Facing Up to Customer Needs Online

By Outsourcing Center, Beth Ellyn Rosenthal, Senior Writer

Facing Up to Customer Needs Online

Communication is fundamental to any kind of commerce. But it’s especially important on the impersonal Net where buyers sit alone in front of a computer screen, wondering if their orders will get lost in the ether.

Now e-business owners can add a high touch component to high tech commerce. They can assure an executive on the road that the part will get there tomorrow in time for the big meeting. They can answer any question on-line, real time, using software from FaceTime Communications, an ASP.

The Foster City, California company helps e-commerce companies with their customer service by giving them the technology to have real time interactions with buyers, chat room style. “Our customers want to provide the best customer service to their buyers with as little overhead as possible,” says David Hsieh, co-founder and vice president of business affairs for FaceTime.

Hsieh saw the need for good customer service when he tried to buy a new Dell computer from Dell’s Web site. He wanted a new laptop with a 13 inch screen. This machine was listed on the page that allowed you to build your dream computer, but the order page only mentioned a 12 inch screen. The site had offered no explanation for the discrepancy.

Hsieh was curious. Since there was no way to interact with a customer service rep on-line, he phoned Dell. The customer service rep informed him the 13 inch screen was on back order, so Dell couldn’t promise delivery. That was why the 13 inch screen was listed on the site but not on the order form.

Preventing Buyer Frustration Online

Then, the Dell employee asked Hsieh if he traveled with his computer. When he answered in the affirmative, the Dell staffer told him the 13 inch screen was too big for most airplane tray tables. Based on that information, Hsieh ordered a laptop with a 12 inch screen.

This interchange got Hsieh thinking. The phone conversation really helped him selecting the correct Dell computer for his particular business needs. But how many people who needed this kind of help would bother to pick up the telephone? He wanted to find a solution so consumers could get the information they needed right there on the Net?before they became so frustrated they decided to buy nothing at all.

The result is FaceTime’s Instant Customer Suite. Any time a buyer needs face time with a customer service representative, s/he just clicks on the FaceTime icon, which is on every page of its customers’ Web site. The software instantly links the buyer with a company representative who can handle any problem before frustration sets in.

As soon as a buyer clicks on the FaceTime icon, the company’s software begins gathering data about the transaction. Web owners can mine this information by logging onto Instant Customer at FaceTime’s Web site. They enter through its “Customer Supportal.”

Gathering Data at the ‘Supportal’

The ASP uses Viador software to analyze a buyer’s behavior on the Net. Its detailed reports inform Web site owners:

  • Where on the site the buyer was when he got confused and needed help;
  • What questions are asked and how frequently;
  • The category of problem it was;
  • How many interventions it took to resolve the problem.

Armed with this information, businesses can make all necessary changes to improve their customers’ e-commerce experience. For example, one client discovered five percent of its customers took the time to complete the order form but then never bought anything. After studying the reports, the company learned these buyers wanted to use their Discover card, which the site did not accept. It turned out they were so angry they wouldn’t even complete the purchase using another credit card in their wallets. Adding the Discover card to this company’s merchant account mix solved the problem.

Another FaceTime customer launched an e-mail marketing campaign. Unfortunately, the campaign led prospects to a link that had faulty HTML code. Suddenly, the FaceTime link was swamped. The customer service reps figured out the problem early, long before the mistake could cause real damage to the marketing campaign.

ASPs and Customer Support

Hsieh says Web site owners like using an ASP for customer support because they just want to use the technology, not maintain it. “They don’t want to install software on a server. They just want to sign up and be off to the races,” he says. FaceTime worked hard to make its installation procedure as convenient as ordering a telephone dial tone from the phone company.

Yet his customers want a high degree of technical sophistication. An ASP allows them to have it without a huge cash outlay for hardware.

Marketing has been relatively easy. Web site owners stumble across FaceTime’s customer service expertise at a Web site where they are buying something and determine they need it on their sites, too. The service costs customers $500 a month. There is a modest set up fee, making the start up costs small.

FaceTime, which has 100 employees, has raised $40 million from venture capitalists in its first two years of existence.

Lessons from the Outsourcing Primer:

  • Customer service for e-business provides on-line, real time chat to prevent people from getting frustrated.
  • Web storeowners like working with an ASP because they don’t have to worry about installing or maintaining the software.
  • ASPs can provide sophisticated data to help their customers fine tune their Web offerings to increase sales.

About the Author: Ben Trowbridge is an accomplished Outsourcing Consultant with extensive experience in outsourcing and managed services. As a former EY Partner and CEO of Alsbridge, he built successful practices in Transformational Outsourcing, Managed services provider, strategic sourcing, BPO, Cybersecurity Managed Services, and IT Outsourcing. Throughout his career, Ben has advised a broad range of clients on outsourcing and global business services strategy and transactions. As the current CEO of the Outsourcing Center, he provides invaluable insights and guidance to buyers and managed services executives. Contact him at [email protected].

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