When the going gets tough, it’s time to pay attention to CRM. A new Jupiter Research report called “Multichannel Customer Service” warns that although consumers will spend seven times more off-line than online in 2001, online purchases can still have a significant effect on overall operations for multi-channel retailers. Jupiter’s recommended solution to this quandary is to ensure good direct-to-customer service.

Online consumers complain about a variety of customer service problems, with slow e-mail response time topping the list. Ironically, the standard of customer service remains a phone call. The report recommends that companies use e-mail routing systems to push messages to CSRs so that “each one receives the same level of attention and urgency as a phone call would.”

Off-line retailers may weather the dead-dot-com ripple effect of outsourced contact center closings by planning to bring contact centers in-house and deploying hosted CRM applications to decrease capital investment. Jupiter’s research shows another weak point in the industry: Multi-channel retailers lag in implementing systems that offer cross-channel, single-customer views of transactions; only 18% actually have CRM systems that allow a cross-channel view of customer transactions.

Providing in-store, online access to customer account records, increasing inventory access with kiosks in stores, and creative responses to the ever-present issue of returns will help retailers serve their online customers better, the report concludes.

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