Is Customer Service a Sales Function or an Operations Function?

Make-to-order manufacturers are often conflicted between giving control of customer service to Sales or Operations. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solves this conflict by delivering a fully transparent process with objective rules, so everyone controls precisely what they need to control.


Make-to-order manufacturers have a protocol for order changes; however, customer service and operations have different opinions of what the protocol should be. The resulting friction causes inefficiency at best. At worst, billing mistakes and quality control damage revenues and customer satisfaction. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) can structure interactions objectively and solve these conflicts. CRM integration is one aspect of the transition from rigid organization to dynamic, process-driven business that can help lay issues like this to rest.


The conflict arises because each division serves very different success metrics. Customer service representatives might claim customer satisfaction, for instance, whereas operations serves quality assurance, safety protocols, etc. There are plenty of instances where both interests cannot be served at the same time.

The organization can say how it should respond in any given scenario. The customer service agent confirms the request and asks for the appropriate information. In most cases, this information is relayed through operations – either through a manager, or by consulting the production calendar. Made-to-order, B2B manufacturers often need to complicate this point because products are highly variable, and seemingly simple requests can sometimes lead to excessive time constraints or hidden costs. But for customer service, the protocol to ensure a thoughtful answer to the request is merely an instruction, more like a recipe than a real dessert.

The ability to enforce the recipe is where the organization can fall short. When a customer wants to change a standing order, the natural proclivity for customer service is to say, “Yes,” no matter what the customer wants. But Operations has a different master – quality control, safety, cost, etc. Saying yes to the customer always elicits customer approval but can lead to a manufacturing nightmare.

Nightmares happen more frequently depending on how close to capacity Operations is already running. When the production schedule is empty, everyone agrees the specification change should be priority one. But as the schedule fills up, operational constraints play an increasingly important role. And the real problems occur on the margin.

Operations says, “We’re full; we can’t take any more.”

Customer service could look beyond that boundary and come back with, “Wait a minute. Here are the rules you have established. I see that you are not completely full, and the customer wants it shipped; we need to take care of the customer, so please build it.”

As long as data is not transparent, infighting like this can occur and recur among divisions, causing confusion, decrease in morale, and ultimately customer dissatisfaction. Inevitably, conflicts like these are referred to the C-Suite. Execs try to answer the question intelligently and put it to rest forever.


Applying an organizational model to the problem does not work; two if not three groups rely on customer service. Accounting is impacted by cost changes and profitability. Operations needs that conduit to the customer so that it can dictate product features, what process is used and when it is scheduled for production. Sales & Marketing (in B2B) is conducted by the same reps that manage the order. Customer Service is a sales function and the customer point of contact – and yet, it is the customer’s point of contact to operations.

The organizational approach cannot answer this question. But communications technologies, like CRM, render the question obsolete by creating efficient, automated systems that deliver authority to the right employee, at the right time.


Issues like change orders are persistent drags on performance, but the exact cost is obscure until the issue is solved. Process solutions, enabled by CRMs like, or bpm’online, stop the argumentation and manipulation by providing a single, easily searchable data repository and an indisputable process to take inquiries through the organization. Enforcement becomes moot when the system is structured correctly. The majority of the thinking is done by the algorithm, which automates communications, processes, and data gathering.

Operations might cringe at a difficult schedule, but that does not mean they cannot take additional orders. When safety is a concern, this can be pointed out objectively — by using the data available to everyone. In the end, authority for such decisions can be delegated to a mid-level manager, and everyone can agree with the solution because data is undisputed. Disputes regarding the interpretation of data – namely, when and how changes should occur, are taken up the chain of command, where hard, transparent data shows causal relationships between capacity, quality control, satisfaction, etc. And the debate rises from a philosophical inquiry into a more practical determination of risk and reward. Over time, a process solution becomes increasingly precise and efficient.

This is just one example of the many interlinking processes that business-centric enterprise technology can make more efficient. Age-old territorial disputes such as these are nullified when seasoned business executives lead customization. Business-centric CRM customization provides a number of key benefits, such as:

  • Delegation to lower-ranked personnel
  • Improved customer service
  • Fewer arguments
  • Increased efficiency

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