Call Evaluations Help Lillian Vernon Get its Upsell Program Down Pat

For several years contact center agents at cataloger Lillian Vernon spent a portion of every phone call offering promotions or upsells to customers. Some of these offers were for Lillian Vernon products or services, but periodically Lillian Vernon partnered with a third party and offered that company’s product or service (such as magazine subscriptions) to customers.

Recently, though, Lillian Vernon management wanted proof that the arrangement was profitable. The company also wanted to gauge customer attitudes toward these offers and subsequently address any customer dissatisfaction.

Managers wanted to track the length of time of distinct portions of each call, which average 7-10 minutes. In particular, they wanted to record the duration of the call opening (the time needed to locate a customer’s account or order), the main presentation, the offering of promotions and upsells, and the order confirmation (including the time needed to personalize a product, if necessary). Once the times were calculated, the time needed to make various offers and/or personalize an order would be converted into labor costs and compared with the revenue generated from these efforts. The ultimate goal was to better understand the return on investment, if any, from making additional offers.

In addition, Lillian Vernon’s managers wanted to get feedback on customers who seemed irritated by additional offers. While there were no tangible data to measure the irritation factor, the company felt that the feedback could be instrumental in making a judgment on the relative worth of continuing with the third-party offers. Because the success of Lillian Vernon’s business depends on return customers, the company felt it was important to ensure that the third-party offers were not annoying customers.

Lillian Vernon considered trying to measure the duration of call portions internally but quickly realized that it lacked the manpower and the technology to capture this information on a regular basis. So the cataloger contracted Seattle-based HyperQuality, a contact center quality assurance firm, to conduct agent evaluations in its call centers.

In the first test, HyperQuality’s consultants took a sample of 200 calls and captured the time taken by Lillian Vernon agents on every call portion. The survey revealed that 14% of each phone call was spent offering internal promotions and upsells, while 6% was devoted to third-party offers.

“Based on the information we received, we implemented a variety of changes in our upsell programs, including reducing some of our upsell offers and eliminating our third-party offers altogether,” says Peg Porell, quality assurance manager of customer communications for Lillian Vernon. “In addition, the company tightened up its scripting by revising the scripts for delivery times and call closings.”

These changes allowed Lillian Vernon to reduce its average talk time by 30-45 seconds. With 100-150 full and part-time phone agents year round—and a peak of 750-800 from before Halloween through the end of January—this translates to a significant bottom-line impact.

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