Shop At Home Sees Sales Shift to IVR

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Daily sales handled by an automated interactive voice-response system for home television shopping network Shop At Home Inc. have nearly doubled since the company streamlined its ordering process with a new database system.

Shop At Home markets collectible items, such as coins, knives and gemstones, as well as jewelry, electronics and health and beauty products through its direct response television programs. The company, the fourth-largest home-shopping network in the United States, is available in 61 million U.S. households.

Daily sales handled by Shop At Home's IVR system now average $100,000, up from $50,000 when the new IVR system from Aspect Communications, San Jose, CA, was implemented last year. The company credited the system with increasing customer loyalty and slowing the need for staff increases at its 100-workstation call center at its headquarters in Nashville, TN.

With the previous system, customers calling to order items were given the choice of speaking with a live agent or placing an order automatically via a touch-tone system. It did not differentiate between new and current customers. The Aspect system recognizes previous customers from their phone numbers and immediately routes them to the automatic ordering system.

Customers can choose to speak with a live agent at any time during the automated ordering process. The company would not specify how many people are using the system but said that three to four times more people use it now than before the upgrade. This prompted the company to double the IVR system's capacity earlier this year. When customers do choose to speak with an agent in mid-call, agents can pick up the ordering process where the IVR system left off and do not have to start from scratch.

Automated sales, which represented 1 percent of the network's total sales with the old system, now represent 10 percent.

"Consumers on a whole are getting more and more used to using automated systems," said Bob Miller, vice president of information technology for Shop At Home.

The customer's credit card information is on file and must be verified by responding to a few prompts. All orders made by telephone and at the company's Web site,, are recorded onto a single database.

"You don't have redundancies in the system," said Wayne Lambert, chief information officer and executive vice president for Shop At Home. "You have one credit card system that handles everything."

Shop At Home is trying to improve the IVR script to ensure the smoothest ordering process possible. Aspect's system allows for detailed analysis of calls answered by the IVR so Shop At Home can pinpoint parts of the script that give people trouble.

One improvement to the script was to add an option allowing customers to start a portion of the process over without having to start from the beginning. The company is considering further improvements, such as a speech-recognition system, as ways to increase automated sales even more.

The company wants to have automated sales represent 20 percent of all sales made by the network, Lambert said. But improving the system is a long-term process.

"I don't think it's something you can perfect or finish," Miller said. "You really need to keep on top of it and see where people may be having trouble."


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