April 18, 2008, 12:00 AM

VistaPrint program puts execs up front and personal with customers

Executives and other employees at VistaPrint Ltd., an online custom print products retailer, are gaining new insight into customers by filling in as customer service representatives for three months.

Katie Evans

Managing Editor, International Research

Executives and other employees at VistaPrint Ltd., an online custom print products retailer, are gaining new insight into customers by filling in as customer service representatives for three months.

Through the retailer’s “Learn the Customer Program” upper management and employees volunteer to spend several hours a week manning mini-call centers set up at the company’s headquarters in Lexington, MA. The retailer’s main call center is based in Jamaica. Program participants assist customers with everything from new order placement to issues with deliveries and printing imperfections.

VistaPrint has tested new programs in one-on-one focus groups, but was looking for other ways to learn more about its customers, says Melissa Crowe, vice president of marketing services. Having executives and employees handle customer calls seemed to be an answer.

“It’s one thing to sit in my office and think about what the customers’ needs are, but I really felt the need personally, as well as professionally, to understand if and what struggles they were having going through the customer path on the site,” Crowe says. “What’s important to them? Is it important that we’re open 24 hours? Is it important that it’s easy? Is it important that we offer a wide variety of designs?”

After each shift, the employees write down issues that needed to be addressed, Crowe says. For example, a customer who ordered one style of business cards was having trouble finding matching sets of related printed materials. “We added a link to the bottom that says ‘see your matching set,’” she says.

The program has prompted a number of other changes. For example, employees taking calls found that agents could not refund or give a merchandise credit if a customer mistakenly took a bonus buy, which is reserved for certain customers. That meant calls had to be forwarded to a supervisor, lengthening the call and delaying resolution. VistaPrint has changed that policy and now allows agents to make quick refunds to customers.

Another problem detected through the program was that many customers weren’t able to save their postcards once they updated them. VistaPrint, No. 79 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, has since corrected the problem.

Thirty employees participated in the program in the first quarter and 38 are taking part this quarter. Program participants thus far have handled 1,536 contacts and 459 orders, with an average handle time of 8.31 minutes, and booked more than $21,000 in sales with an average order value of $45.76.

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