Last summer, HARDI had a strategic planning meeting. Can you tell us a little bit about this meeting?  

Jessica Mckinney: Yes. Last summer, HARDI hosted our multiday strategic planning meeting at our Columbus, Ohio, office. Several members of HARDI’s leadership flew in for the meeting, and throughout the few days we were together, we identified several key objectives in regards to HARDI’s path over the next five years. A lot of the discussions revolved around how to best serve our members, and we identified a real need for enhanced customer service for our members.

It became pretty obvious that we’re not the only ones feeling these pressures. A lot of our members were also facing higher demands of customer service and increased expectations across the industry in regards to customer service. One of the things that came out of the meeting for us was we really needed to ramp up our customer service and focus on that.

Can you give us an example of a HARDI member who has experienced this issue of customer service?

Mckinney: Actually, we heard Greg Servais with Dakota Supply Group speak at the press conference during HARDI’s annual conference in Colorado in December. One of the things that his company had recently been facing was a higher demand for customer service needs. The company chose to open up an after-hours call center to combat and deal with this issue. HARDI is not necessarily doing an after-hours call center, but we’re definitely ramping up the way we handle phone calls and our customer inquiries here.

Tell us what will be changing regarding the focus on customer service.

Mckinney: Right now, HARDI’s membership team consists of myself and Alyssa Crooks. We are pretty much the front-line customer service department for HARDI. We answer all the phone calls and help the members who call in with their requests.

A lot of the time ... more often than not, actually ... we transfer specific inquiries to the subject-matter experts or their specific departments. For example, if someone calls in with a specific benchmarking question, we’ll transfer it to Brian Loftus, our benchmarking analyst. The same thing with education; those requests to go Nick, advocacy to Jon, things like that. Our goal is to do more going forward by empowering the membership department so that we can better answer those questions and cut down on the calls that are being transferred.

Tell us how you plan on doing this.

Mckinney: We’re making a few changes. The first that’s really going to help us is hiring a third person for the membership team. Last year, Sue Calvin, who had been with the membership team for 25 years, retired after spending over 25 years with the membership team, and we’re looking to replace that position now. We’re currently in first-round interviews with candidates, and we’re hoping to make an offer to someone by the time this appears in the magazine.

One of the other changes we’re going to be implementing is acting on one of our biggest initiatives for 2017, which is first-call resolution. I mentioned it briefly in the last question, but the goal here is really to answer the majority of customer requests on the first call. Ideally, we want to cut down on call transfers and be able to answer as many requests as we can the first time the customer calls. Those are two big changes.

Third, we’re going to be more proactive in gathering member information and data for our system. Our thought is that the more accurate our member records are, the more likely it is that the right communications are going to be put in the right hands. Ultimately, our members’ businesses will be better off by us having accurate information and those capabilities. We’re going to be working on a few smaller things that are ultimately going to have a major impact on the level of customer service we’re providing, and improving how we serve our members to put them in a better position to succeed. We see it as a commitment to these little details that is going to make a big difference for our members and for us.

When someone calls, can you immediately pull up the member’s information?... No one can remember every member obviously. How do you say, “Oh, it’s Joe Smith Supply, and they do this and that.” Is that part of the plan?

Mckinney: Yes. Right now, we have a lot of our member information in the system, and as soon as a member calls, we’ll immediately pull up their company or whoever is calling. We can see their historical transactions, company size, prime contact, and other contacts in the system. 

We have a lot of information there now, but our goal going forward is to get even more information so we can have the most accurate, up-to-date data and full member records. A lot of times, we’re missing titles and things like that. We just want to have as much information as we possibly can. The more complete and accurate these records are, the better we will be able to serve our members.

There’s nothing more maddening, I think, for everybody both on the personal level and on the business level as than when you make a phone call and then you’re on hold for 30 minutes. 

You’ll have two front-line persons handling this. What happens if a third or fourth call comes in? Does it roll into voicemail? Do you call back? Do you say, “You’re going to wait for seven minutes,” which actually helps pass the time?

mckinney: Once we hire a new employee for our team, there will be three customer service staffers. It will be myself, Alyssa and the new hire. If we get three calls, then the three of us will be able to answer them immediately. There’s probably only a handful of times it’s actually happened where we’ve gotten that many calls at one time, but beyond that, we have a couple others in the office who are able to answer phones, as well, if need be.

When someone calls, we have never, and probably never will, put them on  hold. Usually, the only time a member is on hold is if we’re trying to find an answer for them or transferring them to the appropriate contact. We pride ourselves on the fact that calls are immediately answered when the phone rings.

Then, to wrap it up, are you expecting more participation from members due to these changes?

mckinney: Yes, that’s the end goal. Anybody that talks with Tom Roberts during his HARDI presidency will eventually hear him talk about ‘organizational engagement,’ and that concept for him is connecting the right person at a company with the right resource at HARDI. For example, it might be an HR manager who is connected with our talent team to learn about HR services, or a CFO learning about the Strategic Leadership & Finance Focus Conference. What we’ve seen is that the more accurate and robust our member information is, the greater organizational engagement we see from members. Ultimately, we will be offering a higher level of customer service to our members.

OK. So a fundamental change is quicker service and being directed more promptly to the subject expert at HARDI. And you want to make a call back the next day disappear as much as possible. Is that accurate?

mckinney: Right, exactly. Another thing we pride ourselves on is getting that information to people as soon as we possibly can and not making them wait for it. That’s definitely something we want to continue going forward.