March 6, 2013, 2:24 PM

How Blinds.com improved its customer service

Technology and automation enable the e-retailer to up its game.

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The job of the contact center agent never gets easier as more online consumers expect to have their issues resolved quickly, however they contact a retailer. And that’s forcing retailers to respond. For instance, The E-tailing Group report found that the retailers in its Annual Mystery Shopping Study cut their e-mail response times 31% from 31 hours and 27 minutes in 2011 to 21 hours and 42 minutes last year.

And if an agent fails to resolve a shopper’s issue, that shopper can turn to Facebook, Twitter or other social networks and blogs to share the story of the bad experience, Art Schoeller, principal analyst at Forrester, says. That means that “everyone has to up their game,” he says.

For Blinds.com that’s where technology fits in. Working with contact center software vendor Interactive Intelligence Group Inc., the web-only custom window treatment retailer has created roughly 30 automated workflows to address common customer service issues.  When a consumer calls about a defective blind, for example, the agent can click a single button and set in motion a series of steps that alerts the factory of the defect, orders a replacement, arranges for the factory to ship the replacement and prompts an agent to follow up with the customer after delivery.

Before it began using Interactive Intelligence’s technology four years ago, each of those steps involved a manual process that took up an agent’s time and left open the possibility that the agent could mishandle something along the way, Steve Riddell, Blinds.com vice president and chief operating officer, says.

“When agents are handling calls and attempting to follow up on calls it is easy to miss things,” he says. “Automating processes has enabled us to increase the level of customer service we provide and decrease the quantity of people needed to deliver that service.”

The proof, he says, is in the retailer’s staffing. Blinds.com has 103 call center agents—45 of whom focus strictly on sales. As its sales last year grew about 20% compared to 2011, Blinds.com had to hire 15 more call center sales agents. But, thanks in part to the automated processes, Blinds.com’s 58 service-focused agents were able to handle the workload those added sales generated and the retailer didn’t hire a single agent dedicated to customer service

Blinds.com is No. 220 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

About 70% of Blinds.com customers complete their orders online. However, the remaining 30% who reach out to a Blinds.com contact center sales agent are often confused. “That means our job is to walk them through the process,” Riddell says. “When you’re dealing with a customized product, people get fearful about every step of the process.”

For much more about how e-retailers are rethinking customer service, check out the upcoming April issue of Internet Retailer magazine.

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