JVC Invests in Database to Improve Service Center

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JVC of America, the Wayne, NJ, maker of consumer electronics, is installing a computerized database and search engine in its customer service call center that it hopes will shorten its call lengths and significantly lower its abandon rate as part of an overall effort to upgrade the center. In addition, the database is being readied for an Internet application that will allow consumers to troubleshoot their problems on the Web, reducing the burden on the company's telephone operations.


"I'm trying to bring this department scratching and clawing into the 20th century before the next century starts," said Michael A. Colicchio, national customer relations manager for JVC.


Colicchio said the center, which operates with 16 full-time and two part-time agents, has been plagued with high turnover and an antiquated problem resolution system in which agents must sort through file cabinets to find operating manuals whenever a call comes in.


The application being installed will allow agents to troubleshoot customers' problems using a series of question-and-answer prompts on their desktop computers. The system, Colicchio said, should shorten the time of each call, which is expected to lead to shorter hold times and lower abandon rates.


"We have a printout of what our average talk time is, what our abandon rate is and what our average speed of answer is, and all of those are at the unacceptable level right now," he said.


Colicchio set a goal for his agents, who handle an average of 1,500 calls per day, to answer 80 percent of calls during April with a 4-1/2-minute average talk time and a two-minute average speed of answer. With the new system, which will be installed within the coming weeks, he expects to achieve a 95-percent or better rate of calls answered and three-minute talk times.


"This system should help us get to the problem quicker," he said.


JVC is installing the IQSupport Pro and IQ Author applications from Logica Advantage-kbs, which will allow agents to search a database of problems for solutions. Reference manuals for all JVC's products - which include camcorders, digital cameras, TVs, VCRs and stereos - are being loaded into the system in HTML format to handle customer requests for more routine calls.


"What we're doing is building up a set of symptoms and causes, and our application makes the appropriate association between them," said David Lewy, director of business development at Logica Advantagekbs, Edison, NJ. "Our system drives down into the documentation to determine where the agent needs to be to answer the customers' questions."


The formatting of the files also will facilitate the transition of the system to the Internet, which Colicchio said is scheduled to take place within four to six months. Although all agents currently use desktop computers, they are not connected by a server. Colicchio said he plans to establish a local area network using a server from Dell Computer Corp., from which the Web site would be maintained.


"Ideally, when we get it to where we want it to be, the customers will be able to go online and troubleshoot a lot of the issues themselves," he said.


In addition to helping agents quickly find the answers to customers' questions, the system is expected to save time by structuring their calls more efficiently.


"This will eliminate a lot of the 'How's the weather in Peoria' type of talk," Colicchio said. "It will control the call better than we're doing now. It will control the dialog."


The simplicity of the system also should reduce training time for agents because they won't need as much advance knowledge of the products. Currently the center conducts weekly training sessions focusing on various product categories.


The center, which uses an NEC 2000 switch, does not do any call routing internally, although some calls are routed by MCI before they reach the center. All agents are capable of handling any calls.


The upgrade of the JVC customer service center marks the second such endeavor for Colicchio, who faced a similar situation when he took over the customer service center at Panasonic nearly 10 years ago.


"When I took this job, I felt like I was in a time warp," he said. "The only difference is that JVC is not resisting. They are a little bit more progressive - they have to be because they know how behind they are."
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