April 30, 2007, 12:00 AM

Hello, Customer

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These reports can be huge, so a retailer should reduce them to Top 10 offenders, those calls that cost the most but add little or no value to a customer’s experience of shopping on your web site. For example, the outcome code “product information” probably would show up frequently on your report, but calling or e-mailing the contact center to ask about a product prior to purchasing it online is a common part of a customer’s online shopping experience.

Moreover, talking to a customer at this stage of the buying process provides a great opportunity for cross-selling and upselling. This code would probably not appear on your Top 10 offenders list, but calls requesting the corporate head office number would certainly appear. Once you have your Top10 offenders identified, the task is to reduce or eliminate the worst in the group. This is more than restructuring information on your web site, however. Reducing these costs requires thinking like a customer.

At Tommy.com we found the Top 10 offenders included information already available on the web site. So why were customers disregarding the information and instead choosing to call and talk to an agent? A first thought was they didn’t have Internet access. But when we asked them how they found our number, inevitably the answer was “from the web site.”

Customers were simply following the path they perceived as easiest for them to get to their answer quickly. If they were shopping online and had a question, they looked for one of two things: The answer to the question, or our toll-free number, which they knew would get them the answer. With the Top 10 offenders list in hand, we determined how to make it easier for customers to find answers than it was for them to find the toll-free number.

Let’s say you get a lot of store locator questions even though you already have an excellent store locator feature on your web site that links to Mapquest for easy-to-follow directions. Why would customers still want to call to find the store nearest them? Do they think the contact center has a list of secret stores reserved only for customers who call?

The more likely reason is customers always will follow the path of least resistance to find an answer. If a store locator is three clicks away but a toll-free customer service number is right in front of them, customers will pick up the phone. The solution here is to make the store locator easier to find than the toll-free number. This way the customer’s path of least resistance doesn’t go right through your profit margins.

For apparel retailers, providing effective sizing information at the web site level is always a challenge because customers looking for this information actually need to know two things: Understandable sizing information and whether they can exchange items that don’t fit. So essentially there are two questions that drive a sizing related call to the contact center.

Immediate answers
Answering only one of them on the web site will not have a significant impact on calls of this nature. And because customers typically want answers to questions immediately, providing answers at the wrong stage in the ordering process also will not have an impact. The way to reduce the number of these calls, then, is to provide both sizing charts and the answer to “What if it doesn’t fit?” as frequently as possible throughout the checkout process.

Like a mineshaft canary that warns of dangerously low levels of oxygen, contact centers can provide immediate feedback for how a web site might be choking profits. Customers reward effective web sites with profitable sales, and punish ineffective web sites with less-than-profitable sales by calling or e-mailing the retailer’s contact center prior to making their purchases.

The challenge is to capture web site-related voice-of-customer data from your contact center, then respond to that data by making appropriate changes to your site. The results will help increase sales, reduce costs and web site abandonment rates, and improve the customer experience.

Loads of codes

The simplest method for collecting call center data is through outcome codes, also known as disposition codes. These are numeric values assigned to each call and e-mail. Each numeric value then is assigned a contact reason. How does one choose descriptive options and how many to compile an outcome codes list?

  • Analyze web site visits to best understand what shopping aids customers are using and not using.
  • Monitor and discuss with call center staff the content of calls.
  • Listen to the opinions of call center staff about the best code descriptions.
  • Work closely with contact center agents to ensure they’re using codes as planned.
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