Puttin’ On the Ritz

You may not be running a five-star restaurant, but you’re no less subject to customer service imperatives than the toniest of maître d’s. In today’s competitive environment, no company can expect to survive if it ignores the most basic of good sales techniques — paying consistent and focused attention to the customers who keep it in business.

Toy retailer FAO Schwarz has taken this tenet to heart. “Our philosophy on customer service as a whole is that we are a premier brand, and it is imperative that we offer premier service,” says Dik Glass, executive vice president of store development.

He adds that FAO Schwarz strives to offer the best and most up-to-date customer services technologies available, from live chat and e-mail to three-dimensional models that customers can manipulate online.

However, Glass believes that it is possible to go overboard when combining technology and old-fashioned customer service. “You can over-technologize your fulfillment and over-technologize your customer service and outreach,” he says.

Glass notes that there is a point at which immersion in the latest customer service technologies can obscure the importance of developing the human touch. The basic telephone, e-mail, and face-to-face concept of customer service is “alive and well and there is no new concept that will extract the sale,” he says.

FAO Schwarz’s catalog and Internet fulfillment is handled by Roanoke, VA-based Quality Fulfillment Services (QFS), an FAO Schwarz subsidiary providing telemarketing, order processing, customer service support, warehousing, and shipping services.

According to Janet Duncan, QFS’s director of client services, FAO Schwarz’s catalog and online systems are integrated with the firm’s brick-and-mortar systems, optimizing customer service.

“Our systems help keep information about customers, their order, any history of their order, and whether it was made by Internet, phone, or mail in one database accessible to everyone in the organization,” she says. “Total customer service would be taking store returns [of items purchased online] and vice versa. We want to make it easy for our customers to shop with FAO no matter what channel they might use.”

Duncan also cites the numerous technologies that QFS uses, such as live online chat communication with FAO.com and instant messaging (IM). Sheila Manning, QFS’s FAO Schwarz account executive, says that QFS began using IM technology last August.

“I think it’s been very successful — it’s a new medium to the fulfillment industry, especially catalogs,” Manning says. “You can pretty much take care of the customer in one chat session. Basically it’s to turn the inquiry into a sale.”

QFS uses software from Foster City, CA-based FaceTime Communications for the chat and IM services. According to Manning, FaceTime works through IM services provided by America Online, Yahoo!, and The Microsoft Network.

Duncan says QFS uses an e-mail management system put out by Macclesfield, England-based Eon Solutions, which also produces QFS’s automated call distribution (ACD) software. QFS runs calls and e-mail through the same ACD switch, which allows them to monitor calls and e-mail on the same monitor, and route calls and e-mail appropriately based on volume.

“We started with our base order processing system, the Page Digital Synaro™ Advantage Product, and the Eon software and built upon these two base systems,” Manning says. “We integrated the FAO Web site to Advantage, and then we integrated the e-mail management system with the phone system. We’re the multi-channel contact center.”

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