July 09, 2008
How To

How to Profit from Speedy Replies to Customer Inquiries: 6 Tactics to Lift Revenue 10%

SUMMARY: Many companies consider replying to customer emails only as a way to keep them happy -- not to boost revenue. That's a mistake.

Check out how an eretailer uses speed and special CRM tools and incentives to convert email inquiries into profit-making opportunities. Includes 6 tactics to reap 10% more revenue.
Two years ago, Brad Wolansky, VP, Global Ecommerce, The Orvis Company, Inc., decided to crank up their online CRM system to see if it could help generate sales. They began by instituting performance guidelines with incentives for reps to reply to all email inquiries within an hour.

Those changes were just the start. They also overhauled their chat strategy and combined it with the reply deadline to create a new revenue generator.

Wolansky’s one-two punch included a two-way button that let an online viewer get the best help available at *that very moment.* The idea behind the button? If you give online shoppers help when they really want it – right away, you’ll convert like crazy. Indeed, it has worked.

“Our sales have grown at double-digit rates for the last two years,” he says. “These features have proven over time to increase sales and to improve customer experience.”

Their conversion rates for the quick-reply emails land between 5% and 10%. And their chat conversion rate often exceeds 15%. Here are the 6 key tactics Wolansky used:

-> Tactic #1. Install smart button for replies, chat

Through their marketing services provider, they implemented a ‘smart button’ on the home page that automatically interspersed between offering live chat and a quick email response. The box-shaped button offered chat if there was a rep available *right at that exact moment* during the hours of online operation, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. EDT.

If a rep was not available, the button showed customers a two-hour email-reply guarantee. During off-peak times of the day and seasonal periods when the chat staff size was minimal, the two-hour email ad got served frequently during business hours.

Wolansky’s strategy, however, was to undersell and over-perform. His staff was mandated to reply within an hour for every email inquiry – not the two-hour guarantee.

“We saw a prompt, spiffy reply as a competitive advantage. So, we promised a two-hour response – and in 97% of the time, we emailed back in less than an hour. What you don’t want is for the consumer to be waiting. That is not acceptable.”

-> Tactic #2. Plug in links, prioritize queries

Wolansky says he worked to instill a CRM mindset that stressed the value of every touch point as a sales opportunity.

For all email inquiries, their reps were instructed to plug in hotlinks to product pages that fit a prospect’s suggested needs. They also were told to kindly answer all questions in the most appropriate order possible.

“You cannot think about email inquiries as, ‘Well, we’ll get to it when we don’t have anything else to do.’ There is no reason to treat these emails as second-class citizens. And as such, answering email has to be staffed and scheduled.”

-> Tactic #3. Hire, train in-house staff

All CRM staffers worked in-house at the Roanoke, Va., fulfillment center. Some had a specific focus: email, chat or phone. Other reps worked all three areas. It depended on their strengths, Wolansky says.

Internal staffing has been integral to their impressive response rates, Wolansky says, even though they have had to tackle the recruiting, hiring and training issues that came with it.

“We would never do it any other way because the outsourcing approach, we believe, lowers service performance and, therefore, conversions.”

-> Tactic #4. Incentivize for performance

OK, the three previous tactics worked well. But Wolansky really kept the staff on their toes with incentives. All sales completions, via email, chat or phone, were incentivized. The more sales the reps converted, the bigger their paycheck.

“…I think it is important to incentivize your staff to do well and to do the right thing. You want them to spend their downtime learning about the products and about the system. Because the faster they are with their answers, the more chats they can get to and the more sales they can create.”

The chat option was available until 11 p.m., although the two-hour email guarantee ended at 9 p.m. The deadline was set to get all of the guaranteed email replies answered before everyone left the center for the day and to keep the staff’s spirits up.

Wolansky didn’t want his emailers dragging themselves home after midnight, he says. He wanted to keep his sales performers on the job as long as he could.

-> Tactic #5. Give chatters rules, tools to work with

To produce great conversion rates for chat, Wolansky and his team did the following:

o Limited chatters to two sessions at a time. “When we first started, we set the chat limit at three. We quickly realized that two was as much as we could individually handle. As soon as we went past two, it got too hard to perform at the level we wanted.”

o Instructed chatters to supply links to a product page at the most opportune time. Most chats were initiated to talk about products, he says, so opportunities presented themselves naturally.

In addition, the back-end system provided a dashboard where chatters could quickly find product page links. A chatter had at least two windows open – one with a customer and the other with the dashboard.

o Dashboard also let reps use a library of scripted responses that they could cut and paste from to save time. Yet, Wolansky says, the reps predominantly free-formed with their product knowledge.

“You don’t want their assistance to appear really canned to the customer. You would lose the personal touch,” he says.

If all chatters were busy, the smart button immediately promoted the two-hour reply guarantee. It was an instant source of help as much as possible *in that moment of purchasing interest,* he says.

-> Tactic #6. Use *right* real estate

The ‘smart button’ combination didn’t appear above the fold on the home page. It was placed on the site at points where viewers would most likely be interested in asking questions.

“It was an issue of real estate. Not everything can be at the top.” For instance, the button appeared prominently in the product details pages, the shopping cart and on the customer service section of the site.

Useful links related to this article

Creative Samples from Orvis:

How to Mine Your Customer Service Department for Nuggets of Marketing Gold

How to Build an Astounding ‘Contact Us’ Page: 7 Customer Service Tips From Unilever

How to Improve Your Customer Service Email Responses: 5 Solutions to Common Problems

InstaService, Inc. -- Orvis’ email and live chat services provider:

The Orvis Company, Inc.:

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