A CUSTOMER SHOPS FOR A SUiTcase at Denver-based eBags.com, but can't find the right brand. Instead of dialing a toll-free number for help, sending an e-mail or giving up and going elsewhere, he clicks on a live-chat button. In a few seconds, he's exchanging messages with a customer service representative who already has his shopping history on screen. The salesperson not only shows the customer where to find the suitcase he wants, but also suggests promotions or specials specific to the customer's interests.
Welcome to the world of Web-enabled customer service. When the eBags customer finally signs off, he not only ends up buying the suitcase, but a sports duffel bag and backpack as well.
Not so long ago, providing customer service meant staffing a call center with representatives who fielded telephone calls all day That's how Denver's TeleTech Holdings Inc. started out. Former TeleTech chief operations officer Larry Kessler, interviewed before he resigned in a management shakeup at TeleTech, said that 10 years ago customer-service call centers were manned by workers who could handle complaints and do some selling. Now; however, customers may want to communicate with a vendor via telephone, fax or the Web. And Web-based communications channels can range from simple use of online forms to chat sessions (also known as instant messaging), to click-to-call solutions and online self-service.
That variety creates a challenge for companies that want to track all communications from each customer, no matter which channel is used. Many outsource with contractors like TeleTech, but others say they do so at the risk of allowing customer service to get out of their control.
CHANGING FACE OF CUSTOMER SERVICE
Kessler said many companies in the old days of customer relationship management -- and some still now -- had multiple databases that didn't talk to each other. A bank, for example, may have had separate databases for its checking, mortgage and credit-card departments, with no links between them. A customer with questions for all three departments would be transferred to three different agents and forced to repeat identifying information to each. In contrast, today's CRM contact centers are staffed by computer-savvy specialists equipped with integrated data bases and systems that communicate customer information seamlessly.
Even before picking up a phone or clicking onto a chat, agents have on-screen information about the customer: purchasing...