October 31, 2003, 12:00 AM

I Know You

(Page 2 of 2)

Many in the industry are buzzing about customer self-service, and rightfully so. The more your customers can accomplish online, the more confident they feel about conducting business with you. The combination of self-service and personalization can enable retailers to quickly adapt to customers based on their interactions. For example, a customer calling into a call center with a question about one item can be instantly informed about the availability of a similar item based on the personal preferences learned through past interactions.

In the past, if phone customers of outdoors retailer Cabela’s had a question about a product they purchased online, the customer service reps had no visibility into required transaction data from the online channel. Cabela’s recognized that it urgently needed to integrate its e-commerce site with its legacy call center system so that telesales staff could consistently access customer order information regardless of the channel through which orders were processed. When a customer service representative does not have the ability to look up any information tied to the online purchase it is a recipe for frustration for both customers and customer service representatives. Ultimately, integrating the e-commerce operations with its call center reduced Cabela’s customer service costs significantly.

So, as retailers sit down to enjoy their $217 billion holiday pie, the rules at the table have changed. In the past, when the brick-and-mortar store was the only channel, the challenge for retailers was to attract customers and the product carried the day, both in terms of having the right ones and having enough in stock.

In today’s multi-channel environment, the availability of information has become as critical as that of product, and the ability to distribute that information across all channels is the key to success in high-volume seasons such as the holidays. The past few years have been primarily about plumbing as retailers have worked to create the IT infrastructure that links their online, offline and catalog channels. The retailers that are victorious this season will be those that can get their information flowing through the pipes.


Phil London is senior vice president, products and technology, for ATG, developer of software applications for commerce and customer self-service. He can be reached at plondon@atg.com.

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