June 1, 2010, 12:00 AM

Sponsored Supplement: Eye-opening technologies for today’s e-retailing

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“Customer service spikes do occur, so retailers operating their own service centers need to be aware of staffing issues,” says USA 800’s Davis. “Having an outsourcing partner to handle overflow during peak periods or unexpected spikes in volume can avert a potential loss of sales due to slow response times.”

Properly training service agents to not only assist consumers in need of help, but to close a sale is also important. Effective training methods can be devised by first analyzing the transcripts of live chat sessions or recordings of customer service calls. These interactions with consumers can provide insights into whether service agents are providing information customers need, whether agents are listening effectively to consumers’ questions and whether agents are able to help consumers make purchasing decisions and take their orders on the spot.

Other factors that can be measured include voice inflection on the sales call and how long it takes the service agent to come up with a response.

“This type of analysis shows how good an agent is at responding to the customer and determining what situations or phrases used by the customer may prove problematic for the agent,” says Davis. “Once retailers can zero in on how an agent is responding to a situation, they can develop training methods to correct problems. The outcome to every customer service interaction every retailer wants to hear is: ‘Your order has been processed; here is your confirmation number.’”

One way to increase sales resulting from customer service calls is to staff the call center with people who can sell. “It may sound obvious, but not every service rep wants to sell or is skilled at selling,” says FitForCommerce’s Wu. “Getting agents with the right combination of service and sales skills into the call center can increase conversion and increase order value without having to spend more on customer acquisition.”

Reaching out

One area where call centers can expand the reach of personalized customer service is by tracking mentions about a retailer on social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, and blogs. USA 800 is investigating the use of technology that scans the Internet for mentions of its clients in social forums, captures them and sends them to the client for review.

“In social networks, a lot of things get said about a retailer’s brand and can spread virally without the retailer knowing,” says Davis. “Tracking these mentions can help retailers understand how their brand is perceived and determine how best to reach out to the consumer that made the comment to let them know the retailer wants to correct the situation and that the consumer’s satisfaction is of the utmost importance.”

One advantage to having a call center partner is that they can evaluate the effectiveness of cutting-edge technologies before recommending them to the client. “Retailers are beginning to understand that outsourcing the call center allows them to focus more on their core business, rather than splitting their time running the call center,” says Davis.

Whether it’s in managing the call center or devising an online display ad strategy, personalization is an ongoing process that pays dividends to e-retailers that adopt the most effective techniques. Retailers will want to take advantage of the opportunity to learn more about each customer and about how to best serve consumers with each click and interaction. The learning process starts with each new customer who comes to a retailer’s site and begins browsing.

“Consumers will drill down by category, price, and brand, and retailers that pay attention to those clicks can serve up the products and alternatives to new and repeat shoppers they are more apt to be interested in,” says MyBuys’ Cell. “Personalization drives value in so many ways retailers that don’t apply it will fall behind the competition.”

Emerging technologies that deliver fast ROI

Consumers want their favorite coffee shops to recognize and welcome them. But they also expect these modern-day meeting places to be attractive, safe and well organized. And if consumers haven’t heard of a shop, it won’t matter how great the java is because they’ll never place an order for it.

All that’s equally true of an e-retail site. Retailers must first of all attract online shoppers, recognizing that those shoppers more and more are getting to retail sites via mobile phones as well as PCs. E-retailers also must make it easy for consumers to find what they want on e-commerce sites, deliver web content quickly, and keep the bad guys away from the shopping experience—to protect both the consumer and the retailer from fraud-related losses.

Fortunately, there are new technologies and services available from firms with specialized expertise in areas like search engine optimization and site search, site design and performance, and fraud detection that can help achieve these goals. And, with the rapid rise of online social networks and mobile commerce, there are marketing firms that can offer retailers expert advice on how to make use of popular sites like Facebook and Twitter to build brands, and how to adapt their marketing strategies to the emergence of sophisticated mobile handsets like the iPhone and its many rivals.

What’s more, retailers can achieve many of these gains with relatively small investments, and realize an attractive ROI in a short time.

“There are a lot of opportunities for retailers to increase conversion by upgrading their core platform applications or site design that don’t necessarily require a huge investment and provide a fast return on investment,” says Tony Svanascini, CEO for platform provider and site design firm Americaneagle.com. “For any multichannel retailer, the web store should be the star of the business, because it is a lot less expense to upgrade than a physical store.”

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