April 1, 2005, 12:00 AM

Handling the call center double whammy of concurrent peak seasons

Peak duck-hunting season coincide with the peak days of holiday spending and post-Christmas returns and sales for outdoor retailer Mack’s Prairie Wings. A web-based call center system has reduced dropped calls and resulted in increased sales.

Mack’s Prairie Wings may not come to mind as a leading Christmas shopping destination, but the multi-channel waterfowl sports outfitter can really pack them in during the holiday season. Peak duck-hunting season-from late November through January-happens to coincide with the peak days of holiday spending and post-Christmas returns and sales.

And that can mean pushing Mack’s call center beyond its limits. “In the past, we couldn’t handle our peak-season volume,” says CFO Cheryl Raney. “In December 2002, we dropped 144,000 phone calls.”

The dropped calls lead to disgruntled customers, many of whom never come back, a tough thing to bear for a niche retailer, Raney says. Mack’s operates MacksPW.com, a catalog and one store in Stuttgart, Ark. It did about $1.5 million on the web last year.

But things have changed since Mack’s switched to a web-based call center system from Delray Beach, Fla.-based Marketing Concepts in June 2003. Now Mack’s rarely drops a call even during its busiest periods, Raney says. “By December ’03, we had an almost 100% improvement in dropped calls,” she says.

In addition, the new system’s impact on customer service has coincided with a 15% increase in the number of orders from repeat customers, Raney adds.

The improvements in call center performance and sales from repeat customers resulted from the new ability of the retailer’s call center agents to better serve customers with immediate access to their shopping records, Raney says. Marketing Concepts connects agents’ computers over the web to Mack’s Ecometry Corp. order management system, providing them with constant updates on their computer screens of customer data. That allows them to provide faster service and handle more calls.

Call center reps’ instant access to customer data has provided faster responses and happier customers, Raney says. “We’ve had more customers become repeat customers because of greater service,” she says.

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