August 7, 2003, 12:00 AM

Online customer service target: 98% self-service

Retailers that use online customer service effectively should be able to hit a 98% rate in the amount of inquires handled through self-service, an industry expert says.


Retailers that use online customer service effectively should be able to hit a high rate of inquires handled through self-service, saving on the costs of customer service departments and giving reps more time to answer fewer inquiries, Greg Gianfronte, CEO of RightNow Technologies Inc., says. “When done properly, you get self-service rates into the high 90% range,” he says.

Gianfronte says retailers can get self-service customer service rates as high as 97.5% by using tools and strategies that better predict the information customers need. “So only 2.5% of customers have to get to a human to get an answer.”

For example, he says, product research shows that when a customer inquires about a purchased power drill, it’s often because he’s broken the drill and needs a manual. So when he searches on a web site for a replacement manual, a well-designed customer service-oriented result will provide a prepared statement about where to find a repair center as well as how to acquire a manual, Gianfronte says.

He adds that it can be crucial to offer customer service options at the point of purchase to answer last-second questions to avoid shopping cart abandonment. The options can include a self-service customer service menu, or a pop-up window of frequently asked questions timed to appear if a customer is taking more than a pre-determined time to complete a purchase.

Still, it’s important to offer customers options other than self-service, to let them escalate up to a human, Gianfronte says. He adds that more retailers are deploying multi-channel platforms that encompass web-based self service, e-mail, live chat and telephone contact, in that order.

At the all-important point of purchase, for example, a customer service strategy might program a live-chat window to appear if a customer hasn’t responded to self-service options during an extended checkout period, or has used the self-service option and still appears indecisive about making a purchase. The crucial thing during checkout is to make the customer feel that she can get a questioned answered in real time. “At the point of purchase, you want the service delivery vehicle that gives an immediate answer,” Gianfronte says.


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