Click here, I'll call you right back

An emerging technology, click-to-callback, is helping companies better leverage true multi-channel communication by reaching out to online consumers via the phone.

There's nothing quite as frustrating for online sales as when a customer goes through the various steps of the

Internet purchasing process only to cancel at the last minute and place his or her order via the phone instead.

On the other hand, there's nothing quite as frustrating for online shoppers as navigating through multiple Web pages, filling out forms and clicking on various selections only to run into a glitch, requiring them to go through the process all over again with a call center agent.

And it's no fun for the call center agents to have to listen to an angry caller gripe about the company's Web site while they try to rectify the situation.

Emerging click-to-callback technology may offer relief for all three of these jaded parties, according to Bob Chatham, a principal analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc.

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"It's a pretty basic capability," Chatham said. "It's taking a Java script, pop-up window and connecting it to the outbound calling queue. There is a bit of behind-the-scenes magic in opening up an IP channel to a customer's browser so they can push pages at them as well."

Spafinder.com, a New York-based Web site that helps direct users to spas throughout the world, launched the Push-to-Talk product from Reston, Va.-based eStara Inc. several months ago.

"It's been fabulous," said Spafinder.com CEO Pete Ellis. "We've got about 200 spas that we put in the click-to-talk model where customers can talk to the reservations desk."

Visitors to Spafinder.com are able to peruse the site for spas around the globe and, when they have a question that cannot be answered on the site or if they wish to make a reservation, they click on a box that prompts a pop-up window. They then enter their phone number and a time frame for the spa's reservations desk to call them back.

"We're just beginning to develop the model," Ellis said. "We're able to track the call times to [our spa customers] and help the reps understand how to handle the customers better."

For example, one West Coast spa kept call center hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and, with the help of Spafinder.com, learned that it was missing out on possible East Coast customers who were unable to place reservations in the morning hours.

It's this cross-channel synergy that makes click-to-callback so attractive, according to Chatham. It offers an advantage over chat technology in that it requires little extra training, relying on call center agents' existing phone skills. Chat tends to be more suitable for interactions that require repeatable answers, such as technical questions, that agents can simply paste into chat windows. Lands End, an early adopter of chat that has frequently been cited for its successful implementations is turning toward click-to-callback, Chatham noted.

The technology also balances the call center load. While click-to-callback poses the risk of increasing call volume by directing online customers to the phone, if done properly it can be used to have agents assist customers in using the online self-service, alleviating call center burdens down the line. Plus, it's a more attractive alternative to the "black hole" of simply posting a phone number on the Web site and identifying specific callback periods.

Companies like eStara, Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories and Aspect Communications help make the transition from online to phone more seamless by integrating product tracking codes or agent screen-pops to share customer information like a trip reservation, Chatham added.

Additionally, Web analytics allow companies to track the Web's influence on offline commerce, segment customer demographics and increase customer adoption of self-service.

"The program has been incredibly efficient for us," said Spafinder.com's Ellis. "We're able to monetize offline marketing. We never had a process that allowed us to identify the number of calls we send to properties while at the same time tell them the amount of time they were on the line and where calls come from. We can send reports of the names of callers who came through and match it to their records."

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