The Dock to Doorstep Blog Series highlights stories from our supply chain
“Customer service” has become an oxymoron for many of us. When products fail us, we reach for 1-800 numbers and email addresses in the hopes of reaching someone who can make it right. Maybe you’ve had better luck, but when I call a customer support hotline I steel myself for what are often long wait times and impenetrable phone banks. More often than not, I have to explain my issue to someone in a call center with no connection to the product. Sometimes I never speak to a human at all and instead interact with artificial intelligence. These experiences are usually frustrating, and I rarely come away feeling satisfied.
Why Staff a Member Service Team?
Sitka Salmon Shares does things differently. Rather than outsourcing member support, we view it as a critical part of our business model. “It has always been at the forefront of our company to have the BEST member experience around,” says Supply Chain Director Kim Magee-Barton. Kim should know: she helped shape our current Salmon Support Team. Kim joined the company fresh out of college, but was no stranger to the problems of customer service. “I had seven years of experience in customer service,” Kim says. “It was during that time that I learned the skills I needed to start the Salmon Support Team. I also learned the importance of keeping customer service within the walls of a company versus outsourcing.”
In the early days of the company, our team members wore many hats, Kim says. “I ran everything related to the community supported fishery, from the home delivery program, member services, supply chain, and our newly-founded shipping program.” As more members joined our community, these demands grew beyond the ability of any one person to manage, and Sitka Salmon Shares acquired the talent necessary to meet our 100% satisfaction guarantee. Kim moved into the position of supply chain director and handed member service responsibilities over to Donavon Hilligoss.
Building a Team
At the time, Donavon was a senior assistant director of admissions at Knox College, in Galesburg, Illinois. He spent at least two months on the road every year recruiting the next year’s freshman class, and an offer to build a member service team and not travel so much appealed to him. “I jumped at the first chance to join the company,” Donavon says.
Donavon’s skill in communicating with families weighing the decision on where to attend college served him well for the role he took on as community supported fishery director. “I am a people person, for sure,” Donavon admits.
What does a normal day look like for our Salmon Support staff? “Lots of talking,” Donavon says. He meets with the team twice a day to identify and catalog issues as they emerge. In 2021, the team resolved 108,000 tickets, representing everything from gratitude, confusion, and disappointment.
Aaron Perez, a member service lead, resolved many of those tickets. “My day starts at 7:30 a.m.,” Aaron says. You know those email reminders a week before your order arrives? That’s how Aaron spends his mornings before switching and responding to individual member questions. If you’ve emailed, called, or used our virtual chat tool, chances are you may have spoken to Aaron. “I have definitely developed friendships and trust with our members,” Aaron says. “I have some who ask for me specifically.”
Not all problems are easy to resolve. Both Donavon and Aaron provided support to one caller disappointed with their box of seafood. Donavon hit a snag early in the call. “I could not find any record of them in our system,” he says. “Eventually, I asked them to take a picture of the box of seafood and send it to me. It wasn’t our box.” Aaron continues, “They were very apologetic and I helped them not only find the right company to contact, but also recommended giving our company a try.” Our member service team takes our 100% satisfaction guarantee seriously.
“We want our members to feel like a part of the community,” Kim says, “and not just another customer.” Our goal of connecting members to fishermen and our trusted partners would be difficult if we outsourced customer service to a third party. By interacting with members every day, our home delivery drivers and Salmon Support crews relay member concerns to our operations team. That feedback allows us to learn from our mistakes, which benefits everyone in our supply chain from our fishermen to you, our members. “We wouldn't be able to run this amazing company without our members,” Kim says.
We can’t stay amazing without listening and learning every day. Let us know how we are doing by contacting our Salmon Support Team today.
Know Your Author
Dr. Jonathan Wlasiuk is the director of research and writing at Sitka Salmon Shares. He has taught at universities throughout the Great Lakes and writes about the social and ecological impact of business decisions.