Now customer support manager, Palmer Johnson Power Systems’ Mary Klett quickly rose through the ranks at the company after starting as a customer service rep, thanks to the 38-year-old’s willingness to take on new opportunities, like gamification, and her exceptional ability to support her team.
When Mary Klett joined Palmer Johnson Power Systems’ customer support team as an inside sales rep in 2013, it didn’t take long for the distributor to pick up on her passion for helping customers and her diligent work ethic. Combined with her other positive traits, these strengths positioned Klett, 38, for a fairly fast advancement up the corporate ladder at her new employer.
Within one year, Klett was promoted to a lead position within the team. As a lead, she supervised a team of five customer support reps, leading them through a technology transformation — including the addition of a new Salesforce CRM platform — that the company was going through at the time. With Klett at the helm of that project, Palmer Johnson went from using an outdated ticketing system for customer service operations to a robust CRM platform.
“I had no experience in the distribution industry, so it’s definitely been a learning experience,” says Klett, who previously worked for a firm that sold copper and metal alloys, and another one that sold wall clocks. That sales background proved invaluable for Klett, who didn’t take long to advance from inside sales rep to customer support supervisor to key account executive. Today, she’s Palmer Johnson’s customer support manager.
Learning a New Industry
When Klett joined Palmer Johnson, she was in the middle of a move from Milwaukee to Madison, Wisconsin, and seeking a sales position with a company that possessed values and a mission that aligned with her own. “I wanted to work for a company that fit my values and where I’d be appreciated for the hard work that I knew I could do,” says Klett, who adds that she was more attracted to the company itself versus the distribution industry as a whole.
“When you’re in sales, you learn the sales attitude. You know how to work with customers, so once you learn the business — even if it’s new to you — you can succeed in it,” Klett says. “Knowing this, I took on the challenge and was open to learning any new things — including the off-highway industrial industry, which was completely new to me at the time.”
Today, Klett heads up a team of 12 full-time customer service representatives who are responsible for a good portion of Palmer Johnson’s annual revenues. The team also manages the vast majority of parts inquiries across the organization’s 21 different product lines. In her role as manager, Klett oversees team development and manages its book of business.
“Our customer support team is working with customers every day, reviewing quotes, finding ways to improve lead times, negotiating prices and improving margins,” says Klett. The team also handles much of the day-to-day customer management, addresses incoming customer inquiries, and works together to resolve issues.
A subject matter expert and manager who likes to “lead by example,” Klett heads up Palmer Johnson’s gamification team. Proven to work in the business environment, gamification is big business: 95% of employees enjoy using gaming-inspired elements in their work and 72% claim that gamification inspires them to work harder, according to data compiled by Review42. These results are pushing growth in the global gamification market, which is growing by 32% annually (CAGR) and expected to reach $40 billion by 2024, according to tech company ReportLinker.
The Palmer Johnson gamification team develops new and fun sales contests for its customer support team. Twice a month, two people from the team (plus Klett) volunteer to develop the gamification activities for the next two weeks. “We focus on different goals that we’re trying to drive within the team,” she explains, “whether it’s a change of a process or just an engaging sales or margin dollar competition.”
The trio sits down to brainstorm ideas to focus on and develops the communication used to share the next challenge with the rest of the team. “Sometimes we use prizes — you know, those little carrots at the end of the stick — for people to chase,” says Klett. “That really helps drive new and fun sales contests for our customer support team.”
In January, for example, team members logged all incoming phone calls in the company’s CRM.
“It’s something that we’ve been asking them to do for a couple of years now,” says Klett, “but we thought by making it fun and having a prize at the end for the team that logs the most calls, we’d be able to increase participation.” Based on the percentage of calls logged to specific customer cases for the prior month, the team with the highest number of cases won the contest and the prize.
Fundamental in nature, the game also helped support a larger organizational goal. “There’s a lot of data entry that we can input into our CRM to help make it easier for the future, be it for information tracking, data tracking, or trying to find something that’s been done in the past,” says Klett. “Knowing this, we’re always asking people to input their data.”
Looking around at her team and workplace as a whole, Klett says Palmer Johnson’s culture tends to attract and retain top talent and future leaders.
“We have great tenure here,” she says, noting that out of her 12-person team, the majority have been with the company for five years or more. “Palmer Johnson does a really good job overall of providing development for each employee and in creating a culture and atmosphere that people are excited to come to every day.”
As for Klett, she says she loves her role as customer support manager and is pleased with the decision she made seven years ago to join an industrial distribution firm. “I’m still new to my current position and trying to master what I can,” says Klett. “My focus is on being successful at what I’m doing right now and then seeing what other doors open for me in the future.