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Call center relies on local talent, Web 2.0 technologies

Internal chat, a wiki, and locating its call center in rural New York have helped Partsearch maintain a focus on customer service.

Customer service reps at Partsearch Technologies aren't called CSRs, they're part solvers. An apt description for people who find, sell and identify parts for all manner of machinery, ranging from cordless phone batteries to refrigerator light bulbs.

The New York-based company connects consumers and repair technicians with parts suppliers, and its 150-person call center in Kingston, N.Y., is a vital spoke in the business.

"Our call center is really set up to solve the parts problem," CEO Glenn Laumeister said. "We go out and aggregate data from manufacturers into our catalogue. Customers are basically looking for a needle in a haystack."

With a catalogue of 8 million parts for 500,000 product models, Partsearch customer service needs to be attentive, focused and direct, which is one reason the company elected to locate the center in Kingston, Laumeister said.

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"It's been a good place to have a call center and operation center," he said. "People there have Midwestern sensibilities. They can talk to a person from anywhere in the country the way they want to be spoken to."

Partsearch runs its call center on Cisco's IPCC product with a custom-developed CRM system built on a Microsoft platform. It takes calls seven days a week from 8 am to 11 pm or midnight. Last year the call center handled 1.4 million calls, plus roughly 1,000 emails a day. Some calls come from customers using the PartStore.com website, others via companies like Best Buy that contract with Partsearch to handle warranties and replacement parts, and still others from repair technicians who work with companies such as GE and Costco and who will call, sometimes from the field, with parts questions.

When establishing the call center, Partsearch considered offshore operations. The company investigated India but elected to put the center closer to its Manhattan headquarters and in a city where it became a major source of employment.

"We had a team go to Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic and talk to some people we know who have call centers down there, and with what the real costs are, we didn't think it made sense," Laumeister said. "For us, conversion rates are so important. Our calls aren't really service; they're really sales opportunities."

The state of New York offered incentives for Partsearch to keep its call center in state, and executives at the company liked the idea of being in Kingston.

"I like being in a town where you know the mayor and you're important to them," Laumeister said. "And, from a real estate perspective, square footage is a lot less. Plus, the feel of people is a lot different. Our customers who are the people who are fixing products tend to relate well to people in the call center."

Working in a Web 2.0 world

Just six years old, Partsearch has been able to take advantage of some emerging technology. An internal chat room at the call center helps agents who are having difficulty locating a particular part. At least one senior service agent -- well versed in the company's catalogue and parts -- staffs the chat room, monitoring it for difficult questions. For example, a parts expert may see that another agent is having trouble locating a particular part and notice that the customer has the parts number inverted, Laumeister said. He could then direct the agent to the right part, all while the customer is still on the phone.

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