The title of this post comes from a question we use in job interviews. The full question is as follows:
Sales, customer service or operations: Which one is most important and why?
Now, the job we use this question for actually requires a fairly equal distribution of responsibilities among all three functional areas, but we use the question to help show where an applicant’s inclinations and skills lie.
Sure, it’s possible for someone to answer the question purely intellectually. They are great at operations, lets say, but truly believe sales is the life blood of any business.
However, this does not happen often. Usually the question helps provide another glimpse into the applicant’s skill set — both their comfort areas and their ability to handle challenging communication.
If I Had to Choose…
Of course, business is not limited to these three basic areas; however, virtually no business that is subject to competitive market dynamics can prosper without doing well in all three areas.
Sales, customer service, and operations are each independently important to most business concerns; yet, the individual importance of each activity should not overshadow how inherently dependent they are upon one another.
Think about it from the departmental view.
- How does Sales deliver what it promises without Operations making sure it is in stock and on time?
- How does Customer Service succeed without Sales communicating realistic expectations to customers about the service the Company provides?
- How does Operations plan for the next quarter without knowing from Sales what is selling and what is not and without knowing from Customer Service why customers are repeat buying or not?
It is this interdependence that should be recognized by practitioners in all three areas.
Much is written these days about communicating across silos. Departments and business functions are not islands to themselves; they are interdependent parts of a single system. While one area might be predominant in certain circumstances, in the larger picture, no one discipline is more important than any other.
Each activity needs the other for an organization to be truly successful over the long term.
So, if anyone ever asks you which one of the three is most important and why, you now know the answer.
Why, it’s customer service, of course.