January 6, 2012, 4:01 PM

Customer service brings shoppers back for more

Backcountry customers are more likely to return if they order through customer service.

Lead Photo

At Backcountry.com, a web-only retailer of skis and other sports gear, customer service plays a key role in driving up sales and improving customer relations, says Mike Sherwood, director of customer experience.

“Here at Backcountry if customers use customer service to place an order, they’re 50% more likely to come back again” compared with customers who place orders without the help of a customer service agent, Sherwood says. “We just figured that out recently, and we said, ‘Wow, that’s pretty amazing.’”

Backcountry has yet to figure out why orders placed via agents by phone or chat increase customer loyalty, Sherwood adds, but one reason appears to be the retailer’s overall customer service policy.

It trains its customer service agents, for instance, to err on the side of being too generous when deciding whether shoppers qualify for special promotions. “We empower reps to do what they need to do to take care of problems customers may have,” Sherwood says.

For promotions such as a 30-day price match, where Backcountry promises to match another merchant’s lower price within 30 days after a purchase, for example, the e-retailer trains agents to honor the match in some cases beyond the 30-day limit. Likewise, in some cases an agent will give a customer free shipping even if the order value is under the advertised minimum.

Backcountry says it never uses its customer service department to push particular products, though its agents will let customers know about pertinent promotions related to products they inquire about. Its agents’ computer screens are set up so agents can view any current promotions the retailer is offering.

The retailer also routinely asks customers to comment on how Backcountry’s customer service could improve. Each live chat session, for instance, includes a built-in invitation in the chat window to fill out a brief exit survey. The live chat system, from LivePerson Inc., is designed to automatically forward to a supervisor any survey form on which a customer checked off having a negative chat experience. Though such cases are not common, Sherwood says, the supervisor in that situation would discuss with the agent what occurred during the chat and then contact the customer to work things out.

“We get one chance to make a problem right for a customer, and if we do it well, we’ll get the customer for life,” Sherwood says.

Backcountry.com is a unit of Liberty Interactive Corp., No. 8 in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide.

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