July 3, 2013, 11:58 AM

How to manage customer service woes in an increasingly transparent web world

Customer service is increasingly a public event, but customers still want personal attention.

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In the age of social media, retailers are coming to understand that customer service is not always a private matter. As more consumers are armed with smartphones, news of poor service can hit the web even before a consumer leaves a store or web site. Retailers need to be ready to respond.

A store manager, for example, can get an alert as soon as a shopper posts a negative comment about her store on a social network—perhaps a tweet of frustration at not being able to find a product. The manager can respond from her smartphone that she's on the way and meet the shopper to resolve the issue, says Melissa Pippine, vice president of marketing at customer relationship management software vendor Clarabridge Inc.

Monitoring online shopping activity similarly helps e-retailers catch customers who are held up in a web transaction. Shoe e-retailer Sole Society Inc., for one, uses a tool called Realtime PowerMarketing from vendor IBT to identify consumers who are stuck in checkout, and sends them a live chat request offering help. Of those that respond, 80% convert, says Sole Society vice president of technology Justin Skinner. Sole Society will soon begin using Realtime to automatically personalize the products and marketing messages its web site displays to customers based on their browsing behaviors.

The Realtime alerts help Sole Society identify other errors. For example, the retailer runs daily, limited-time sales, but many customers open the e-mails alerting them to the promotion after the sale ends, and after the landing page for that day's sale has been removed. Realtime set up a redirect so these customers now see a message that the promotion has ended and offers links to alternative products and customer service.

With consumers commenting about retailers frequently on social networks while also contacting merchants through more traditional channels, it's helpful for customer service agents to be able to see all the interactions with a particular consumer in one place.

LiveOps, a provider of customer relationship management software, added this functionality in January, said marketing program manager Katherine Soong at the 2013 Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition. That way an agent can find a disgruntled customer on Facebook and suggest he continue the conversation over e-mail or via the phone. To the agent, the entire conversation appears in one view even when it changes form, such as from a Facebook post to an e-mail exchange.

Some consumers prefer the telephone to web-based customer service tools, especially when buying complex or expensive items, said Irv Shapiro, CEO of Ifbyphone, which provides automated voice marketing and call center technology to e-retailers, at IRCE. "When someone is stuck in an online experience, it can be frustrating to have another online experience to resolve it," he said.

But retailers need to answer their phones quickly. Only 53% of consumers will stay on the line and complete their purchases if it takes more than a minute for an agent to answer, according to a May 2012 Ifbyphone survey of 513 U.S. consumers.

amy@verticalwebmedia.com

@AmyDusto

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