’ so he gave her responsibility for customer services while they are recruiting; in addition to her current duties.

The changes don’t seem to be working. He is now really concerned that call answering performance is declining. There are calls waiting all day and he feels that discipline has slipped. Staff absence has gone up and the customer complaints that reach his desk are more frequent.

The biggest worry, however, relates to the customer retentions team. Their performance in recent weeks has been very poor. Upon investigation it’s clear that spirits had dropped; two team leaders are jostling for position and competing to lead the team.

In a recent meeting, the head of marketing admitted being ‘run off her feet,’ particularly given the expectations for the Christmas campaigns. She has no experience of running a customer services team and is having difficulty finding reliable senior staff in that function she can rely on.

By coincidence, I know a number of the senior finance team and I met them at a social function. They have a vast amount of experience; being in post since the early days of the company. It’s clear that their biggest concern is the results being produced by the customer retentions team. Figures for the last month are the poorest they’ve seen.

Sadly, the situation at the company is not uncommon. The customer services function is often ‘the odd one out’ or the one that is difficult to fit into the organisational structure. Customer services teams are found reporting to marketing, finance, operations or sales.

The reality is, as with finance, specialist skills are needed to run customer services successfully and the function warrants a seat on the top table. I doubt there are many finance directors reporting into customer services.