When e-commerce meets the call center integration strategies for success

When e-commerce meets the call center integration strategies for success

Talley, Bruce

The e-commerce revolution is happening on many fronts. Companies are moving products into this new channel, retailers are thriving and marketing data gathered online continue to be refined and used in more sophisticated ways. The Web has emerged as a resource for technical support and product information that offers customers convenience and satisfaction. In the e-commerce revolution, everybody wins.

The question for companies, then, is not deciding if they need to go online that’s a given. Companies need to determine how e-commerce will affect their customer relationships, and prepare for impending change. The challenge is how to re-think the current infrastructure of a business to get the most out of e-commerce. The solution may surprise some, as it does not focus on emphasizing the company’s presence on the Web. Instead, the way to leverage e-commerce is to link the existing points of customer contact with online channels, and integrate customer-contact information with marketing, commerce and support applications.

To successfully integrate call centers and other methods of customer interaction (fax, e-mail, Web) with e-commerce requires company management to step back and take a look at how their firm currently provides customer contact, and whether or not systems are in place to coordinate customer contact with the departments that are developing e-commerce. Companies that successfully embrace e-commerce will have a well-developed plan and will opt for best-of-class solutions with open standards.

Customer ContaCt Today And Tomorrow

One of the main areas of customer contact is the call center. As companies develop new visions of what their customer-contact infrastructure needs to look like, the connection between ecommerce and the call center must become an integral part of their strategy.

In most companies, call centers have traditionally been designed to respond to customer complaints and questions, to process orders or to conduct telemarketing campaigns. Call centers have not been charged with developing or managing relationships. In fact, in many cases, call center personnel cannot address a customer’s need because they have limited access to information. In addition, personnel usually operate one program that is designed for one transaction. Although they are instructed to maintain a customer-friendly attitude, they are often not trained to be service– or sales-oriented.

Web sites, on the other hand, appeal to a wide range of customers by using interesting graphics, special online discounts and the ability to buy instantly, if one so chooses. While it’s easy to get to the Web site, it’s just as easy to click away, especially if the customer doesn’t easily find what he or she is looking for. In addition, e-commerce, while providing a self-service sales channel, generates more call center traffic at unpredictable intervals. The most obvious way a call center can complement e-commerce activity is by providing personal contact at the click of an icon. But when the call center and the Web site are truly coordinated, the possibilities extend beyond enhancing online revenues.

While companies are preparing for increased call center traffic from ecommerce, they can also design their Web sites to improve call center efficiency. When a Web site is easy to navigate, for example, users can find the answers they need to technical questions without calling technical support. And when e-commerce is coordinated with the call center, a history of the customer’s online technical questions, as well as related purchases, will be available when the customer calls for help. This means reduced overhead at the call center, reduced calls to other departments that are not staffed to handle a large number of customer calls and a more satisfied customer.

Integrating the call center and the Web reaches beyond current customers to prospects. Data from online activities can be used to generate sales leads, and the presentation used in outbound marketing calls or direct mail campaigns can invite a potential customer to visit the Web site to register for a promotional program. In fact, the success of this kind of a telemarketing campaign depends on the coordination between the call center, Web management and marketing.

Here is a closer look at a few ways companies will benefit by integrating the call center and e-commerce:

Inbound Calls

Many businesses were caught by surprise when the appearance of their Web sites meant phones began ringing off the hook. The bottom line is, no matter how colorful or user-friendly your site, a majority of your customers will still want to interact with a human being, especially during the transition phase. When they have the impulse to buy a product or service they see featured online, customers want to pick up the phone, talk to somebody about the product and use this personal connection to help them decide whether or not to buy, because phone contact is where they are currently comfortable.

Call centers and field sales forces are still the primary channels through which products are sold, so companies need to drive online leads to these channels. Companies that succeed in e-commerce will use their Web sites to encourage shoppers to call, taking advantage of this opportunity to manage customer relationships and build market loyalty. Successful companies will offer a call center solution that responds to the customer’s desire for personal interaction and at the same time mines the rich marketing data available online.

To achieve successful personal interactions, companies must employ responsive customer service representatives (CSRs) and be able to use the information garnered from the Web site to manage and improve customer relationships. When e-commerce shoppers call an 800 number listed online, they expect to communicate with representatives who understand the products and know their way around the Web site.

Here’s an example that brings the integration of e-commerce and the call center to life: Let’s say you’re in the you need to determine how this integration will impact your existing business infrastructure.

E-commerce is a key part of a company’s marketing strategy, not just another store front, an additional vehicle for taking orders or a mechanism for gathering names for an old-school telemarketing bank. To realize the marketing potential of the Web, the call center and online marketing departments need to work as one coordinated department.

The call center will require real-time updates and integration with other departments to have the details necessary to please the customer. When the customer who is shopping for cruise wear asks for a size 18 shirt in periwinkle, the CSR needs to know whether or not it is in stock and if it can be shipped to arrive at the customer’s home in Chicago tomorrow. By keying in specific codes, the CSR can ask the inventory system if the shirt is in stock, and then find out from the distribution system that a storm in Iowa just grounded the Fed Ex flight the shirt would have been shipped on. The marketing system can then flash an alternative choice, complete with a picture (taken on a cruise ship) that is instantly popped onto the Web page the customer is viewing.

Plus, when the marketing department plans its next telemarketing campaign, it can now use this information to initiate customer contact. A friendly conversation that begins by inquiring about the trip (especially since the company is in the business of resort wear) will go farther than a cold call.

When integrated with e-commerce, the call center becomes a hub through which all sales-related information passes. This requires a change in recruiting and training, as the skills required to close on a sale are different from those needed to process orders. It also demands a re-thinking of where the call center stands in the eyes of other departments, as it now delivers an immediate impact to the bottom line.


Computer-telephony integration (CTI) software is needed to blend a call center with e-commerce and other departments. CTI enables call centers to manage customer interactions across multiple contact channels such as voice, the Web and e-mail. Also critical to integration, especially when you are managing a variety of departments and expectations, is the ability of CTI to work across multiple sites and accommodate different hardware configurations.


Once you look at the ways in which customer service and the use of marketing demographics are changed through e-commerce, you will realize that ecommerce must become a key part of your marketing strategy. The most important part of this realization is that e-commerce does not work alone. The foundation for successful ventures in ecommerce is not your Web site; instead, it is the integration between your Web site and your call center. By connecting what occurs online with what occurs over the phone, you can successfully manage customer relationships and build customer loyalty.

Finally, to build and maintain an online customer base, companies must integrate call center and e-commerce technologies. Therefore, if you intend to embrace the potential of online business, you must also create an infrastructure to support the connection between e-commerce and the call center.

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By Bruce Talley, Hewlett-Packard

Customer Relationship Software

Bruce Talley is manager, sales and marketing operations, for HewlettPackard Customer Relationship Software. The group offers call center solutions to help customer service managers quickly adapt to new channels, now markets and new customer demands. HP’s solutions are installed worldwide in industries ranging from telecommunications and manufacturing to financial services and utilities. Find more information online at www.hp.com/go/smartcontact.

Copyright Technology Marketing Corporation May 1999

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