Ebay had the right idea but the wrong execution

Oct 17, 2007 11:55 PM  By

Ebay recently announced that it would be taking a $1.43 billion loss this year because they overvalued Skype in its 2005 acquisition of the company – to the shock of few in the financial world. When announced two years ago, the move initially left many people scratching their heads because there were few obvious synergies between the two businesses. Not me, though.

In many ways, eBay had the right idea when it set its sights on Skype. As Gartner Research recently commented about the acquisition, “Integrating applications and communications can enhance the user experience and remove ‘friction’ from business transactions. As one proof point, click-to-call capabilities have produced significant benefits by improving sales rates and reducing call handling times for call centers.”

Enabling online buyers to have offline conversations with sellers via click to call is a proven method to increase sales conversion and is already employed by some of the top companies in a variety of industries. These dialogues have the potential to be a boon to online merchants, helping them sell their wares more effectively, increase sales and improve online customer satisfaction. The promise that click to call technology brings to e-commerce is very real.

But while Ebay had the right idea when it acquired Skype, its execution was ultimately flawed. For starters, neither customers nor merchants should be required to install separate software to communicate with one another. Second, in order to succeed with click-to-call, companies must look to systems that are much more than just proxies for standard telephone calls.

To gain the most impact out of these types of technologies, e-commerce companies must look to vendors that can leverage real-time Web data to engage customers proactively and deliver the context of a user’s session directly to the contact center to enable cross-selling and up-selling, without requiring changes to existing telephony or CRM infrastructure. This real-time engagement, coupled with real-time data is what makes click-to-call stand apart from standard telephone calls.

Before implementing these solutions, marketers must consider how customers interact with their Website. Do you sell high-end or complex products or services? At what point to customers abandon their transactions? Do you use advanced personalization features to target different audience segments? There are a variety of ways to deploy click to call to fit your customers’ needs.

Static deployments imply click to call buttons are always visible on a Website regardless of agent availability or hours of operation. Proactive deployments show click to call buttons only when certain criteria have been met such as the price of a customer’s online shopping cart. Proactive click to call even allows agents to control when and where they decide to offer the click to call invitation, and can also offer cobrowsing options to help customer service agents navigate through the transaction process with customers. Finally, integrated campaigns can either be static, dynamic or proactive. These proactive deployments use unique data integration and collaboration technology to deliver a continuity of experience when customers transition from the Web to the phone.

If you don’t want to overwhelm your call center, you may want to consider a rules-based, proactive deployment that allows you to provide personal customer assistance to customers that are more likely to have complex questions, while directing less complex transactions to options such as chat, email and self-service tools. This ensures loyal customers remain faithful to your brand while also addressing all inbound inquiries in a timely and appropriate manner.

Also crucial to the success of a click-to-call program is the ability to quantitatively measure the ROI of the deployment. Enterprise-level solutions couple real-time reporting and analytics, along with A/B testing capabilities and survey capabilities to guarantee companies are offering the right form of contact, at the right time.

In the initial years of the Internet, online merchants could dictate how their customers interacted with call centers, but advances in technology have rendered that type of thinking obsolete. As the products and services available online grow in scale and complexity, so too does the need for businesses to offer more personalized sales and service tools. Marketers need to take an honest look at their multichannel strategies to determine which tools work best for bridging the online and offline gap.

John Federman is CEO of eStara, a contact center services provider.