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Eddie Bauer launches online customer service -- ECenter Solution Suite built on Servicesoft technology

Specialty retailer Eddie Bauer has introduced "Ask Eddie," an online customer service program based on Servicesoft's ECenter solution. The new feature at eddiebauer.com offers online holiday shoppers around-the-clock, Web-based customer service. Using Ask Eddie, customers can research information on their own, request and receive e-mail information promptly, or chat live with a customer satisfaction associate.

According to a survey commissioned by Servicesoft, 87% of online shoppers who spent $2,000 or more on the Web in the past six months will abandon a merchant's Web site and click to a competitor's if they experience bad customer service. The study also revealed that good online customer service increases customer loyalty. For example, 79% of big 'Net spenders claim to have increased their spending on a Web site when the customer service experience is favorable.

"When building our Web strategy, it was important that our long-standing commitment to customer service remain front and center," said Mark Staudinger, VP of interactive media at Eddie Bauer.

If customers are unable to find an answer to their question in the ECenter database, they can write Eddie Bauer directly. Servicesoft's technology allows Eddie Bauer to manage and monitor inbound e-mail and respond within 24 hours.

Finally, a third component of Ask Eddie provides a human element for the online customer: LiveContact offers a live interaction component.

"We felt it was important to let customers determine how they wanted to contact us," Staudinger said. "Our goal was to provide our customers with an array of options but let the choice be theirs."

Betsy Hooper, director of customer support with Eddie Bauer, observed that the system is working well so far. "We are tracking its use through a series of reports," she said. "We definitely want to understand how often Ask Eddie is being accessed, and how often the customer is ending on problem resolution rather than having to escalate to e-mail or live contact."

Calling Eddie Bauer a great, high-profile account, Jeff Whitney, Sevicesoft's VP of marketing, said, "This demonstrates the concept that the best way to support the customer is with e-mail or chat or live collaboration. But people want self-service as a first choice, then an option for escalation."

Self-service Web help is made practical by the fact that 50% of customer inquiries can be answered by the same 20% of information. This allows a Web site to answer customer queries before they escalate to an e-mail exchange or a live agent.

"It reduces the strain on agents to handle e-mails," said Whitney. "It allows agents to focus on tough issues--like shopping carts overflowing with orders."

Whitney suggested that the most popular responses can be authored in about four to six weeks. "These address about 50% of inquiries while (users) continue to author additional knowledge," he said.

In Eddie Bauer's case, Hooper said that the foundation of the knowledgebase was built in less than three weeks. "It continues to grow and evolve into a more powerful knowledgebase every day as we identify information that is meaningful to the eddiebauer.com customer," he said.

Initially, several catalog call centers will have Internet access to the same system, thereby ensuring that customer inquiries are handled consistently regardless of the customer's point of origin.

"There is a long-term plan to give access to Ask Eddie to our customer contact associates," Hooper said. "We believe that this will eventually replace most hard-copy reference materials that associates currently use."

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