Crediting increased operational efficiencies as the catalyst, Lillian Vernon closed its satellite call center in Manila, Philippines, on March 18.
“We began delivering 100% of our contact volume to our Virginia Beach facility effective Sunday,” says Toni Cicero, vice president of customer care. “This means that our Virginia Beach call center will operate from 7 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week.”
The gifts, housewares, and toys cataloger first experimented with outsourcing during fall 2003, sending order and customer service calls to a facility in India, switching to the Manila contact center in 2004. Until the closing, the company employed 25 year-round representatives in the Philippines with an additional 100 during the peak Christmas season.
Although the company won’t release exact figures on the total number of calls it receives in Virginia Beach, it expects a 30% increase in call volume now that the Manila facility has closed. Even so, “our peak capacity proved that 100% of our calls could be handled in Virginia Beach without any detriment to budget,” says a spokesperson.
One reason is that Lillian Vernon phone reps no longer promote third-party sales offers, such as magazine subscriptions and discount buying clubs, during calls. The company had been making these offers since 1997.
“By lifting the burden of multiple sales offers from our customers and offering them the right items relevant to their interest, we were able to improve customer satisfaction, shorten call times, and touch more customers,” Cicero says. The average call handling time has since decreased by 39 seconds.
Lillian Vernon has also been testing an advanced interactive voice response (IVR) program for several months, and Andrew Clayton, call center operations manager, says that so far it has cut the average handling time by as much as 20 seconds.
Peg Porell, quality assurance manager for customer communications, also cites customer access to online package tracking as contributing to increased productivity in the contact center. “Any time you give the customer greater control of their order, the result is usually mutually beneficial,” she says. “By improving their access to information, we decrease their reliance upon the call center, which results in fewer calls.”
Improvements in merchandising and the distribution center contributed as well. This past fall the cataloger reduced the number of SKUs it carries from 1,000 to 750 and reorganized its pick floor.
“Naturally, one of the biggest drivers that impacts the average handling time of our customer service and order calls is the order getting out faster and accurately,” Porell says. “By improving operations in our distribution center and decreasing our ship times, we have been able to cut call volume by 450,000 year-to-date. That coupled with our handle-time reductions has decreased our overall staffing requirements.”