Best Methods for Rep Communication

A few days ago, I was standing in a distributor's closing room, conducting a training session with one of the company's new salespeople. I covered my entire line, dotting every I and crossing every T. All that was left for me to do was give her my contact information, so I reached into my suit jacket card pocket and pulled out my business card.

I gave her the customer service number for my manufacturer, plus the company fax number

I provided her with my office number and my fax number, too.

I added my cell phone to the list and even jotted down a few e-mail addresses.

She thanked me for all of this and then caught me off guard with this question, "But, how do I get in touch with you?"

I laughed because I knew exactly what she meant. I had given her a plethora of options, but not one explanation or direction. Should she call me at the office? How about my cell? If she has a problem, should she fax it or e-mail it?

These are all extremely important questions for her business. As her rep, I am the person she depends on many things, and if she does not know the best and most efficient methods to communicate with me, our business relationship will not be as successful as it could be.

Contact Methods
Regardless of whom your rep is, communication is the key to best utilizing that person. Do you have questions about writing an order or about new products? Are you having a problem with delivery, damage, quality or just need help with a customer? These are all instances where you'll contact your rep.

You need to sit down with your rep and get a clear understanding of how best to employ your communication options. I cannot tell you the best way to communicate with each and every rep that you deal with, but I can use my methods as an example.

I'll start with manufacturers' phone and fax numbers. This is the least effective way to contact me. I'm not at the factory. My territory is several hundred miles away, so it's on rare occasion that I'd be there.

But, if you are looking to place or check the status of an order, want to check delivery schedules or need immediate answers concerning product questions, the factory is your best option.

Communication directly with customer service will connect you to people who can provide immediate answers. If you call me with these questions, I'm going to call customer service and then call you back. So, calling them directly is actually the shortest path to your answer.

My office number is another option for contacting me. Our agency's office is staffed full time, but if you are looking for me personally, I'm probably not there. I am on the road nearly all of the time. My office can handle most inquiries, but a message can always be left for me. If a customer chooses to leave a message, I ask that the person be as detailed as possible in the message so that I can work on the issue prior to returning the call.

When considering faxing something to my office, consider what is needed before doing so. Do you need me to look over a quote, a showroom design or an invoice for credit? Great. When I get back in, I will review and resolve it. If you're faxing a question or problem that needs to be resolved immediately, this is not an effective method. I tell my customers that if they are going to fax me something important, please call me about it, too, so that I know to look for it.

Technology ideas
The quickest way to reach me or get a message to me is my cell phone. My cell is with me at all times. I may not be able to answer each call as it occurs, but I do get the messages quickly.

As a rep, I am on the road almost every day, and the cell phone allows me to visit customers while being able to quickly respond to the rest of my business. With my cell phone, I can take my "office" on the road. I can resolve issues right then and there by having quick access to my customers and my manufacturers. I do not want the travel and wait time, which is a part of my life as a rep, to be wasted time. That time can be properly utilized because of my cell phone. My customers benefit from the quicker response and I benefit because I don't have that long "To Do" list hanging over my head at night with 1,000 phone calls waiting for me in the morning. My cell phone also allows me to do more in less time.

Many of my customers favor communicating via e-mail; I do, too. Each evening when I get in, I check my e-mail and, if a customer has a question, I can usually type up a quick answer, attach items that they may be looking for or send an e-mail to whomever can best help them.

E-mail can spell out exactly what is needed, and it isn't limited to a 9-to-5 time frame. I have customers who arrive at work as early as 4:30 or 5:00 a.m., and I have customers who work on drawings late into the evening. These people, hopefully, are not going to call me at these times, but they can e-mail me. It is a great way to prepare questions and have them waiting for the rep.

I do have one e-mail rule that I give to all of my customers. If they are going to e-mail me, they must put my product name in the subject line or I will not guarantee that I will look at it. With all of the spam and virus issues out there, my office and I will automatically delete any e-mail that we do not recognize.

When I was training that new salesperson a few days ago, I told her that my cell phone was definitely the best way to "get in touch with me." The efficiency and effectiveness of her communication with me is key to our success, and it is to yours, as well.

Don't just have a list of ways to communicate with your rep. Make sure that you know the best way to "get in touch."


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This article originally appeared in Kitchen and Bath Design News 6/2004

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