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Backwood Mail Order Case Essay

Backwoods is a mail order company that is into camping supplies and outdoor clothing. Gerald Banks, the operations manager of the customer service division, is interested in training his 40 employees in the customer orders group to be more effective in handling customer complaints and problems. The organizational structure is as follows:

The customer orders division has 40 employees and four supervisors whereas the shipping division has 32 employees and 3 supervisors. The employees are evenly divided into two shifts – A day shift and a night shift.

The customer orders division is responsible for recording customer orders and check availability of each item ordered. The orders are then transferred to the shipping division which is in charge of ensuring the product is shipped to the customers.

The constraint to be kept in mind before designing the training program is that service should not stop to their customers. The problems as identifies by a needs assessment specify that majority of the errors resulting in merchandise return is because of incorrect entry of size in the computer.

Based on this the goals of the training program include reducing merchandize returns and creating a positive image of backwoods in the minds of its customers and employees.

Questions

1. Write several clear, measurable objectives for the training to be delivered to the employees in the customer order group.

The needs assessment output indicates problems to be addressed according to the organizational and task analysis. Before setting measurable outputs, the company first needs to perform person analysis as well to identify whether there are some employees who are excellent with certain attributes but lack at certain different aspect. Since the customer order group is the main point of contact for the customers, it is imperative that the quality of customer interaction should improve. Apart from telephone etiquette training, the customer order group should also have deep knowledge about the product portfolio. Keeping this in mind, we suggest the following objectives for the training.

a. Development of in depth knowledge about the product portfolio: This objective should make sure that every customer service representative is abreast on the products and the different SKU’s of that product. This will need interaction with the products team, and periodical evaluation will be required for the same.

b. Ensuring better data entry by rechecking customer knowledge of sizes: Because 78% of the merchandise returns are due to problems with size, features, and/or color selections, representatives must be trained in data entry, as well as order verification. Most of the problems can be eliminated by order verification and probably a sample, or description of the product. Also a habit of being inquisitive needs to be inculcated amongst the employees so that they ensure that the customer is aware about the different sizes in the different products.

c. Being polite and prompt in handling customer complaints: A polite and prompt response from the employee will help in improving customer experience and would thus aid in creating a better image of the company. Also this will reduce the clutter that is caused in the workplace which will further increase productivity and improve order time.

d. Improving the company image and boosting employee morale The company branding has to be improved among the customers so that there can be many more repeat orders. To this extent, representatives have to be trained on the discount/promotional offers, product superiority etc. Career opportunities have to be explained and performance reviews should be setup so that employees are content as well.

2. Develop a recommendation for the training plan that includes the training techniques that should be used and the length of training

Since customer orders department interacts with customers on a daily basis, the training technique will primarily consist of an off the job training program conducted in batches so that customer orders can be simultaneously fulfilled.

Off the Job training phase in batches:

a. Simulation and Virtual Reality techniques are recommended with every employee getting a chance to face a simulated customer complaint call and on the basis of their performance, feedback would be given. b. The training program should have classroom instructions and role plays. This will be helpful in customer interactions, and telephone etiquette. The classroom training session should include representatives from the product department, wherein the participants have an opportunity to clarify real life questions. Role play would include dealing with difficult customers, call forwarding etc. Since each hour of classroom training would require 6 hours of designing, this is an ideal combination. c. It should have an e-learning component. This will include information on the product portfolio and product usage.

This component can also include data entry techniques to facilitate timely feed and retrieval of data. d. There should be a peer training component too, wherein star performers in the job would be asked to train newcomers and freshers. e. Cross functional training should be offered to the order processing as well as shipping department, since each department should be aware of the processes in the other. f. Rewards should be planned for in the training program for the most improved employee. This would help incentivizing the process.

A batch plan is recommended, since at any point of time, we cannot have all the customer representatives busy in training. Identification of time slots with lesser load should be done, and batches of 5 would be ideal so that the floor wouldn’t be completely empty at any point in time. Given an 8 hour window, a training of 1 hour every day for two weeks would be ideal to cover the required objectives. This will then be followed up with the on the job component.

On the job training phase:
This is essentially a follow up phase wherein some of the calls of the employees would be recorded and feedback will be provided on the same. There will also be occasional surprise calls from HR posing as customers. Lastly cards with learning of the training program should be placed on the desk of each employee. This will also act as an effective way to evaluate the training program.

3. Offer a plan for evaluating the training program. Describe the criteria that will be used and the design you will employ.

We propose the widely accepted four-level framework for evaluation of the training program.

Phase 1: Reaction of trainees:
A simple questionnaire can be used to record the response of the trainee with his ratings on the training program. A few sample questions could be: a. What were your expectations out of the program? Were they met? b. How would you rate the time allotted to the training program? c. How would you rate the instructor?

d. How would rate the design of the program?

Phase 2: Learning of the trainees:
The performance of the trainees can be gauged and recorded before the training program. The evaluation criteria would be the average number of errors in the past month and knowledge about product. These scores can then be compared with post training scores to evaluate the effectiveness of the training program.

Phase 3: Observation of trained employees:
This can be done by recording some of the calls of the employees and occasional surprise calls from HR posing as customers. The improvement in their performance with respect to promptness and politeness of response can help in evaluating the training program. Customer interaction and communication effectiveness should also be evaluated by supervisors. Also feedback can be taken from customers as well.

Phase 4: Return on investment:
The return on investment can be measured by calculating the savings in cost due to reduction in the number of returns. Also increased number of orders due to better customer satisfaction can be considered in considering the payoff from the training program. This can then be compared with the cost of the training program to measure effectiveness.


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