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OM in the News: Why Customer Call Centers Matter

October 5, 2015

dollar shave clubDollar Shave Club, a quickly growing California company with 2.2 million members known best for its viral commercials, has 36 member service agents who answer phones and emails, conduct online chats and reply to queries on social media — all while channeling the brand’s distinctly playful and irreverent tone. But finding the right personalities is challenging. Training takes weeks.  It would be a lot easier to contract with a third-party customer service firm.

Online retailers, though, including pioneers Zappos and Bonobos, have found the investment in unscripted customer service worthwhile, reports The Los Angeles Times (Sept. 25, 2015). The interactions, they say, feel more authentic and help humanize e-commerce brands that are, by their very nature, faceless.

The approach is “high cost, difficult to execute, but the word of mouth” makes it worth it, said an industry analyst.  That’s imperative for Zappos, which relies on repeat customers and word-of-mouth marketing to power its $2 billion in sales. Zappos has been at the forefront of unscripted customer relations and instills what it calls “WOW” service in its 600 agents through a 7-week training course. That results in some extreme cases of customer satisfaction, like the time an agent visited a rival shoe store to fill an order Zappos couldn’t because it didn’t have the right size. “It certainly would be cheaper to contract out customer service,” said a Zappos exec. “But it wouldn’t be better. 75% of sales come from return customers, so it’s important for us to control the customer experience as much as possible.”

A similar approach is taken by online clothing retailer Bonobos, whose team of 40 customer service “ninjas” are encouraged to be playful and spontaneous with customers. Many are recent college grads, aspiring comedians and actors. “Rather than looking at customer service as an expense, we see it as a fundamental investment, just as we invest in the design and quality of our clothing product,” said Bonobos’ VP.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. Compare the approach these 3 firms take with the bank’s service documentation in Example 2 in Chapter 5.
  2. Why do most firms outsource their call centers?
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