As TreeHouse Foods’ Director of Customer Service, Nicole (Niki) Kostrova leads a team of six supervisors who oversee 50 customer service and fulfillment specialists and a group of analysts and sample order coordinators. This team is responsible for order fulfillment for a diverse store brand customer base within a network of more than 90 facilities including plants, warehouses and third-party logistics facilities.
Facing unique challenges over the past two years brought on by the pandemic, Kostrova, the 2022 Top Women In Store Brands honoree in the Operations category, guided her team through unprecedented challenges in the first year of the global health crisis. The second year posed greater challenges as global supply chain constraints impacted order fulfillment in ways not previously seen.
Kostrova cites her team as a key factor in dealing with these challenges and for her professional success.
“The strong and supportive team I am fortunate to lead has provided me the opportunity to be successful,” she said. “As a leader, I feel that my success is directly related to the ability to communicate processes and strategy that is not only executable, but collaborative. The people on my team challenge me when they don’t think something is right, and having the ability to work together to find the best solution is key.”
As the pandemic took hold, Kostrova had the foresight to understand the impact this would have on TreeHouse as a supplier of store brands, and specifically on the customer service team’s ability to maintain quality service with the increase in order volume.
Early on, she was instrumental in defining and executing an order management strategy to ensure continued store brand supply across a variety of categories and SKUs. She partnered with IT to develop and enhance order management tools to address the increased volume of orders. As the pandemic moved into year two, she sought out process improvements to adjust to the newest challenge of supply chain disruptions.
“As COVID hit in 2020, the way and ability to serve our customers was completely turned upside down,” she said. “As warehouses experienced staffing issues due to illness and close contact outages, TreeHouse had to look at different ways to make sure that all customers received product. Panic buying led to some surges in order requests and it was important that we made sure all parts of the country were serviced.”
While the process began “very manual” with Kostrova personally adjusting orders off of a spreadsheet on a nightly basis, she worked with various teams within TreeHouse to gain stronger understanding of the system capabilities.
“We have automated 80% of the process,” she said. “We are on the verge of closing that 20% gap by the end of 2022.