Is Your Website Talking to Your Call Center?

Dec 12, 2006 10:01 PM  By

Most multichannel merchants do a fine job of branding across channels. But few are leveraging the information gathered across business units to enhance their multichannel strategy. For too long, companies have separated their online channels from their contact centers without realizing that the two units can work in unison to boost overall sales and improve customer experience.

For many online marketers, in an ideal world every transaction would be completed online, which is why they equip their Websites with a number of self-service tools to prevent customers abandoning their shopping carts or going to a competitor’s site. Still, despite their best efforts, studies have shown that online stores experience huge abandonment rates, with nearly six out of 10 online shoppers terminating a transaction before completion.

The reality is that many consumers are still not comfortable transacting online, or they reach a point during the online sales process where they are stuck or need assistance. In these cases, few online tools can replace the level of attention that a live agent can provide. This is why when customers reach the point of no return and are forced to leave the online channel, they tend to opt for the phone channel. But nothing is more frustrating to a consumer than having spent all that time and effort online only to have to start all over again when they call to speak with an agent..

It is a lose-lose situation for both the customers and the contact center. The customers lose because they have just had a bad experience online and need to start over on the phone, and the contact center managers lose because their agents must spend additional time figuring out what the customers need without knowing that they already provided this information online.

This is why more and more multichannel merchants are looking at ways to integrate their Web and phone channels to leverage the data provided by real-time Web analytics and combine the information with the comfort and convenience of the telephone to guarantee a smooth transition for customers as they move across channels. It’s a technique known as cross-channel data passing.

Cross-channel data passing ensures that merchants have a complete view of a customer regardless of how they are interacting with the business. Imagine a customer who starts a transaction on the Web and ends up completing it on the telephone. When this transition happens, it is critical that the merchant retains as much information about the customer as possible – not only from a sales perspective but from a service one as well.

Often consumers who leave a Website to pursue a purchase offline must repeat information they have already entered online or re-create the historical context of their Web session for the contact center agents. Sometimes the customer who makes a call from the website must wade through an interactive voice response (IVR) system to get back to the proper department. This is a major hassle for customers and virtually eliminates the benefits of a well-designed Website.

What type of information are merchants passing from the Web? It can range from the basics such as personal information and purchase history to more-sophisticated Web behavioral data including pages visited and time spent.

Cross-channel data passing allows multichannel merchants to equip their sales and customer service agents with a competitive edge by delivering the context of a customer’s online session to the agent. Sales conversion rates increase dramatically when agents are supplemented with additional customer information and their immediate needs.

For example, cross-channel data passing has allowed one major Internet retailer to cut the length of its average call time by 72 seconds. When you multiply those 72 seconds by the thousands of inbound calls a contact center receives in a day, it really adds up. This improved efficiency enables agents to speak with more prospective customers, which will inevitably lead to increased revenue.

On average, multichannel merchants that use cross-channel data passing witness conversion rates that are double those of normal telephone transactions and a 25%-35% reduction in Website cart-abandonment rates.

Arguably the greatest benefit to cross-channel data passing belongs to the customer and the impact that a seamless cross-channel experience will have on the customer’s perception of your brand.

John Federman is CEO of Reston, VA-based eStara, a provider of click-to-call and online chat services.