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Climate Center boss aims to raise the bar on cooling sector customer service

Lee Jon Newman, recently appointed managing director of Climate Center has ambitious plans to leverage the wholesale giant’s strength in distribution to set the bar higher on customer service

Lee Jon Newman, managing director of wholesale giant Climate Center and its sister company Pipe Center, has laid out plans to build on the company’s distribution network and IT systems to benefit cooling customers.

He said: “I believe there are huge opportunities for us to serve our customers better. As a business, we are heavily investing in our branch infrastructure, so that we can offer customers an even better experience. For example, we are installing telephony systems which give customers a call-back service – so that we never miss a call again.”

Climate Center has instituted a customer service training programme, which all employees are required to complete, regardless of their position in the business. It aims to build on the already high levels of service delivered and ensure that customers’ needs are central to every conversation that takes place in the business.

He said: “I think, as a service-led industry, we should never assume we know what people’s needs are – we need to put aside preconceptions and look afresh. The truth is that there are many different types of customer, with different requirements, issues and priorities. It is our job to define them clearly, understand the various requirements, and then shape our offering to meet the need in each case.”

That segmentation of different customer groups is one of the approaches Mr Newman is taking as he promises ‘everything we do will be in response to customer insight, with the customer at its heart.’

He said another key element is being easy to do business with: “It is making sure the simple things are right, like being easy to pay. There are lots of back-office processes you need to align and get right.”

He added that this can have a significant influence: “If, say, just 2 per cent of your business is in dispute at any one time, it can tie up a huge amount of resource and attention. We need to minimise this, and design our processes to get it right first time.”

Mr Newman is intent on using the power of the wholesaler’s distribution and IT processes: “The aim is to be the best business in the market, the merchant of choice. We are very focused on measuring our On Time in Full performance, and reporting it weekly for major customers. It is a good thing - and entirely healthy - to be obsessive about your own performance as a business, to constantly keep it front of mind.”

In pursuit of this goal, Mr Newman has made a range of boardroom changes, he said: “The structure of a business obviously has to suit the changing needs of the market, and it goes without saying that that is constantly evolving. We are putting in place a new structure for the leadership team which reflects the changing needs of our customers.”

“In addition to me and a Finance Director, the senior team will comprise a Sourcing Director, Commercial Director, Sales Director, National Account Director, Branch Director and Scotland Director. I am very happy that most of these roles have been filled by existing people in the business and that, between us, we have decades of experience in the industry.”

He added: “In addition to our award-winning Sustainable Building Center, we have invested significantly in our central technical support team, to advise customers on the environmental performance of equipment. They provide an excellent and much-needed service keeping major customers updated on developments in technology and changes in the legal framework that will impact their business in the future.”

Logistics and distribution is a key element for the wholesaler, and the firm has plans under way for leveraging their capacity still further, he said:

“We are investing in a new distribution centre at Measham, giving us enhanced capability – and enabling next day delivery to all branches in the network. It represents a multi-million pound investment and is scheduled for opening early in 2015.”

The online interaction with customers is the final area in which Mr Newman is looking to increase Climate Center activity:

“At present, online business represents a small percentage of our trade. However, our sister Wolseley companies build.com and Ferguson in the US have built very substantial online businesses that provide a model for what could be achieved. We are currently working on the roll-out of a new transactional website for Climate Center that will be ready for launch shortly. So, the message is, watch this space.”

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