Sony Upgrades Call Center With Cross-Selling Technology

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Sony Electronics Inc., San Jose, CA, is adding technology to its call centers that will enable it agents to cross-sell products to customers.

The company will install systems from Net Perceptions, Minneapolis, that will prompt agents with suggested sales pitches for customers based on the customers' purchasing histories and on the purchasing habits of other customers who have bought similar products. The technology will be in place by December, according to John Houtsma, executive vice president of worldwide sales and marketing for Spider Technologies Inc., Denver, which has been working with Sony for the past two years to develop call center technologies that support the company's direct marketing efforts.

"Sony really buys into this whole one-to-one marketing approach," said Houtsma. "They believe that if you target your marketing to your customers, you'll be able to keep them for a longer period of time."

Sony launched a limited direct sales effort in 1997, offering computer products through its Vaio Direct division, and has since expanded its direct-to-consumer efforts to include Sony Extras, which offers accessories for Sony's consumer electronics. The company recently added Sony Business Direct to its sales mix, offering computers and other electronics products through both small-business and large-business sales divisions.

The company uses three main call centers, located in Hayward, CA; Denver; and Fort Scott, KS, to provide inbound support for the Sony direct sales effort, which includes Web-based and offline direct response marketing. Agents in the Business Direct division also conduct some outbound calling. The centers employ "well over 100 agents," according to Tony D'Anna, director of sales and operations for the e-solutions division of Sony.

He said that most of the customer contacts occur via telephone, although the company does employ some dedicated Web-based agents to handle e-mail inquiries. Sony's call volume "approaches 100,000" calls per month, he said, about 75 percent to 80 percent of which are sales calls, with the rest being customer service.

The company also tracks data from about 250 different toll-free numbers to determine how many calls come in on each number and how much revenue each generates.

Sony has been using SpiderDirect, the database-building technology from Spider Technologies, to record its customers' purchases, in addition to keeping a record of the contacts the customers make with the company.

"All the history is currently being captured," D'Anna said. "We're now in the process of taking that data and creating patterns and histories."

The new technology will enable Sony to put to use the wealth of information that the company has been gathering using the SpiderDirect system.

Although agents currently can view customer histories on their desktops through SpiderDirect, the system does not yet make product suggestions. Using the collaborative filtering technology from Net Perceptions, Sony will soon be able to create "purchase preference profiles" that will appear on agents' screens, making suggestions for cross-selling opportunities based on what other customers with similar purchasing histories also have bought from Sony.

The system will operate using "thin client architecture" in which agents only need a Web browser and a personal computer to use the system. No software is housed on the agents' computers.

"That's given us a lot of flexibility without having to load software and without having to do all those kinds of things," D'Anna said. "It brings down the cost quite a bit, as well."

The SpiderDirect system also provides real-time reporting that includes sales performance by product, return-on-investment analysis by marketing initiative, daily revenues, sales conversion rates, current back orders and merchandise returns. It also establishes customer preferences for methods of contact so that Sony can determine how to best reach customers - by phone, e-mail or direct mail.

In addition to the Net Perceptions technology, Sony also is planning to add interactive voice-response technology that will allow customers who have placed an order to call in to determine the status of their orders.

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