Ambrosia Taps Lucent's CentreVu to Stem Abandonment Rate

By adding chat, call back, voice over Internet protocol and enhanced e-mail management to its Web site, Ambrosia, Napa, CA, is taking steps to avoid becoming part of the high abandoned shopping cart statistics that some analysts are forecasting for the holidays.

For the company, a leading direct marketer of premium wines, preventing abandoned shopping carts is particularly important, as its average order is more than $400.

Through catalogs and a Web site at, Ambrosia targets a niche of premium wine buyers with wines exclusively from the Napa and Sonoma regions that are generally more than $20 a bottle.

“Ambrosia is not trying to be a company that makes more than $500 million a year, it has made a strategic decision to fill a targeted niche,” said Jeremy Benson, company spokesman. “Because of the niche it serves there's a high emphasis on customer service.”

The company is installing CentreVu Internet Solutions, from Lucent Technologies, Murray Hill, NJ, for the new contact systems.

Through the system, customers are encouraged to talk to Ambrosia's wine consultants via chat or voice over IP by clicking on a button that says “Let's Talk Wine” on the company's home page and several of its pages of merchandise. The company's customer service Web page also lists a link, that says “Click to talk to us via the Web” alongside the company's toll-free number and a list to company e-mail.

The alternate channels are particularly important for Ambrosia, as customer service and upsells are among the driving factors that keep the company's average order size so high.

“The business is based on customer service and cross-sells and upsells from people who are educated about wine,” Benson said. “Al of the wine consultants have tasted all the wines. They've always had the focus of customer first and want to continue that philosophy.”

Although the company has not yet seen whether the cross-sell and upsell ability translates well to the Web, it expects that it will help build on customer relationships.

“From the perspective of the company, it's the one-on-one relationship with customers for the past eight years that they want to build on, whether through supplying insider events, voice over ip or chat,” said Benson. “The object is not one medium over the other, it's not to limit our cusotmers.”

Live text chat and voip were expected to go live on the Web site earlier this month. Only the Lucent e-mail management system was in use as of press time, but the e-mail management was enabling the company to answer e-mail in approximately five minutes, said Seana Wagner, company spokeswoman. The company is also sending out auto-acknowledgments upon receiving e-mail from consumers. Ambrosia has increased its staff from 30 employees in the beginning of the year to 45 in part to handle the added communications resulting from the new features. The company will eventually also add the agent call-back.

The timing of the new communication channels, before Christmas, is intended to provide quality service through the company's busiest season, said Benson. Specific numbers of how much sales grow during the busy season were not available, Benson said the second half of the year usually makes up approximately 60 percent of the company's sales indicating a substantial, but not dramatic rise.

The Lucent package enabling the alternate communication channels consists of text chat software, page sharing software, a special gateway box that converts voice to circuit switch format for enabling the voice over Internet protocol service, and a pop3 server for the e-mail. All the channels run through a Lucent Definity PBX switch and the software runs on an NT server.

Unlike some vendors, who separate e-mail from other Web communications, Lucent's system puts all contacts in the same queue.

“We work from the single queue model,” said Patrick Camperchioli, offer manager for CentreVu Internet Solutions. “The same queue that is in the call center from which calls are routed will be used for e-mail and Internet communications. An agent can take and 800 call and the next contact can be an e-mail, then the contact after than can be a text chat.”

The advantage of a single queue system, said Camperchioli, is that it is easier to track e-mail and integrate it into the stream of contacts. In addition, reports on volume of calls and how there are handled will all come from the same system, so call center managers can review metrics from one report instead of several.

While some call center like to create islands of customer service reps who are each trained to handle a different form of contact, that can be expensive, and Camperchioli recommends cross-training agents to handle multiple forms of communications.

However, the system is very configurable and contacts can be routed to different groups and assigned different priorities, Camperchioli said.

“Typically, most centers view their 800 calls as most important. Slowly dot-com companies are starting to put more emphasis on their e-mails. With the system, if you have an e-mail message service level of 10 hours, you can make the email a priority contact as it gets closer to the 10 hour service requirement,” he said.

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