July 30, 2008, 12:00 AM

Customer driven

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Retailers also spell out their customer contact programs and procedures online, including 90.2% that post Contact Us information in a prominent location on customer service pages, 77.7% that post privacy policies, 76.1% that detail shipping and delivery options, 72.3% that list returns and replacement/exchange conditions and 69% that inform customers about payments security.

“Giving customers more self-service tools to use when they are online helps retailers save money by replacing calls and e-mails to the contact center, but that’s not the main reason merchants are giving shoppers better access to tools and information directly on their web sites,” says Aberdeen Group research director of customer management David Boulanger. “Customers like being in charge of their own shopping experience and conducting business on their terms. They want to be in charge of their transactions and not have to wait over a phone call to make a change to their account.”

Keeping pace

Over time, web merchants will have to devote more resources, including adding more dedicated reps and focused training, to keep pace with rising customer service expectations, Boulanger says. The Internet Retailer survey finds that 80.6% of merchants give their new reps two weeks or less of training before allowing them to take calls and only 46.7% of companies have agents dedicated to handle web-only calls, e-mails and live chats.

But as retailers pay more to keep and retain good reps, they will also start training agents to handle more complex customer interaction, says Boulanger. The upside of more training is that service reps take on a dual role of both problem solver and sales associate. “By committing more resources to web-based customer service and taking better care of their best people, retailers have an excellent opportunity to turn their call center into a profit center,” says Boulanger. “Consumers are going to be doing even more shopping online and that means more interaction with customers. The merchants that provide the best customer service are the ones that will generate the most new and repeat business.”

mark@verticalwebmedia.com

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