Online Reps Need Special Training, Skills

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Most of us have experienced what it's like to order a product from a catalog or call a toll-free number to get more information about a company's product or service. We wait on hold until a representative picks up the call, then make our request and verbally provide credit card and shipping address information. Sometimes, we're forwarded to a supervisor for more help.


Such long experiences have caused more and more customers to hang up their phones and log on to their computers to shop. Once online, shoppers want a seamless Internet shopping experience that is as fast and informative as the Web itself.


Many e-companies still use high-volume call centers or scaled-down versions, despite the fact that when the customers of one e-commerce company were given three options for customer support online, roughly 60 percent of shoppers requested chat, 30 percent chose e-mail and just 10 percent opted for the telephone. Recognizing that telephone-only solutions are not meeting the demands of online customers, leading e-businesses will use a multichannel, customer-care solution to their competitive advantage.


Purchasing items online is easier and more convenient for shoppers, yet the representatives who participate in live chat sessions and provide e-mail responses require more training than telephone support personnel. Following the adage that not every rectangle is a square, not every phone representative is qualified for online customer care.


As last year's holiday shopping season frustrated many would-be online shoppers, more e-businesses better understood the needs of their customers and responded by looking for ways to improve customer service recruiting requirements and training processes.


There is a fundamental need for e-businesses to create a Web-centric customer care program based on the demands of the Internet rather than the legacy of traditional call center services. Businesses new to the Web often find these transitions difficult for a variety of reasons. Whether customers request help navigating a Web site, ask for the location of a particular product, inquire about when a product will be available or want to know the difference between two products, customer representative recruiting and training are integral parts of converting a shopper into a buyer.


Such questions are unique to the business of shopping on the Internet, and customer care representatives must be well-versed in their knowledge of the Internet, have strong reading and writing skills, type quickly and accurately and possess outstanding problem-solving skills. Online representatives must think quickly and be articulate. There is no time for elaborate responses or dead air in a live chat.


Customers who call to make a catalog order by telephone already have made the decision to purchase. This isn't always the case for online shoppers. Many customers spontaneously purchase products online. They log on, surf around and discover a site that piques their interest. Online representatives must be prepared to ascertain a customer's mindset at the beginning of a conversation and work with each customer on an individual basis. One e-commerce company recently found that of the 60 percent of shoppers who choose to use live chat to initiate customer inquiries, 33 percent of those inquiries resulted in a sale.


Many e-businesses are looking beyond basic skills to target customer service candidates who have a sales background or the inherent ability to bond quickly with customers. Some companies recruit online representatives with specific educational backgrounds, while others look for candidates who possess vocational degrees and backgrounds particular to a specialty site. For instance, a company that sells car parts might look for online representatives who have experience as mechanics. By hiring specialized customer care representatives, e-retailers better meet the needs of their online customers and gain a sizeable advantage over their competitors' sites.


As you probably have guessed, finding quality customer service recruits is just part of the battle. Retaining them is the ultimate challenge. In an effort to attract and retain these highly sought-after individuals, a trend has emerged in the Internet community whereby employers are vying for candidates' affections. Whether it's through stock options, a relaxed company environment that applauds denim and flip-flops or merely the opportunity for tremendous upward mobility, rewarding and retaining quality employees will result in happy and loyal customers.


With the advent of the Internet, customers have come to expect instant results online, from finding products to purchasing them. Online customer representatives continue to have to rise to meet these challenges. Those e-businesses with stringent hiring practices and training programs in place will win out in this ever-growing, competitive marketplace. As the e-business landscape becomes more crowded, quality online customer care representatives will help distinguish your site from those just one click away.
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