February 28, 2002, 12:00 AM

Keeping in touch keeps customers happy

Automated order status information reduces calls to Norm Thompson Outfitters’ call center—and does double duty as a marketing device.

There are certain things retailers can do only in the Internet or catalog channels. Keeping in touch with customers about purchases is one.

Norm Thompson Outfitters, a Hillsboro, Ore.-based Internet and catalog merchant, has learned that providing customer updates via automated phone calls or e-mails results in customers shopping its site more often and increases loyalty. For over a year, Norm Thompson has been providing customers with automatic notifications of order status. Not only did calls to Norm Thompson’s call center decrease, as would be expected, but customers also told the company they like the service so much that they will be more likely to shop there in the future.

“Our customers are telling us the service influences who they do business with-and as a marketer, that speaks directly to enhancing loyalty and retention,” says Steve Jones, Norm Thompson’s vice president of marketing.

Norm Thompson has been using a system developed by Par3 Communications that links all of Norm Thompson’s databases, then automatically alerts customers by phone, fax or e-mail-at the customer’s choice-if a problem develops with the order. The Par3 Intelligent Response Platform can notify customers that an order or an exchange has shipped, acknowledge receipt of a returned item and report updates of back orders. Directly from the notification, consumers can connect to the customer service department, purchase a product, or add personal comments and forward the information to others.

A new survey of Norm Thompson customers showed that 90% of recipients reacted positively to the personalized notification; 95% didn’t call about their order after receiving the notification; and nearly 50% said they are now more likely to order from Norm Thompson than from other companies.

Par3 says nearly 70% favor telephone notifications over text and wireless notifications. That preference may be a function of Norm Thompson’s customer base, where the average age is 48, Par3 says. 60% also said having the option to connect to the call center would be helpful.

The notifications also can work as marketing devices: Nearly 40% said they are interested in receiving special promotions via the automated notification service. And it’s the best customers who want to receive those notifications. On average, those signing up for the notification service have purchased 18 orders either from catalogs or the Internet in the last year.

Par3’s server assembles the relevant information, then delivers notifications. The cost of such integration could be $50,000, says Karl Kelly, Par3 director of product marketing. But once the system is in place, a notification costs about 25 cents. By contrast, Norm Thompson used to send notifications of problems to customers by overnight mail, costing several dollars a piece.

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