February 1, 2005, 12:00 AM

Time Is Money

Web order entry brings retailers’ online interface to the call center to save labor—and dollars.

It`s axiomatic: any time order information must be rekeyed, it adds time, cost and the possibility of error to the order entry process. That was a challenge when the web`s ability to direct shoppers who prefer to order by phone to a retailer`s call center leapt ahead of some call center systems` ability to efficiently process them. But for a growing number of Internet retailers--and the call centers that serve them--web order entry by agents is solving that problem.

"Before the Internet every marketer would have its own supply chain management software and every call center had its own order entry software. That created a hand-off problem," says Gary Pudles, CEO of call center services provider The AnswerNet Network. "The call center would have to deliver the order data to the retailer, who would integrate it into its own supply chain management software. Or orders would be sent to the fulfillment house which would have to download it into their system." In the process, orders often had to be re-entered.

Savings per order

That`s exactly what CoffeeCakes.com, an online retailer that sells premium coffee cakes and other treats, wanted to avoid. Three years ago, CoffeCakes.com, the brainchild of an IBM IT executive who designed the platform herself, was writing down information from phone orders, then entering it into its web order entry system in batches.

"I knew I needed to automate that, and having web order entry was one of my requirements for going with AnswerNet," says Sherry Comes, founder and CEO. Comes says the time and labor savings she gets from web order entry versus her former order entry process are considerable. A call center agent who can enter the order directly into a linked web interface, avoiding rekeying it later into a computer, saves four to seven minutes per order, she figures. And time, she says, is money. With per-minute rates slightly lower than a dollar, Combs estimates that web order entry has saved her $500,000-a-year company $2 to $3 per order.

"It`s also more accurate because you are not manually re-entering information," she adds. "The agent can read back the information while the customer is still on the phone."

Today, Internet retailers have a lot invested in web sites that are already integrated into supply chain management software on the back end. They want orders that come in from the call center to feed into linked systems seamlessly, and by putting the retailer`s own web site interface on call center agents` screens--rather than having agents use a standardized, non-web interface from which order data must then be downloaded into the retailer`s system--that`s exactly what happens, Pudles says.

Call centers such as AnswerNet`s bring the retailer client`s web site to the call center by either setting up a connection that goes directly to the marketer`s web site for the call center, or working with the retailer to write an operator script that can easily hook into the web site or the retailer`s supply chain management software.

Customer expectations

Some call centers have avoided this approach because it adds a layer of complexity for agents--entering order data into a retailer`s dedicated web interface requires agents to familiarize themselves with screens and processes that are different from the standard template and operator scripts developed by the call center and then adapted for use with different clients. But others have added this capacity because it improves service--and because their customers now expect it.

Pudles, whose company has offered web order entry since 1998, says AnswerNet has seen clients` use of that functionality increase significantly in the past three to four years, he says. "It`s a lot cheaper for the Internet retailer to create a page for the call center than for the retailer to pay the call center to create a script and screen just for them."


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