A lunch break with New Zealand’s Customer Service team

The New Zealand Customer Service team are: (back row L-R) Liz Campbell, Debbie Lange, Soa Tupou, (front row) Lavanya Sankar and Sonia Kupenga

When it comes to close-knit teams, they don’t come much closer that the BASF New Zealand Customer Service team. Based in BASF’s Auckland office opposite the airport, on most days the team have the freedom to make almost as much noise as the planes flying overhead, as the rest of their colleagues are often out on the road.

This working environment not only allows, but encourages, the team to constantly collaborate and work together. “We all know that without our customers we don’t have a job, and we’re all customer focused and driven. If any of us have issues, we just yell out over the partition ‘hey, I’ve got this, what do think?’” explains team leader Sonia Kupenga. A BASF veteran of 22 years, Sonia adds, “We’re not afraid to jump out of the box when it matters, if it means a resolution for our customer quicker.”

In addition to Sonia “the head honcho”, the team consists of gym-junkie Soa Tupou, quiet achiever Liz Campbell, SAP expert Debbie Lange and IT savvy Lavanya Sankar- the newest and as she likes to point out, youngest, team member. The group give off the feeling that they know almost everything about each other and are happy to call out each other’s strengths and, if needed, areas they could improve. “No one’s afraid to say what they think,” says Sonia, “and I openly encourage that.”

The team’s bond and mutual understanding was solidified earlier this year when they began on a role specialisation pilot, which required them to re-evaluate which team members were assigned each task. “To make that whole exercise successful we had to find out where everyone fitted,” says Soa. “We had to leverage off our strengths,” adds Debbie, “and we did not do this lightly, we did forming and norming and storming and all those lovely words.” A few months down the track, the team agree the role specialisation process was a positive experience that has enabled them to become a stronger unit. “It certainly has opened up time for us to focus on things that we always used to leave for later and with that came an added accountability,” reflects Debbie.

The team believe the need for them to be a highly motivated, accountable, collaborative and unit is not only important to capitalise on their individual strengths, but vital to meet growing customer demands and expectations. “Customer service, even five years ago, it’s not the same as today,” explains Sonia. “People expect more, they want it faster, they want quality all at the same time at the best possible price.” For this to happen, the team emphasise the need for great relationships with suppliers, distributers, colleagues in the business units, and customers. “We don’t just take calls at our desk,” Soa explains, “our roles are very, very involved, we’re very engaged with our business units. We’re not call centre agents, we’re in the face of our business units ourselves, with our teams, our account managers and our customers.”

While the team are happy to roll up their sleeves and all pitch in to get the job done when things are tough, they make sure there’s plenty of time for sharing laughs. “There’s a good sense of humour that we all share, which helps keep everything in perspective when things are getting tight, when it’s tough,” says Debbie. When asked what it is that makes the team unique, Sonia pauses then concludes, “It's the calibre of the way we work together, our work ethic, our values and the respect we show each other, is what makes us unique.”