May 20, 2011, 2:40 PM

Frustrated shoppers? Social media and software can soothe their concerns

Technology enables call center agents to offer more personalized help to consumers.

Lead Photo

As retail becomes increasingly complex, with consumers interacting with merchants in stores, online, via mobile devices and through social media, retailers are realizing that they need to enable call center agents to take advantage of their most valuable asset—the fact that they’re human. By providing agents with more flexible procedures and better access to cross-channel customer information, retailers can improve consumers’ call center experiences, says Kerry Bodine, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc. 

Retailers are aware of those challenges, suggests a Forrester survey in which 59% of retailers said their major customer experience objective this year was improving consumers’ cross-channel experiences.

For instance, iRobot, which manufactures and sells room-roaming automated vacuum cleaners and similar products, uses a customer relationship management tool from RightNow Technologies Inc. to provide its outsourced call center agents with a single database that ties together a consumer’s interactions with the retailer regardless of whether the consumer called, e-mailed or, in some cases, posted about the retailer on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or various online forums. “We want to have a 360-degree view of our customers because that produces a better experience for them and the agents answering their call,” says Maryellen Abreu, the retailer’s director of global technical support.

iRobot’s web site enables a consumer to sign in to access such information such as his order history. And, if a consumer is signed into the site, the RightNow program can show the retailer’s agents what pages the consumer has been clicking on, down to a specific page within the site’s frequently asked question tab, a capability that can provide agents with clues about the customer’s problem. “It’s helpful to say that you’ve seen the problems that they’ve had,” she says. “It tells the consumer that you’re looking to save them the time and hassle of having to repeat the situation.”

Knowing that some shoppers won’t call with their frustrations, the retailer last year began using RightNow’s Cloud Monitor application to reach out to dissatisfied customers who express themselves online in other ways. The program monitors conversations relevant to its business, including mentions of iRobot and its vendors and competitors, on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and online forums. Cloud Monitor detects whether a post is positive or negative.

If a consumer anonymously posts a negative comment, which often occurs on consumer complaint sites, as well as on Twitter and YouTube, one of the retailer’s call center agents posts a note encouraging the consumer to call or e-mail. If the retailer can find the consumer’s information because, for instance, the user posted the comment in Facebook where her whole name is displayed, the retailer sends her a private e-mail. Once the consumer calls or e-mails, her information is noted in the call center’s database.

“People don’t want to call customer service for support,” says Abreu. “So when they do, this enables us to link together everything they’ve tried to do to fix the problem.”

The RightNow technologies that iRobot uses start at about $110 a month with a one-year subscription. Since iRobot implemented them, the retailer has seen a 10% jump in its internal customer satisfaction ratings it gathers from customer surveys.

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