Channel Partners

May 1, 2001

7 Min Read
Roberta Tamburrino

Posted: 05/2001

Roberta Tamburrino
Empathy with Customers Leads Her to Find
Solutions
By Bruce Christian

A few years back, Roberta Tamburrino found herself in a job that was classic
Catch-22: She couldn’t execute without properly trained staff, and the company
was not willing to provide the procedures for training them.

"I was put into a new organization … but given no resources" says
Tamburrino. "The first thing I decided was that I needed someone to come in
and handle the procedures, the training. But nobody could do it."

Working for a CLEC and recognizing back-office problems, Tamburrino went to
her superiors. They told her that while they had the people to facilitate the
training she said the office needed, she would have to write the specific
lessons.

"That’s when I got the idea [for Customer Solutions]," Tamburrino
recalls. "That was in January 1998, and by August, I was up and
operating."

It wasn’t that easy.

"When I went to banks to get the loans and tried to explain what I
wanted to do, they would say, ‘Let’s see, you are going to train telecom on
telecom? We don’t understand you. Telecom doesn’t know this already?’"

The president and CEO of Customer Solutions had to tell potential investors
why the telecom industry seemed incapable of training its own people.

She explained to them that the rapid growth and the changing market have made
a once valuable and reliable back-office employee into an out-of-touch worker
with little information to provide customers calling for help.

The banks and capital investors didn’t believe her, so Tamburrino and friends
had to "scrape together personal funds" to launch, and in 1999,
Customer Solutions was ready to exhibit at its first trade show.

She acknowledges some angst at starting her own business–especially one in
which you are telling others what to do to succeed.

"You are always going to be nervous when you take a leap, but I knew the
industry," Tamburrino says. "I new I had something to offer, and I
really believe in giving the customer what the customer needs.

"Until we did it, no one had this kind of program to help the telecom
industry," Tamburrino says.

Customer Solutions’ success has spawned a number of imitators in recent
years.

"It’s amazing that no one seems to understand this, unless you come from
behind the scenes, or come from the industry, as I did," Tamburrino says.

She laughs when she recalls that as a high school student in Illinois, her
peers were getting their first jobs in burger joints, ice cream parlors or
retail shops, while she was troubleshooting circuit switches at Rockwell
Electronic Controls and Communications (Rockwell International Corp., www.rockwell.com).

"I’ve been in the industry all my life," Tamburrino says. "I
started out on my mother’s knee. She would memorize color codes for circuits.
She would make up little rhymes to help her, and I learned the rhymes."

From those early days, Tamburrino says she never stopped learning.

"I don’t know of any obstacle that can get in my way that can stop
me," she says confidently.

There was a detour, however. She quit college as a freshman for personal
reasons. Although she promised her mother she would go back and get her degree,
she still hasn’t. And with the growing success of Customer Solutions, it may be
quite some time before she is fitted for a cap and gown.

Tamburrino says Customer Solutions works because it is based on an outsider
looking in, then taking a common-sense approach to solving problems.

"We are half marriage counselor, half psychologist, half engineer. We
take a look at the whole picture," Tamburrino explains.

When a company turns to Customer Solutions, it is asking a doctor to fix
back-office ills.

"We go into back offices and find people who have no clue," she
says. "There are companies that have an idea of what is going on, but they
just lack common sense, so they just keep playing catch-up."

Part of the problem is the industry’s fluidity, she says.

"Dynamic companies build for that, but as an industry as a whole, we
need to focus on the customer," says Tamburrino.

She adds that companies that get into the business for reasons other than
serving the customer are destined for failure, because the end user will never
feel loyal.

"That’s why the recession, in some terms, is good for business,"
she says, explaining that some newer competitors with poor customer relations
will be weeded out during the economic shakedown.

Tamburrino also says that before the Telecommunications Act of 1996 opened
the door to competition, legacy companies never had to care about customers.

"They never have had an incentive to treat customers well, because
everyone in the country needs the services," she explains. "We’ve
become totally dependant on the services."

According to Tamburrino, many telecom companies believe if they lose a
customer to the competition, it’s not a big deal, because that competitor may
have lost a customer to them in return.

A company that turns to Customer Solutions for help may not know what to
expect, because it approaches each job as a uniquely different challenge.

"We meet with the customer, and we go over the objective and how we are
going to fix the situation," Tamburrino says. "Sometimes this can be
done by just providing information. But sometimes it takes a lot more."

Tamburrino says she has no barometer to measure how well the work is
progressing.

"I don’t have anything tangible," she admits. "The tangible is
the final result. Everything is performance-based."

That puts her company at risk. She is paid either on retainer or by
objective. If Customer Solutions fails to solve the problem for which it was
hired, it doesn’t get paid.

Because each situation is different, Customer Solutions may find itself
working hand-in-hand with back-office personnel or at an executive level.

"I don’t have a single method," Tamburrino says. "All
companies are different, so each scenario is different, and it has to be.

"It is not uncommon for me to get up at a board meeting to interrupt,
stand up and say, ‘You don’t get it!’ When we go in at an executive level,
remember, it is their reputations at stake," Tamburrino says.

One of the continuing problems Customer Solutions finds in many companies is
the "third shift."

"Everywhere we go, we hear about that poor third shift that just can’t
get training. People who are in the call centers, can’t get away from the
phone."

Another problem is in finding good trainers on a regional basis. That is why
Customer Solutions developed its Online Training Interactive Solution, or OTIS.

The online application addresses problem scenarios in different ways and
allows the client to control the training pace.

Because the industry continues to change, Tamburrino does not foresee any
slowdown in her business.

Besides, she gets a real kick out of what she does, especially when she can
help an up-and-coming company.

"It’s great to see someone small moving forward," Tamburrino says.

She is passionate about sharing her knowledge to ensure that telecom players
learn how to treat customers with the respect they deserve. Although she is
unsure where she gets that drive, she suspects it may come from a grandfather
she never met.

She explains that during World War II, he ran an Italian underground that
smuggled Jews out of Italy. "I sometimes think about that," she says.
"Just to sacrifice so much is unbelievable. Nothing I can do will measure
up to what he did."

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