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Clorox and Samsonite Redesign Consumer Affairs Through Outsourcing

Luggage manufacturer Samsonite, Denver, and The Clorox Co., Oakland, CA, have handed over inhouse consumer relations departments to Telerx, Horsham, PA. The move to outsourcing has significantly restructured the consumer relations operations of both companies, resulting in the installation of Samsonite’s first 800 number and correcting abandoned call rates at Clorox that had, at times, risen as high as 50 percent.

“We wanted to rebuild consumer relations,” said Paige Miller, director of consumer relations for Samsonite. “We had no interactive voice response system, no contact management system and we didn’t even have an 800 number. Plus we were understaffed so our service levels weren’t what we wanted. We had to rebuild our department, it was a major effort.”

Samsonite found during the planning process that many of its consumer calls were requests for warranty and repair services, locations of repair centers and requests for small parts. The company fields an average of 7,666 consumer calls a month for its brands — Samsonite, Lark and American Tourister.

“We didn’t know what the exact percentage of the categories were because we hadn’t really captured that information on a systematic basis,” she said. “But it was clear we needed an IVR system and many customers are familiar with using an IVR.”

Telerx is providing Samsonite with six dedicated representatives and an IVR. This gives consumers 24-hour access to the company and reduces costs. By capturing basic consumer information at the outset of the call, the IVR reduced call length when live operators were on duty. Without the IVR, company would have to staff 10 additional representatives, which would increase consumer affairs operating costs by 17 percent.

“We found that the IVR took care of simple requests, however, since luggage is expensive people tend to be more emotional when things go wrong,” said Miller. “A business traveler stuck in O’Hare Airport with a broken wheel on his suitcase is not something the IVR can handle, it takes a lot of human interaction to assist that customer.”

“Some of these calls are more difficult and must be channeled properly to maintain consumer loyalty,” she said. “Keeping the reps on a target time of three-and-a-half minutes, gives us cost effective call handling and prevents the reps from getting burnt out.”

For Clorox, which received 400,000 calls annually, Telerx is providing an IVR system and 22 dedicated representatives that are also trained in data collection. An extra six representatives are added in the summer months when call volume is highest.

“It is very important that our reps collect a lot of data while they are on the phone and not just provide service to the consumer,” said Brent O’Brien, client relations and analysis manager for Clorox. “We wanted to expand and enhance out data collecting as well as provide better consumer service.”

The company reviews data collected by call center staff monthly, weekly and sometimes daily.

“We were able to glean a lot of good information from this system,” said O’Brien. “We were able to modify and improve products based on what consumers told us.”

The company, which expects its call volume to increase to 500,000 to 600,000 calls next year, has been outsourcing its consumer affairs department in three phases over a span of nine months.

“We were closing down our inhouse operations and we needed time to place many of our agents in other departments,” O’Brien said. “We found we were pretty good at packaging and marketing products, but we weren’t very good at servicing our consumers. In some cases we had a 50 percent abandoned call rate. We needed to improve our flexibility and our data capturing.”

The Telerx representatives are divided into six teams corresponding with the company’s product categories. Clorox markets 125 household products under 19 name brands in categories ranging from detergent to food items.

In addition to the outsourced agents, Clorox maintains a staff of six inhouse consumer relations agents.

According to O’Brien, the inhouse agents handle “high dollar” claims and other situations that upper-management deems sensitive.

The relationships Samsonite and Clorox have with Telerx are partnerships. Both companies take part in site visits at Telerx and are in constant contact with the call center manager and supervisor.

“Consumer relations is not as transactional as customer service,” said Ron Abel, executive vice president of Telerx. “Consumer affairs provides the opportunity to acquire and retain customers, handle a consumers needs at hand, strengthen the intent to purchase and also allows for the opportunity to cross sell and up sell. Consumers, may in fact, be customers.”

Abel added that since retaining customers is the goal of any consumer-related business, consumer relations is a way to strengthen customer loyalty.

“Satisfied customers tell eight to 10 people about their positive experiences with a company,” he said.

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