Aftermarket Employs Live-Chat Interface as Sales Tool

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Telesales firm The Aftermarket Co. has incorporated a live chat interface from Ask Jeeves into its Internet call centers to turn technology meant for customer service into a sales tool.


The Aftermarket Co., Phoenix, is using the Ask Jeeves interface, called Jeeves Live, to help three clients improve their Web sales. The clients -- AsSeenOnTVPC.com, The Midwest Stress and Anxiety Center and SeeClearlyMethod.com -- also contract with Aftermarket to handle calls to their toll-free numbers.


In October, the clients created a button on their Web sites that users can click to reach a representative at Aftermarket's call center. Once the button is clicked, a text chat window opens on the user's browser, and the user can type questions to a live agent. Using the Ask Jeeves interface, the agent responds by choosing from a list of scripted answers to common questions.


Scripted answers allow Aftermarket to measure responses and replicate successes, said Steve Pittendrigh, Aftermarket's president. Rather than depend on agents to come up with their own sales pitches, Aftermarket can track the questions users ask and what scripted answers lead most often to sales.


Aftermarket has three workstations and 12 agents who exclusively handle questions from users over the Ask Jeeves text-chat interface. An agent is available 24 hours a day.


In the past year, Aftermarket has tried other Internet call center technologies, including voice-over-Internet protocol and one-way streaming video. Neither proved successful in generating sales, Pittendrigh said.


Aftermarket tested the Ask Jeeves interface with AsSeenOnTVPC.com for two weeks in June. The client was selling personal computers for $2,000 on its Web site.


Prior to going live with the test, Aftermarket did not know exactly what questions consumers would ask but tried to script preformatted responses that would answer likely inquiries. The company familiarized representatives with the Web site and the product's specifications.


Users who initiated a chat were given a toll-free number so they could buy offline. Using the Ask Jeeves interface, call center agents could also direct or "push" users' Web browsers to an online order form.


During the two-week test period, 268 users clicked on the chat button to initiate a text conversation with an Aftermarket agent. Of those, 65 placed orders, resulting in approximately $130,000 in revenue representing an estimated 25 percent of the Web site's total revenue during those two weeks.


After an analysis of all the chats that took place during the test period, Aftermarket found that 27 inquiries came from users outside the United States. Aftermarket was able to identify a Canadian market for the product that the client was not servicing.


Other call center outsourcers that are implementing the Jeeves Live interface at their facilities include APAC Customer Services Inc., Deerfield, IL; Precision Response Corp., Fort Lauderdale, FL; Convergys Corp., Cincinnati; and Brigade Solutions, San Francisco.


Ask Jeeves started out as an Internet search engine provider. At the company's Web site, www.ask.com, users type complete questions, rather than keywords, into the search engine to receive results.


The company, based in Emeryville, CA, entered the call center e-solutions business with the start of its Ask Jeeves Business Solutions Partner Program, which serves 125 customers, including Microsoft, Office Depot and Nextel. The program offers a number of call center and e-commerce solutions, including Jeeves Live, the chat system being used by Aftermarket; Jeeves Relevant Answers, an automated question-answering program based on the original search engine; and Jeeves Advisor, a solution that makes automatic product recommendations for consumers.
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