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Sep 01 2019
Our Coworkers = Our Customers
Samantha Bartholomew, CBF, Intermountain Wood Products

The perception of credit management is often negative. We are a group of people who typically bear bad news and cause further complications in the jobs of our associates and heartache to our customers. What we do is not glamorous and, more often than not, someone is upset with our decisions. It is very easy to get caught up in the humdrum of negativity but there are things we can do to help build the relationship between ourselves and our fellow coworkers and infuse positivity into an otherwise difficult job.

I am very fortunate to work for a management team that values the relationship with our coworkers as much as the relationships with our customers. These managers help remind me of what I tend to forget: my associates are my customers, too. This version of customer service can be easily overlooked as we are here to conduct business as a team, but there needs to be camaraderie on the team in order to attain a victory. I have found success in developing meaningful relationships with my associates in our branches through discussing our personal lives, teasing, spending quality time in the branches, providing a meal, and spread good news when there is some to be had.

To begin with, you need time and money to allocate to these relationships and that can be hard because you are investing in something that is intangible, but you need to remind yourself that it is also invaluable.

In my day-to-day business, I employ Google Hangouts continuously. I use this application to communicate quickly with our branches and their management. Most of the time, we are back and forth about business and who is COD and which salesman needs to hear what, etc. But then there are times I intentionally slow down and ask them what is going on with them, or we send each other funny GIFs and pictures. On occasion, I've even shared vacation photos and videos so the guys can see what I was up to while I was out of the office. We know whose wife is pregnant and who just got a dog and who is engaged. It feels really good to be invested in someone else's life and to have someone else invested in mine.

I have known some of the men I work with since I was 16. We have become very good friends through the years, and we know each other so well that we can tease and joke with each other; it feels good to pause and laugh with my friends. These small deviations from business throughout the workday can look like avoiding responsibilities and improper use of company time, but I am a firm believer that taking a break to chat increases morale and productivity.

The other method I have found to have a deep impact is physically visiting our branch locations. The motive of my visits is rarely just to spend time with the associates (it is usually for an open house or sales calls) but that doesn't mean I can't hang out in the office and have face time with the branch employees. Some of the time, my associates have to follow through with my decisions i.e. if I say a customer is COD, one of our inside salesmen has the hard conversation to ask for money. This is more unpleasant for them than it is for me because I have hard conversations all the time, so I like to stop and validate the associate's feelings and let them know that their hard work is appreciated.

When I can, I also like to buy lunch for the whole office. Whenever someone from administration visits a branch, they tend to meet with management and then leave. I try to avoid this habit and spend quality time eating with the associates; we crowd in the breakroom and simply enjoy each other's company. You can really get to know someone when they are off the clock and chatting over a meal. Sometimes I need to be out on sales calls and can't hang out but I will still provide lunch because the branches are often stressed about budgets and who's going to pay for things but when I buy lunch, it doesn't hit their bottom line so it truly is a worry-free break for the whole branch.

Finally, when there is good news to be had, I try hard to spread it. When someone does something great and I notice, I do my best to tell them. A topic I've been hitting hard lately is cash account COD deliveries. This past week, all of my branches' CODs were squeaky clean so I sent them an email to let them know that I noticed and appreciated their hard work.

In credit management, a little bit of positivity goes a long way. I know that I am not the best at remembering that my coworker is my customer, but I do appreciate a reminder so I don't neglect my team. Through personal conversation, tasteful joking, personal visits, sharing meals, and spreading good news, relationships are created and solidified. There is no better feeling in business than feeling like you go to work to hang out with your family.