A Paradigm of Time
Realigning services with customers
"Our presence in the sales environment enables us to serve the uniqueness of each market, assist Sales with their account management responsibilities, and it has also resulted in increased familiarity with customer accounts."
- Roberta Manzo
Table of Contents
High Desert Hero
The Perfect Political Storm
A Bravo Performance
An Inside Job
The President & Chairman's Report
Freedom Orange County Information
Board of Directors
Freedom's Family of Information & Entertainment Providers
2000 Annual Report Home
Freedom Communications, Inc.
What the Customer Accounts Team did in 2000 was to decrease the DSO from 54 days in January to 46 days by October. Those eight days equate to $5.4 million.
"There was a period of shakedown and getting comfortable. But as the months progressed, we started hearing from the customers, both internal and external."
- Roberta Manzo
"Advertisers are ecstatic with being able to talk with the same person about their account. They feel it's more personalized service."
- Roberta Manzo
The adage says: "Time is money." Want proof? How about $5.4 million.
That's the incredible impact that an eight-day turnaround had at The Orange County Register in 2000 when the newspaper's Customer Accounts Team went into its first full year of operation.
The team is responsible for the billing and collection of the newspaper's advertising accounts. A key component of the collection cycle is day sales outstanding (DSO) an important measurement of how quickly an advertiser pays its bill from the time it is invoiced.
Why is DSO so crucial? "By allowing us to have the cash more quickly, we can provide it to Freedom, which in turn can invest it and earn interest. Also, Freedom can use that money to pay down debt," explained Register Chief Financial Officer Diane Siegfried. "We did $245 million in advertising in 2000. The sooner we have that revenue, the sooner we can leverage it." Working in conjunction with centralized Credit and Collections, what the Customer Accounts Team did in 2000 was to decrease the DSO from 54 days in January to 46 days by October. Those eight days equate to $5.4 million.
But the eight-day improvement tells only part of this story. There has also been improved customer service with advertisers.
For years, the Register had been mired in an old system where credit, billing and collections were centralized within the Finance Department. The finance people were distanced from the account executives who handled the advertiser accounts.
When there were issues with an ad it wasn't correct or different ad rates were quoted customers frequently found themselves trapped in the bureaucracy of the Register's collection system. "Sometimes a customer would deal with the sales rep. Other times with someone in credit. Sometimes both. And if you called back on a different day, you might get an entirely different person who had to refamiliarize themselves with the problem," said Roberta Manzo, customer accounts manager. "The system was steeped in layers that were not customer friendly."
The flaws in the system were uncovered with the advent of the Register's Dynamic Publishing System (DPS), which was a wholesale replacement of the newspaper's computer hardware and software systems.
"DPS was the enabling factor in driving change. The Register decided to document and evaluate all the work processes at the newspaper. What they found was that we could improve our process by aligning the finance folks with their customers and with the sales reps," Siegfried said.
That meant breaking up the centralized finance credit and collections and billing departments and grouping them with respective Register sales teams. The new positions would be called customer account specialists and customer account assistants.
So, for example, in the Leisure Travel Business Service unit which handles advertising accounts such as Disney, Verizon, AT&T Wireless and American Express Travel a customer account specialist and customer account assistant would join the team of sales reps, ad artists and ad service reps and serve those accounts exclusively.
"There was a lot of fear among the finance people," Manzo said. "They had been together as a unit for many years and now we were breaking them up and sending them into uncharted territory. They were afraid they wouldn't fit in with the new teams. And admittedly, the new vision of how these teams would work was a little hazy."
The reorganization also meant massive retraining. "We were quadrupling what these people normally did. We had some people very strong in credit and collections, but they didn't know the billing side very well. Or the reverse was true," Siegfried noted. "Then we had the customer service issue. The CAS and CAA positions would be talking directly with customers. You might have some people who were really good at details, but weren't able to communicate in a big-picture way with customers. They really had to expand their skill sets." Melissa English would coordinate the seven months of training in 1999.
"We developed a matrix of all of the functions they would be doing and the training that would need to occur to ensure the effective performance of those functions," Manzo said. "We also had the new DPS systems they had to be trained on."
Although the newly trained teams were in place by 2000, the impact was not felt immediately. "There was a period of shakedown and getting comfortable," Manzo said. "But as the months progressed, we started hearing from the customers, both internal and external."
Renee Falzone is a customer account specialist for the Leisure Travel Business Services group.
"When I was in Credit prior to DPS, we were very limited to how we could help our advertising customers. Now with DPS, we are skilled in credit, billing and even sales information, enabling us to fulfill customer needs faster and better," she said. "Instead of running downstairs to pull tearsheets, now with a few clicks, this information is available on Adbase, resulting in instant feedback to our customers." Mike Hayes, sales manager for the Coast office, said response times have improved across the board in the areas of credit, billing and audits.
"That has directly contributed to the sales teams' ability to sell, upsell and cut right through any type of problems we have had with accounts that would have ordinarily led to misunderstandings on their billing and their ability to run the clients' advertising," he said.
Externally, advertisers have embraced the new team concept. "Advertisers are ecstatic with being able to talk with the same person about their account. They feel it's more personalized service," Manzo said. "Our presence in the sales environment enables us to serve the uniqueness of each market, assist Sales with their account management responsibilities, and it has also resulted in increased familiarity with customer accounts."