Contact Centers

Roundup: Catalog Fulfillment and Operations
April 1, 2004

Inside you’ll find: cost-cutting strategies for your fulfillment operations; how to protect your inventory from internal theft; how to assess your catalog systems options; and how to determine your optimal IT spend. Get Lean Successful cost-cutting strategies for your catalog fulfillment operations. By William J. Spaide Lackluster operating performance in your catalog’s fulfillment operations can result from a combination of factors: poor productivity, inefficient processes, and unanticipated marketing and merchandise results. Failure to identify early warning signs of trouble and, more importantly, not addressing these problems decisively and effectively, are common characteristics of the operational “also-rans.” It all comes down to a

Virtual Agent Maximizes Call Center’s Resources
October 1, 2003

Problem: MediaPower, which produces the MPDirect catalog, wanted to maximize live agent talk time and improve upselling strategies, all in a cost-efficient manner. Solution: It installed the automated call center technology Virtual Human Agent from AIS. Results: Cost per conversion rates went from $6 to $9 per call down to 60 cents. And the live agent outsold the call center agents in upselling offers. Chris Homer, president of MediaPower, had two call-center problems to resolve. First, he wanted to ensure that all customers had adequate access to call wrap-up data. Second, he wanted the call center to make upsell offers

Strategies for Your Contact Center
October 1, 2003

Most catalogers engineer their call centers to maximize both the quality of customer service and the cost-efficiency of their operations. Quite a few also have learned how to better manage the increasing volume of customer questions that arrive via e-mail. And a growing number now are making good use of their Web sites as self-service resources for their customers. Unfortunately, many still treat the phone, e-mail and the Web as three separate communications channels. Such a “stovepipe” approach to communications ultimately limits both the quality and efficiency of customer service — the very thing catalogers were trying to ensure in the first place.

Three Common Operating Mistakes in a Catalog Contact Center
August 1, 2003

Well-run catalog operations always have to balance service perform-ance with operating costs. That is, they must meet service objectives within a budgetary context of what is both doable and affordable. To that end, catalog operations managers often are forced to make compromises when it comes to both setting and satisfying service standards, with the better managers able to deliver acceptable service levels at a reasonable cost. Nowhere is this operating dialectic more evident than in the contact center. Although I might get an argument from a few warehouse managers, I believe the contact center is the most difficult fulfillment activity to manage in

Metrics in the Mix at Figi’s
July 1, 2003

Problem: Call volume that spikes from 60 calls per day during non-peak season to 60,000 calls per day during the holiday rush. Solution: Use metrics and flexible-scheduling techniques to help achieve agent efficiency without overstaffing. Results: 97-percent call center service levels and 90-percent agent-utilization rates maintained throughout most of the rush. As it is for many catalogers, the December holiday season is a booming time at Figi’s, the Marshfield, WI-based gift-giving speciality food mailer. Call volume builds from 60 calls per day during the non-peak season, to a whopping 60,000 calls per day during the holiday rush. To handle the volume, Catherine

Fulfill Inquiries Fast
June 1, 2003

At Lett Direct, we sometimes conduct studies to determine how quickly companies fulfill catalog requests (i.e., inquiries). While some catalogers do a great job turning around requests, many don’t. Unsolicited (and solicited) catalog requests can be extremely valuable, and a high percentage convert into buyers. Therefore, inquiry fulfillment needs to be monitored more closely and given a higher priority. This month, I’ll discuss the importance of inquiry fulfillment and provide results of a recent study we conducted. Unsolicited catalog requests come from many sources. We don’t always know their origins, but we do know inquiries are “diamonds in the rough.” If someone takes

Contact Centers: Keep the Hub Humming
April 1, 2003

No doubt your catalog’s customer contact center has changed dramatically in the past five years. Your employees probably now support e-commerce initiatives, respond to e-mailed correspondence, track outbound customer shipments, access digital product images via the Internet or terminal-based systems, and much more. Before you plot your contact center’s future strategies, answer these three basic questions: 1. How are you defining, measuring and improving customer service? Every cataloger preaches the gospel of customer service, but how does your corporate culture uniquely deliver it? 2. With your increased use of technology, have your productivity levels also risen? In many companies, productivity rates

Face Your Hang-ups
October 1, 2002

Your merchandisers have found the most appropriate products. Your creative team designed an eye-popping book, and your warehouse is prepped for the onslaught of orders. You’ve done everything you can to ensure the success of your next catalog drop. But if your call center doesn’t pick up customers’ calls efficiently enough, all of your work may be for naught. Abandoned calls occur when customers, for whatever reason, hang up the phone before they reach a call center agent. One operations consultant who surveys roughly 30 call centers annually says abandonment rates for catalogers can range from less than 1 percent to 40 percent of

Sell Your Reps on Upsell Programs
August 1, 2002

You don’t have to resort to enforced compliance among your customer service reps to make an upsell program successful for your catalog. In fact, you’ll probably sell a lot more incremental product if you invest the time and effort to ensure that your reps understand and support the validity of the process. Following are six important keys to an incremental sales program that your reps will accept and follow. Stress offers, not selling. Most reps in catalog operations are more comfortable with the idea of helping customers to buy than they are with selling. So soft-pedal your sales talk, and make it

Service Anyone?
May 1, 2002

While attending a recent business marketing conference, two things really struck me. First, direct mail not only lives, but thrives. Indeed, how do you drive Web traffic? Snail mail! Who wants a print catalog? Web browsers! Second, what do customers do when they want to order? They pick up the phone and call. My point isn’t that they use the phone, but rather what occurs—or at least, should occur—during the call. And it isn’t some idealized version of customer relationship management. Rather, they want simple, old fashioned customer service. Let me illustrate with an example from my own catalog-shopping experience. There’s a