September 30, 2009, 12:00 AM

Sponsored Supplement: Customer service strategies that build brand value

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Dicso recommends that retailers make service options readily available across their sites, not just in the Contact Us section. “Shoppers should have easy access to self-service channels and to the ability to escalate to live help,” Dicso says. “When self-service doesn’t meet the requirement, retailers should try to handle the contact in the next most cost-effective channel. Access to these channels should be made available based on agent availability to avoid poor service levels.”

Information everywhere

In some cases, optimizing content to improve service means adding more detail to product descriptions to answer commonly asked questions. This reduces one step in the service process, and makes it easier for the customer to make the purchasing decision.

“The answers to questions commonly asked of service agents don’t have to reside just on the FAQ page, they can be part of the product description or site search results,” says LiveSalesman’s Dadu.

To further reduce the need for shoppers to contact a live agent, retailers can enhance a site search engine with a database containing answers to commonly asked questions, such as “Where can I find purple jeans?” The answer will include a link to the appropriate page.

24-7 INtouch can help retailers install such a database, using information about the retailer’s product line and web site to answer questions site visitors frequently ask. Such a database can provide the correct answer 95% of the time, Fettes says.

“Consumers have a low tolerance when searching a site for a product and will initiate contact with a service agent after a few tries, or abandon the site,” Fettes says. “Getting the right answer to them on the first site search query can deflect up to 30% of inbound service calls.”

Dadu recommends that retailers incorporate the answers to commonly asked questions throughout their web site. “Retailers want to keep the customer service knowledge base to commonly asked questions in sync across all communications channels,” Dadu adds. “The goal is to optimize the knowledge base of the site to make self-service tools better, regardless of the self-service tool the shopper uses.”

Why do they call?

Another way to leverage information from inbound customer service calls is to attach a reason code to each call. For example, a retailer that is running a promotion may have mistakenly included a price on the product or landing page that is different from that shown at checkout. The reason code allows outsourcing partners to quickly indentify how many inbound calls stem from a particular problem and relay that information so the retailer can correct the problem.

“Once the retailer knows what is driving their customer service calls, they can take immediate action to correct it and deflect further calls,” says Fettes. “Most retailers don’t make use of all their customer service data to understand how they can deflect inbound service calls.”

Still, there are times when consumers will want to interact with a live sales agent. When these instances arise, retailers need to personalize the interaction as much as possible. One way to do this is to provider service agents with visibility into the shopper’s behavior and movements through the site.

By arming service agents with such information as site search terms entered, pages viewed, and a summary of prior e-mails, live chat or phone contacts, agents have insight into what information the shopper has viewed and how the retailer resolved previous service issues.

This information can give the service agent a leg up in deciding how to address the problem since she does not have to rely entirely on the shopper’s account of where she’s been on the site or past interactions with the online retailer.

“The better the visibility service agents have into customer behavior and what the customer knows, the better they can interact with the customer on a more personal level and quickly get them to the product they want or the information they need,” says Matthew Tharp, director of sales for Bold Software. “It’s a way to personalize the interaction.”

Bold Software’s BoldChat live chat applications allow customer service agents to see the pages the shopper has viewed in the current shopping session and whether the shopper is a repeat customer. Service agents can call up a repeat shopper’s live chat history to provide insights into prior problems they encountered and how they were resolved.

The BoldChat application tracks how often consumers accept chat invitations, and provides operator productivity reports and service-level reporting. Service agents are able to follow shoppers’ navigation paths through a site via a tracking cookie. The information can tell service agents whether the shopper entered the site directly, through a paid search or banner ad, or via organic search results.

“It is beneficial for service agents to have some sense of where shoppers have been and what information they may have before offering assistance,” says Tharp. “The goal is to bring more granularity to live chat interactions.”

Rules of engagement

Knowledge of the particular customer is also crucial to effective use of proactive chat driven by pre-defined business rules.

For example, a shopper who has arrived at the site via an outbound e-mail campaign, conducts two site search queries but has not selected a product for purchase within a pre-determined time period may be confused or frustrated. Such a consumer is a good candidate for an invitation to a live chat.

“If a customer looks to be struggling to find the right product or information, retailers ought to be proactive in extending an invitation to chat,” says LivePerson’s Dicso. “Logic can be built into the application that sets rules or circumstances for when to proactively reach out to customers.”

Customer demographics can also be used to create rules that will improve a retailer’s ROI from live chat. Consumers shopping for big-ticket items or a high-value repeat customer who views several pages in a matter of minutes but does not commit to a single page can be candidates for a chat invitation, for instance.

“One way to balance the decision about proactively extending an invitation to live chat is to weigh the lifetime value of the customer,” says Deeksha Jaiswal, principal consultant for LiveSalesman. “Retailers need to make live chat a customer service option that is readily available, but not necessarily offer an invitation right away to customers whose lifetime value is not that high.”

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