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Outsourced agents keep connected at Coffeecakes.com

Sharing products, feedback and authority with outsourced customer service agents has increased customer satisfaction and reduced turnover for the online retailer.

Until Pamela Maroney-Moore started working for Coffeecakes.com as a customer service rep in 2001, she assumed --...

based on her previous experience -- that most companies operated in the same fashion toward outsourced agents: focusing on the numbers rather than on the agents. But Maroney-Moore sees Coffeecakes.com as unique in that its executives make her and her colleagues feel like they're a part of the organization, even though their actual employer is AnswerNet Network.

Maroney-Moore, now general manager and lead service rep for the Coffeecakes.com account, said that the online retailer's interactions with the agents make a difference in the way they communicate with customers.

"You typically don't have a client that does that much hands-on demonstration with the products. They usually expect you to produce numbers," she said. "Here there is more of a customer- service focus, and you can only give good customer service if you have firsthand knowledge."

For Sherry Comes, CEO of Coffeecakes.com, the strategy is a no-brainer. She teaches service reps the Coffeecakes.com philosophy and gives them the authority to make decisions for the customer on the spot.

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Comes and Diane Okunewick, director of customer service, don't stop there. They send samples of the baked goods so the agents can "experience" the products themselves, enabling them to give more informed answers or make suggestions to customers. They share customer thank-you notes and positive reviews with the agents, and post such "news" as their wedding announcements on the company Web site. Okunewick even brings the CSRs gifts from when she travels on vacation. Comes says it's like they're all a part of "one big office."

"Sixty percent of our business is repeat business. The priority is not to make an extra dollar. It's to keep the customers happy," she said. "The CSRs are an extension of the company. You may not see them all the time, but you have to have an understanding of where they're coming from."

Gary Pudles, CEO of The AnswerNet Network, says that Comes goes out of her way to make sure the agents feel like they're a part of her organization. He adds that her strategy of bringing the product to the agents to touch, smell, and taste helps customers with their purchases because the agents can share their sensory experiences with them. "That's important because it creates a kinship with the client," he said.

This high-touch, high-trust strategy is paying off. Coffeecakes.com is growing 30% per year based solely on word of mouth. There are 35 agents dedicated to the account and turnover is low. The company is in the process of hiring 10 more reps this year.

Maroney-Moore is not surprised. "We feel like we're a part of the family," she said. "We've been given a lot of control to do a lot of things that most companies would tie themselves up with, [like] giving returns or issuing credits. It's because of the relationship we've established that we're different."

Reprinted with permission from

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