Andrew Field of PrintingForLess.com – Part 4

This is the fourth and final part of the interview with Andrew Field of PrintingForLess.com.

In this part of the interview, he discusses the company’s team structure, some of their employees’ unique set of job responsibilities, the employees benefits at PFL, the company’s growth, their dog policy, and some parting advice.

Question 12: What is the team structure at PFL like?
Answer: Sure. Since we serve customers from coast to coast, we are open from 7 AM to 7 PM MST, Monday – Friday.

Exactly five ears ago, we went through an internal re-engineering of our customer service processes. We hired a big shot consultant to help walk us through it and what we discovered was that the customers were having to take on too much of the friction of hand offs between various people here. That’s how we designed the TSR position – to be able to encompass everything the customer would really want.

We don’t transfer you to accounting if you have a question about your invoice or transfer you to production if you have a question about your schedule. The TSRs can handle all of that.

What we realized is that printing is still a trust and a relationship buy and we assign each customer to a three person team that essentially owns that customer and can do anything they want for that customer. Over time, they gain quite a bit of intimacy with that customer. What the fees are, how they like their colors, that sort of thing. Typically, that three person team and that customer sort of function together as a nice cohesive unit.

Each of the people on the three person team cover slightly different shifts (one comes in early, one comes in later, etc.), but most of time, all three of them in there. Each of them has the skills so they can do the entire range of duties (which is quite varied), but each week, one of them concentrates on one third of the job, another on the second, and the last on the final third. And then, they rotate each week as to who will be first on phones. The way it works is that you are first on whatever you are first on and the other people are second. SO if the phone rings, and none of the three people are on the phones, person A will answer it. If person A is out of her chair or on the phone, person B will answer. If they are occupied, person C will answer. If none of the three of them is available, it rolls over to a designated hitter pool. They take the rollover phone calls. This all occurs without being put on hold or anything like that.

When you call, if you are an existing inquirer or customer, the phone system says to our database “hey, I’ve got this inbound caller ID – what do you want me to do with it?” and it checks it against our records and tells the phone system which team to route it to. So, if you are a red team customer or a big sky customer, or a glacier team customer, the call gets routed to the right place so you don’t have to be transferred around. It’s been really effective by the way.

Question 13: Is there a reason you have people shift jobs instead of concentrating on one?
Answer: The primary reason is that they have to be good at all three of them. And you can’t be good at something you don’t regularly do.

If you are the customer, you don’t want to even be passed around in that three person team. So you call us up and say yeah this is Andrew and I’m calling to check on my last order that hasn’t shipped yet (that would be the order processing person who could look that up). Then, you say, “oh, by the way I have a rasterized image – how do I get that into my Photoshop file and does it need to be CMYK or RGB?” That’s a specialized question and very technical. And then, you might go “oh, by the way – could you work me up a price on some special paper stock that isn’t available on the web site?” That’s a different third of the job.

You don’t want to be transferred around for that. We want you to have one point of contact who can answer all of your questions. The three person team allows us to stretch our hours out and still have some customer intimacy. It also makes the job bearable and gives backup. It would be tough if every time a person were taking a day of vacation that all of their customers were left out in the cold.

We realize that it’s a lot harder to hire and train people who are that well rounded – its very unusual, but we take the expense and the trouble on of doing it because the customer experience that it results in is spectacular.

Question 14: Your employees have a lot of benefits. Could you tell me a bit about what it’s like to work at PrintingForLess.com?
Answer: I think it’s fun. Fun is right in our mission statement – it’s one of the three legs of the mission statement. Today we had a soup cook-off. About 20 different people brought in soups and they only had numbers. There were 15 judges who tasted all the soups. We gave away a Kitchen Aid mixer.

It’s pretty fast paced. People work hard here – there’s not a lot of goofing off. There is chit chat and laughing, but there is laughing while their hands are still moving. I’ve never been in a place where the people work so hard so consistently.

We try to keep the hours reasonable. Salaried and management people work 40 – 45 hours. Not many people other than me work much more than that and even I don’t burn it too hard. That goes hand and hand with the Montana lifestyle, which is people appreciate their families, appreciate their sport, appreciate the great outdoors. We have people who in the summer go on a hike every evening after work up into the mountains – a significant, four hour hike where they are coming back in the dark and seeing bears and foxes and moose on the way.

There is a fast pace of growth and fast pace of change. We are hiring a lot of people. For example, we graduated 12 people out of the training program last Friday. That’s a pretty significant number given the size of our company.

I like to think it’s fun, it’s challenging, and it’s growth inducing.

Question 15: What type of growth is PFL experiencing and how is it dealing with that?
Answer: We grew 27% last year. We are hoping to do about the same this year. We’ve had years of substantially higher growth, but as the numbers get bigger, it gets a little harder.

Among the ways, we are dealing with it (and we’ve really focused on it this year and last year), is we’re trying to stay ahead of ourselves in terms of building the infrastructure for growth.

For instance, the HR infrastructure. We don’t just do a one time annual review. People get regular feedback on their performance, we have great IT systems (we have six full time programmers who are continually working on building new systems for us), we have a whole strategic execution department that works on taking business needs and turning them into reality in various parts of the organization. We call it growing up.

We’re trying to have some structure. We are a process driven organization – great customer service requires great people, but by themselves, that isn’t sufficient. Great people also need good processes and good tools. If someone says “I’d love to help you Andrew, but my system won’t let me see that” or something of that nature, then everyone is frustrated. It puts the employee in a bad position and makes for a miserable customer experience.

We try to stay ahead of the curve in giving people the tools they need to do their job.

Question 16: You can bring your dog to work at PFL?
Answer: Yes, but it’s not an unlimited right. We actually have a dog policy that states the owner has to sign a waiver, which states they are responsible for any personal or property damage that occurs, they have to clean up after them, and so on. If they are consistently disruptive or hostile, or anything like that, they have to go home.

On the policy, point number is absolutely no cats on the premise at any time. That’s just the way it is. We have about enough dogs, so we try to keep it limited.

Question 17: Anything you would like to add?
Answer: All this talk about jobs going to China and India and everything is a commodity and that sort of thing. There are 30,000 commercial printers in the United States. So what edge can I get over those other 30,000 competitors? I think the single best way to differentiate yourself is to deliver just a remarkable customer interaction.

It’s what we do. We go beyond the phrase customer service and we try to create remarkable customer interactions that are so good that you have to tell somebody about it.

One of the ways we measure that is through our surveys by what percentage of our first time customers came from referrals from other people and that runs right about 40% and that’s a big number.

For us, customer service is not just a nice add-on to our core business – it is our core business.

2 Responses to “Andrew Field of PrintingForLess.com – Part 4”

  1. Service Untitled » So what’s Dell doing? - customer service and customer service experience blog said:

    May 08, 07 at 6:39 am

    […] Team structure coming eventually. Dell is considering a team based structure (similar to the ones employed at Printing For Less and Rackspace). They want it so that a customer can deal with the same group of people instead of a whole bunch of relatively random call center agents. This, to me, was the biggest piece of news and quite interesting. […]

  2. david said:

    Mar 05, 08 at 8:36 am

    I live in the neighborhood and love how nice the company looks. Right next to the Yellowstone Truck Stop and The Bagel Shop. Keep those paper pallets coming! Someday I can build a windfence!!