Cataloger Adds Automated Phone Service

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Norm Thompson Outfitters' test of an automated calling service received such high marks from customers that the cataloger soon will make it available to all catalog shoppers.


The service will be only for catalog purchases from its four titles -- Norm Thompson, Solutions, Early Winters and the recently acquired Waterfront Living. The cataloger eventually will make it available to online shoppers; however, the application has to be fitted for Internet use.


Norm Thompson, which targets ages 45-55 and mails 80 million catalogs yearly, has not set a date for the complete service offering. Company officials say it will happen after existing personnel are trained on the use of the automated-alert system.


The test involved 2,000 Norm Thompson catalog customers who agreed to receive automated calling during an eight-week period in August and September. Using PAR3 Communications' Intelligent Response Platform solution, the cataloger sent detailed alerts on order status to customers via telephone.


The cataloger has expanded the service since the holiday shopping season, said Steve Jones, vice president of marketing at Norm Thompson, Hillsboro, OR. About 8,200 more Norm Thompson customers have been notified about their order, return or exchange status. PAR3 Communications, Seattle, provides CRM solutions.


The company has averaged a 60 percent opt-in rate and expects it to grow to 80 percent once it is available for all catalogs, Jones said.


"Anytime there was an update to an order, the system alerted the customer," he said. "It's a very detailed message, and it even included the color and size of the item or items ordered. The customer is left with the [feeling] that he or she is in control of what's going on, and if anything has changed, we will let them know without them calling or writing customer service."


Test results showed that 55 percent of the alerts reached a person, 42 percent reached an answering machine and 3 percent failed to reach a customer.


A follow-up customer survey conducted by TRD Frameworks, a Seattle-based market research firm, found that 86 percent had a positive or very positive reaction to the alert and 87 percent said they would use it again.


Jones said the service was especially valuable in updating customers about order status during the 2000 holiday shopping season.


"Typically what we would have done in the past is write a letter, assemble people to stuff envelopes and send letters," Jones said. "We were able to use this technology to get the information or alert out quickly. The beauty is you can identify a problem and within a few hours get the word out instead of a few days. The main thing is [customers can get] the news sooner than on Christmas Eve."


The cataloger wants to add applications to the service, including alerting customers when information is needed to process an order.


"The premise of this service is to give information that prevents customers from


wondering what's happening with their order so they won't have to call customer service," Jones said. "That call is a non-revenue generated call, and it's an inconvenience to the customer."


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