Soft on service lines

May 01, 1999 9:30 PM  By

The catalog industry prides itself on superior customer service, but when it comes to staffing a separate telephone line for service, many catalogers don’t practice what they preach.

According to Catalog Age’s 1999 Benchmark Report on Operations (see p. 77), more than 57% of respondents say they do not have separate telephone lines for ordering and customer service. And that figure has not changed much over the years. Last year, for instance, 59% of respondents did not provide a separate customer service line.

Housewares cataloger/retailer Sur La Table feels it can serve customers just as well with one line as with two. “We feel it’s much easier for our customer to have a single toll-free line in to the company,” says John Salvatorie, director of operations for the Seattle-based company.

But given that many customers who call with service-related questions are already frustrated about some aspect of their catalog shopping experience, they may grow downright ornery if they keep getting transferred from an order-taker to a supervisor to a customer service specialist during the course of their call to a general phone line. Charlottesville, VA-based electronics cataloger Crutchfield ensures that callers with problems speak directly with a service specialist by maintaining a toll line for customer service line as well as a toll-free ordering line.

Curt Goodwin, Crutchfield’s vice president of operations, admits, however, that the company maintains the separate lines largely to discourage customers from using the toll-free line for service-related questions. “If your company has only the toll-free number, you might be paying for your customer to listen to the interactive voice response at the beginning of the call or the customer may have to wait to be transferred,” Goodwin says.

Paying the toll Like Crutchfield, Italian ceramics cataloger Cottura maintains separate service and ordering lines. “I find it’s very effective to have a separate line for customer service,” says Jim Zimmerman, president of the Los Angeles-based marketer. “Having a dedicated phone line really talks about your commitment to customer service. It’s a competitive world out there, and all you really have is your customer service.”

But both of Cottura’s lines are toll numbers-which some may argue constitutes poor customer service. Considering that most customers who call the service line have a question about a catalog order or some sort of problem, they may resent paying for the call.