April 12, 2012, 9:24 AM

HalloweenExpress.com finds live chat makes customer service agents more efficient

Despite sales rising 32% last October, the retailer used fewer agents than the year before.

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Nearly 98% of costume e-retailer HalloweenExpress.com’s business is compressed into September and October. That’s clear from the site’s traffic. Last year, for instance, the retailer had 1.9 million unique visitors last October compared to anywhere from around 80,000 to 106,000 unique visitors during the other months of year, according to web measurement firm Compete Inc.

With that surge in visits every fall comes a surge in customer service-related issues. Around 2006 the retailer decided it needed to improve the efficiency of its customer service operations, which are handled in-house with seasonal workers filling in during its busy period.

“We realized that we had to figure out a better way to provide good service for a lot of people,” says Brad Butler, the retailer’s owner. “We realized that the phone just doesn’t cut it for us. We could have 200 people and it still wouldn’t work.”

That’s because agents can only field one phone call at a time. Phone calls also generally take more time than text-based chats, says Butler. “Chat is much easier,” he says. “Consumers can log on and ask a quick question and get off. You don’t have to deal with all the formalities of the phone.”

The retailer began working with live chat provider Velaro Inc. in 2008, after it found that its previous provider’s systems couldn’t handle the surge in chats—when the number of chats can rise from less than 20 per day to nearly 2,000 a day.

Since making the switch, HalloweenExpress.com hasn’t had to add agents, despite its sales nearly doubling, says Butler. The retailer for several years has maintained space for 35 customer service seats during its busy season. In part, that’s because the agents are getting more efficient in resolving chats more quickly.  For instance, when sales rose 32% last October, the retailer actually had agents occupy four fewer seats than the previous year. “From a numbers point of view, it just makes sense,” says Butler.

Lauren Freedman, president of consulting firm the E-tailing Group Inc. will speak during a session entitled “What shoppers want: Listening in on the consumer voice” at the 2012 Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition in Chicago in June.

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