Timberland Customers Boot Written Contact

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Though its channel mix does not include e-commerce, Timberland Co. has found that consumers are increasingly using e-mail to communicate with the retailer.

Consumers last year sent more than 30,000 e-mails to Timberland, second to telephone calls. The retailer receives an average of 110,000 to 120,000 phone calls each year, 15,000 to 20,000 faxes and 10,000 to 15,000 written letters.

"Total volume of e-mails has been growing by approximately 30 percent a year," said Bill Bragger, consumer service manager at Timberland, Stratham, NH. "We expect that growth to continue. It shows no sign of abating."

To avoid overwhelming its customer service representatives, Timberland last week adopted eGain Communications' eGain Mail technology, which lowers processing time by routing e-mails to the pertinent person for more consistent and personalized responses.

"With the growth rate of e-mails going up, there are only so many people that we can put against that kind of initiative," Bragger said. "We want to help keep people efficient and keep that response time of one day as low as possible."

Licensed from eGain Communications Corp., Sunnyvale, CA, the software -- part of the eGain Commerce 2000 platform -- apportions e-mail by category to the appropriate agents.

Artificial intelligence within eGain Mail helps read and understand what the e-mail is about in its basic format. Consumer queries can range from where to buy the product and product end-use questions, to returns authorization status, warranty issues and straightforward complaints.

After screening that message, the software routes it to the pertinent customer service representative along with a form that has to be filled out by that agent. The form bears the agent's name, a date, salutation and greeting, leaving him to complete the broader body of text.

EGain Mail also checks spellings and assigns a tracking number to gauge correspondence history between agent and consumer.

"It takes a lot of routine and mundane functionality out of responding to an e-mail, so the representative can spend their time on the message itself," Bragger said.

Besides retailing, Timberland also manufactures and distributes its outdoor lifestyle products for sale in more than 90 markets worldwide. The company has 22 specialty stores and 55 outlet stores in the United States.

Timberland posted second-quarter global revenue of $177.1 million, up 15.8 percent over the same period last year. U.S. revenue accounted for $129.4 million, up 15.6 percent in the second quarter over the same April-through-June period in 1999.

The company has no immediate plans for retailing on its Web site at www.timberland.com, Braggers said. For now, the site simply showcases Timberland products, offers corporate information and store locations, and -- most importantly -- is an online conduit for consumer interaction.

Other users of eGain's high-volume e-mail management tool include marketers such as America Online Inc., Walgreen Co., McAfee Solutions, 3Com and GTE, now Verizon after the recent merger with Bell Atlantic.

Gunjan Sinha, co-founder/president of eGain, said one of the biggest challenges is that as consumers contact companies through multiple media, the interaction history gets lost in disparate systems.

Besides, Sinha added, retailers and manufacturers have to deal with a variety of suppliers and partners in addition to customers. The key driver behind the company's adoption of eGain Mail is the opportunity to deliver consistent responses for cross-sells and upsells, he said.

"So, it's less of an issue of managing the interaction," Sinha said. "It's more of looking at how to enhance the quality of each customer experience and capture more consistent data and knowledge across such interactions so that you can actually build more profitable relationships with those constituent groups."

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