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July 1999


Autobytel.com Humanizes E-Commerce Through Its Call Center

BY ERIK D. LOUNSBURY, EDITOR,  C@LL CENTER SOLUTIONS

For most people, next to buying a house, buying an automobile is the most expensive personal purchasing decision they will ever have to make. And making that decision is a time-consuming and often frustrating process. The traditional method has been reading magazine after magazine and scouring newspaper ads for details on various makes and models. Then you had to trudge off from dealership to dealership to see what each dealer had to offer. Then, when you found the car that was perfect for you, you were treated to the joyful process of haggling over the price.

In 1995, Autobytel.com inc. broke the traditional mode of car buying by bringing together dealers and customers in a virtual showroom where car buyers can browse through information on not only a seemingly endless font of information on invoice pricing and specifications, but also safety characteristics, manufacturing incentives, vehicle reviews, lease or purchase information, extended service agreements, aftermarket options and a rewards program. Since 1995, Autobytel.com has processed more than 2.5 million requests and processes more than 100,000 purchase requests per month for its network of more than 2,700 Accredited Dealers.

When the Web browser turns into a Web buyer and has decided on a model, he or she submits a free purchase request and the request is routed by Autobytel.com to a local Accredited Dealer that has agreed to call the consumer within 24 hours with a low, competitive, no-haggle price.

As can happen when one is confronted with so many choices, confusion can set in. (This trait is inherent in a medium that can tax synapses by the ready availability of too much information.) When an Autobytel.com customer has a question, he or she can click on the help button, which gives a toll-free number to call for customer service and also offers the customer a pop-up messaging form to send to a customer service specialist whose name appears on the form. Waiting when the call or message comes in is Autobytel.com’s customer service team under the guidance of vice president, Customer Service WOW (Win or Win), Girina Dong.

Ms. Dong’s team fields a variety of questions. Ms. Dong said, “Customers may be unclear about the various models and will place a call into the call center, or they may have questions about how the dealers are contacted or they may call back with questions such as ‘Why don’t you send me more dealers?’”

The dealers should respond to the customers within 24 hours after they receive the request. Autobytel.com’s call center also has a dedicated team of customer service representatives to answer any questions the dealers may have and to provide support for them. Autobytel.com also has a system in place that allows customer service to monitor dealer contracts with customers.

Receiving calls and e-mail from both dealers and customers keeps the call center humming with activity. Ms. Dong reported they receive more than 4,000 e-mail and phone contacts per week.

Autobytel.com can send out automated responses to inquiries, but Ms. Dong encourages her agents to be proactive, to add that extra human touch to each response from the extensive knowledge base each agent possesses. “When we bring in any tool, it is with the idea of helping our customers,” she said.

Being in such close contact with its customers has made the call center an indicator of how the company is responding to customer needs. Ms. Dong keeps a Customer Service WOW board in the call center that includes such comments from customers as: “I wanted you to know that I am really impressed by your candor, attitude and politeness. It is really nice to know that there are still people out there who treat the customer as another human being rather than just another number or statistic…. Once again, I would like to compliment you on your politeness and attitude with me.” This comment is typical of the compliments the call center regularly receives. It also points out that while e-commerce has given people an ever-increasing number of new opportunities for buying, people will always want and flourish in one-to-one contact with another human being. As Ms. Dong pointed out, “We are finding through the success of our call center that the need for the human touch will never go away.”

The author may be contacted directly
at elounsbury@tmcnet.com.







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