September 28, 2007, 12:00 AM

SPONSORED SUPPLEMENT: The Increasing Value of Customer Service

(Page 3 of 4)

24-7 INtouch uses Nortel Networks Symposium Contact Center Servers. Web-based workstations allow agents access to the Internet so they can quickly collect important information during calls. The call center experiences uptime of more than 99.99%, the company reports. The company operates two bilingual, boutique call centers, one in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, the other in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Each center is capped at 200 seats to help maintain quality assurance standards.

Analytics can help retailers take a lot of the guess work out of when to proactively reach out to a customer. LivePerson will track patterns in customer movement and site behavior to identify proactive service opportunities. "Research has told us that a shopper will go to a site four times, on average, before they make a purchase," says Kohn. "If they can be engaged sooner in the research phase, the retailer can speed up the purchasing decision and distinguish themselves from their competitors as being positively proactive. That helps build trust."

Retailers should also be proactive in offering customer surveys after the purchase. Whether shoppers receive the survey via an interactive voice response unit, e-mail or through a link on the retailer`s site, surveys are an important direct-measurement approach and are required for consistent delivery of high-quality customer service.

"Surveys can measure the quality of the customer`s interaction with customer service or measure the overall level of satisfaction and loyalty with the company, brand, product or level of service," says GSI`s Wuesthoff. "Retailers can administer these surveys themselves or they can hire a third-party to do it for them."

Offering a customer survey after a service interaction is considered non-intrusive and therefore more likely to get a favorable response. 24-7 INtouch gets about a 20% acceptance rate for surveys offered at the conclusion of a customer service call and live chat session. "The best way to know what customers think about the level of service being offered and their expectations for service are through surveys," Fettes says. "Surveys are a tool for meeting customer expectations."

A positive effect

Even if the customer declines to participate in the survey, making the offer has a positive effect on how consumers perceive the retailer`s brand. "It shows the customer that the retailer cares about quality service," adds Centris Information`s Maddox.

One question to ask in a customer satisfaction survey after a proactive service contact by the retailer is whether the customer would have initiated contact on her own. The answers can be quite revealing when cross matched against the customer behavior patterns that triggered the service contact. "The answers help retailers figure out which customers were really in need of help," says LivePerson`s Kohn. "It also provides information that can be used to create real-time models that help refine the rules of customer engagement."

It is also a good idea to ask in any survey whether the customer will recommend the retailer to others. Fred Reichheld captures the impact of this occurrence in his book "The Loyalty Effect," according to Wuesthoff. In his book, Reichheld states that respondents can be placed in three categories: promoters, passives and detractors. Promoters are valuable assets because they drive business growth due to their repeat and higher ticket purchases. Detractors can impair growth through their negative comments.

"In our current technological environment, negative comments spread all too quickly," says Wuesthoff. "Subtracting the detractors from the promoters makes it possible for retailers to a create customer loyalty score, which Reichheld refers to as the Net Promoter Score."

Indirectly, companies can measure the quality of their customer service by analyzing the metrics of their calls and customer behavior. This can be achieved by evaluating the number of service contacts that escalated from self-service to chat or a live agent, reporting on first call resolution, and examining customer retention data.

"The inference here is that customers will be more satisfied if their issues are resolved expeditiously and without requiring escalation," says Wuesthoff. "Additionally, if a retailer accepts the premise that satisfied and loyal customers behave in a certain way, and that delivering high-quality customer service is one of the key contributors to driving customer loyalty, then delivering high-quality customer service has a huge impact on revenue and growth."

Other service measurements include average response time per method of interaction and length of the interaction. In the case of response time, retailers need to have specific goals for each method of interaction. "It`s no different from setting a standard for how long it takes to find a sales representative in the store," says Maddox.

Duration vs. complexity

Length of the interaction is weighed against the complexity of the service issue. What is important is that service agents have all the necessary information to address the issue at their fingertips. "The goal is to answer the inquiry the first time and treat the customer with courtesy and respect by addressing their inquiry promptly and informatively," adds Maddox.

Slow responses to service inquiries hurt a retailer`s brand. 24-7 INtouch requires agents to respond to e-mail inquiries in less than 40 minutes. Even if the initial response tells the customer it may take 24 hours to answer the inquiry in detail or that the service agent will follow-up by phone within a specified period, sending the message promptly shows the retailer has a high level of interest in addressing the issue.

"Delayed responses to any customer inquiry hurt the retailer`s reputation, customer loyalty and future business," says Fettes. "Service is essential to boosting conversion rates and keeping customers."

Retailers can also improve their service by tracking the reasons for a return. This information not only reveals common complaints, but can help retailers identify products with high return rates, which are often due to a manufacturer`s flaw or poor representation of the color on the product page.

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