Commentary

Contact Center Reduction: How To Stifle Leads And Alienate Customers

Recently, Walmart.com kicked off its "Customer Contact Reduction" program -- a quietly launched initiative to pull all customer service numbers from its Web site in an attempt to reduce costly inbound calls about order tracking. Instead of offering personal customer service, the retailer is forcing all of its online customers to rely on self-service tools to resolve questions and online customer service problems and denying access to phone support.

Like most contact centers at popular eCommerce sites, Walmart.com receives hundreds of calls each day, and many thousands during peak shopping periods, such as the holidays. The costs of keeping the contact center open, adequately staffed and appropriately equipped to field so many calls can be tremendous. Further, certain calls can deplete agent productivity, as often times, customers are calling with questions they could easily answer for themselves via the website, such as inquiries about order tracking or shipping status.

Essentially, I'm sympathetic to their plight. However, what happens if a Walmart.com customer is shopping for a new television and gets stuck on the checkout screen, or has a few questions on the difference between plasma and LCD screens and wants to be reassured by a live voice? By eliminating the phone as an option, Wal-Mart is potentially alienating a valuable would-be customer who is on the cusp of completing a large-ticket sale. Live assistance remains critical for customers researching product purchases online, particularly those with questions about big-ticket or complex purchases. In fact, a recent forecast from JupiterResearch, "Trends in Customer Service Technology Purchasing and Operations," reports that "customer service by phone will continue to be consumers' contact channel of choice," even as people buy more goods and services online. Instead of abandoning the phone channel entirely as Walmart.com did, companies with high contact center volume should consider alternative strategies to guide consumers to the most appropriate channel based on their needs, and turn their contact centers into sales centers. Leveraging Web analytics and business rules, some Internet retailers, for example, have found ways to avoid expensive "order tracking" phone calls while not dropping the ball with their high-value prospects that may require personal assistance.

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Click-to-call and click-to-chat technologies allow retailers to engage customers at strategic points throughout their Web site, so high-value customers gearing up to make significant purchases can connect with the company's call center. At the same time, companies can leverage real-time Web analytics to channel non-sales inquires to less costly service options like email and self-service. For example, companies can use customer profiles to identify frequent shoppers and offer them personalized service to keep these loyal shoppers happy. Similarly, the retailer could also opt for rules that engage customers with an opportunity to speak with an agent once a certain threshold (say $200) is reached in the shopping cart, or based on a customer's keyword search.

These proactive conversion solutions ensure companies service loyal customers with the right sales channel for their needs, without overwhelming their contact centers.

Today's consumers view customer service as a significant differentiator, and a reason to form loyalty in an overcrowded marketplace where competing offers are just a click away. By offering shoppers customer service options based on context, you can still cut service costs while catering to customers' unique needs -- a significant driver in establishing customer loyalty and generating sales.

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