September 30, 2008, 12:00 AM

SPONSORED SUPPLEMENT: Customer service: Raising the stakes as customers expect more

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Still, some retailers prefer to operate contact center technology in-house, and for them economical options do exist. ATG develops applications for retailers including licensed e-commerce software or on-demand e-commerce, end-to-end web hosted services.

The ATG Commerce Service Center, for example, is a web-based service that allows agents to see paths shoppers have taken through the site, what products are in their shopping carts and whether a shopper has a history of cart abandonment. This level of information helps the agent see the problem the shopper is having more clearly, enabling the agent to quickly access the information desired by the shopper, guide the shopper to the right page in the web store and even make suggestions that reduce the risk of cart abandonment, such as making the shopper aware of a relevant promotion she may have overlooked.

The application can also be programmed to direct shoppers to the agent with the appropriate product knowledge or skills based on products in the shopping cart or pages the shopper has viewed prior to initiating the service request.

“Good service platforms are capable of narrowing down the needs of the shopper and engaging them in the proper manner,” O’Neill says. “If a shopper is viewing pages with a lot of technical information or a complex product, it is important to be able to automatically route them to the appropriate service agent in a seamless fashion.”

Don’t believe the myth

One of the common myths about outsourcing is that once a retailer turns over customer service to a third party, they can simply forget about managing it. Nothing could be further from the truth, according to Wendy Shooster.

“Retailers need to constantly collaborate with their outsourcing partner to make sure the highest possible standards of service are maintained,” Shooster says. “We see our job as both protecting and promoting the brands we represent. To do that right requires that we stay in constant touch with our client partners. It is not an either/or situation-our people and the client’s are what make it work.”

What retailers need to discuss with outsourcing partners are the strategies for deploying service technologies and methods to ensure quality control at least once a week. In some cases, such as during peak shopping periods, communications may need to take place daily, according to 24-7 INtouch’s Fettes.

“It is important that retailers and their outsourcing partner discuss such issues as agent performance, the effectiveness of the service tools being used and whether the goals for customer satisfaction are meeting the expectations of the customer,” Fettes says. “The discussion can’t be one-sided. The highest levels of customer satisfaction come when the retailer and the outsourcing partner proactively communicate about how to manage, evaluate and enhance customer service.”

Quality assurance starts with making certain the outsourcing vendor understands the retailer’s product, brand and culture. Understanding the culture is particularly essential to providing high-quality customer service. Global Response sends a team of senior managers and project managers to each retail client’s headquarters to absorb the brand culture. When they return they recreate that culture in the call center. Customer service agents at Global Response are even called “Brand Care Specialists” to reinforce their core obligation to protect and promote the brand.

A brand culture

“Retailers ask us all the time how we plan to recreate their brand and service culture,” says Wendy Shooster. “We do it by creating our own brand care culture in which the most fundamental value is caring for our clients’ brands.”

Retailers are encouraged to spend time onsite at Global Response to participate in the process of recreating their brand culture. “Lord & Taylor sends its own team to help train and maintain their unique culture,” Shooster says. “Many of our clients spend time with us on site and we make sure they feel comfortable doing so.”

Having a user-friendly evaluation system makes it easier for retailers to access agent performance metrics. At Global Response retailers can remotely monitor customer interaction in real time. They can also review digital recordings of those interactions, adds Shooster.

While hands-on training is important to ensuring high-quality customer service, retailers can also take advantage of many of the applications that help automate agent training. ATG Commerce Service Center can be programmed to automatically prompt the creation of personalized training schedules for agents based on results from evaluations.

Agent evaluations can be performed by pushing surveys to shoppers after they have finished interacting with a service agent. Questions and tracking codes can be included to link the results back to a group of agents working a specific shift or a specific agent. Agent performance can also be tracked using such variables as cart abandonment or successful cross-sell and upsells when interacting with a customer.

If an agent does not score well on product knowledge or has not received a refresher course for a few months, the platform can be programmed to flag this data and automatically prompt training sessions and send a notice of the training session directly to the agent.

“The more automation that can be brought to training and agent evaluation, the more efficient, personal, and user-friendly initiating these processes become,” says O’Neill.

The right level of automation

Online training sessions can also bring greater efficiency to educating service representatives about the latest changes in pricing, new products and promotions. 24-7 INtouch blocks out time during each agent’s shift as needed so agents can train on these types of information updates at their desks. Once the session is complete, all the pertinent changes are automatically uploaded to the workstation.

“With the right level of automation, agents can get up to speed on information updates to the catalog and real-time changes to promotions in between service calls,” Fettes says.

Having a user-friendly evaluation system also makes it easier for retailers to access agent performance metrics. Global Response enables retailers to remotely monitor in real-time each customer interaction or review digital recordings of those sessions at a later date. Recordings are archived as long as the client desires.

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