Elusive customer service

By Jessica Davis, InfoWorld |  Software

ALTHOUGH ONLINE retailers focused on back-end fulfillment processes and snappy Web design this holiday season, customer service remains a blind spot for many businesses.

But those retailers leading the pack this year have shored up customer service with CRM (customer relationship management) technologies such as chat and collaboration, as well as with VOIP (voice over IP), all of which analysts expect to be more commonly used next year.

Customer service oursourcing options grow

-- Brian Fonseca

Handing over the keys to your Web site CRM (customer relationship management) operation is a risky proposition, but some companies are finding out that turning to outsourcing can offer online interactive features this holiday season.

Cornerhardware.com, an e-tailer based in San Francisco, relies on Esupportnow to offer its customers live chat, e-mail, and telephone customer service, co-founder and president Peter Hunt said. The cost advantages of outsourcing CRM outweigh the downside of handing over customer service control, he added.

"If we had to go out and build our own call center, it would've taken six to nine months to build it from scratch," Hunt said.

According to Hunt, an internal employee at Cornerhardware.com handles difficult customer service issues. At the Charlestown, Mass.-based Esupportnow, representatives are fully trained to be familiar with the hardware company's products and services.

Esupportnow customer Kabloom Limited, a flower store chain with an online presence in Woburn, Mass., raved about outsourcing but because of security questions was hesitant to incorporate "page pushing" or guiding customers through Web pages.

"It's something we have looked at, but one of the issues that comes up is going in between secure [Web] pages and nonsecure pages. And I don't know what the resolution to that has been," said Todd Thomma, marketing manager at Kabloom.

Esupportnow operates as Kabloom's call center, offers live chat, and processes Web orders for the company. Thomma said that using live human interaction in an online purchase to offer suggestions helps new customers feel more at ease.

Vendors who outsource Web CRM must be wary of giving up too much customer service control, said Geri Spieler, research director at Gartner, in San Jose, Calif.

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