E-commerce is beginning to boom. In only its second year as a viable
retail channel, consumers spent some $7 billion dollars online during the
1999 holiday shopping season, exceeding analyst expectations. But these
customers didn't materialize out of thin air. They were lured online by the
$3 billion that Internet companies spent in advertising and marketing. You
couldn't turn around in December without being bombarded by Internet
shopping ads coming from the TV, radio, billboards, and any tangible or
virtual surface that could support a promotional piece.
Though the effort paid off, holiday season statistics demonstrate the
expense of changing consumer habits. Customer acquisition costs for
traditional retailers are under $20 per customer, established Internet
retailers $40 to $50 each, and for many virtual start-ups, the costs
associated with acquiring new customers can run up to $100 or more. Given
the high cost for each online shopper, Internet companies are under a lot of
pressure to figure out how to turn new customers into long-term shoppers.
This is not an easy task when you factor in the shortcomings that
thwarted the online shopping experience last season. An abysmal percentage
of products were not delivered in time due to supply-chain failures, and
shopping carts littered virtual malls as customers were left confused and
bewildered by technical glitches and product information deficits. In a
hostile environment such as this, how do you build consumer confidence to
keep them coming back?
BASIC CUSTOMER SERVICE
You do so by going back to basics. Traditional retail stores have their fair
share of problems but customer service with a personal touch evolved to help
turn customer angst into customer loyalty. Until recently, real-time
customer assistance was not available when it came to online shopping. If
customers had doubts about a company's ability to really deliver a product
by a certain date, or if their transactions went through, or if the XL sized
shirt was large enough, there was no real-time online presence to get the
immediate gratification fix that shopping is supposed to deliver. Instead,
customers had two less-than-perfect options. They could e-mail their
questions and wait and wait and wait for a response. Or search online for a
toll-free phone number, go offline, and then place a call to a service rep,
turning the time spent shopping online into a complete waste of time. The
call center rep may complete the transaction, but does not reinforce or
further educate the customer about the online buying process.
The good news is that this state of affairs is changing. Today there are
voice and data solutions available that provide intuitive ways for customers
to communicate with company representatives from an online site. Companies
can now link their Web sites with their call centers, enabling online
customers to click on an icon on a corporate Web page to establish a
real-time voice connection. Online calls go directly to call center agents,
or any phone number, while customers use their PC audio capabilities to talk
to company representatives.
Joint Web browsing solutions are also available that simulate the
customized in-store shopping experience from the convenience of consumers'
homes. Reps can help customers fill out online forms or show them pages with
products that they think the consumer might be interested in. Customers can
surf with company reps to pages that refer to competing or related products
to ask questions.
How many times have you bought a product because a knowledgeable sales
person suggested it? You might not want to admit it, but it's probably a
lot. Here is a list of products that can add this personal touch to online
shopping in order to increase the number of hits "Submit Order"
buttons get. The main features available are:
- Joint form handling. Call center agents may assist a
customer in filling out a form in real time.
Both the customer and the agent can see the form and the entries, and
both can type in or correct fields. This can ensure the customer does not
quit in the middle, and that the information entered is accurate.
- Guided Web browsing. A call center agent can guide a
customer to a Web page.
This makes the experience easier for the user, especially in finding
what the user is looking for, and the agent can offer additional products
to the customer.
- Text chat. Agents and customers can exchange real-time
text messages. If a customer, for any reason, prefers to communicate
using text, real-time text chat can provide an excellent way to
Enhanced online shopping with all or one of these features can increase
online sales completion rates as well as add new efficiency to the entire
sales process. Providing a more satisfying sales experience maximizes the
dollars invested in getting consumers to your site by getting them to come
back for more. In the future, not only are they more likely to purchase from
you rather then a competitor, but they're more likely to do most of the
legwork themselves at the Web site, knowing that as soon as they need help a
rep is only a click away. This gives call center agents and retail clerks
more time to focus on customers at a more advanced stage in the shopping
E-commerce is booming. Thanks to VoIP and related technologies, it will
be a pleasant experience.
Lior Haramaty is a co-founder of VocalTec Communications and belongs
to the original group that started the VoIP industry. Haramaty has dealt
with passing audio over data networks since the late 80s. VocalTec started
shipping VoIP products in the early 90s. Haramaty has a multidisciplinary
background in the business, technology and marketing fields, is a
co-inventor on VoIP patents, and has initiated and spear-headed standards
activities in the industry. The goal of this column is to clearly explain
issues related to voice (and other media) over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to
anyone, including the "acronym-impaired" person. Requests for
future column subjects are welcomed. Please write to email@example.com.