When catalog clothier Lands' End made the decision to add live chat to its Web site last spring it was looking for the best possible chat experience for its customers, one that extended its personalized one-on-one service philosophy to the landsend.com experience.
The search took months and when landend.com went live with Cicso's WebBlender in October 1999, each chat session was a one-on-one conversation between the customer and a dedicated personal shopper who could push pages to the customer's browser to show clothing styles, colors and combinations.
"A gentleman used Land's End Live to ask if there were any ties that would match the pattern and color of a shirt he had picked out," says Jeremy Hauser, Land's End research specialist. "The personal shopper pushed pages that showed two ties that match and he bought them both. So customers use live chat to target their shopping experience. If they know what they want but don't want to spend time browsing the site to find it, we give them the option of using Lands' End Live to get there very quickly."
Leveraging Excellent Customer Service
Land's End customer service agents are called personal shoppers for a reason. Their expertise goes far beyond order taking. Each agent has an extensive knowledge of the company's product line and is qualified and encouraged to assist customers in selecting styles, colors and combinations as well as advises on shipping and return policies. Furthermore, Lands' End does not time its service calls, allowing each call to be as long as necessary to solve the customer's problem.
"Our personal shoppers have an average of nine years experience with Lands' End," says Hauser. "The ones who handle live chat, which we call Lands' End Live, are existing folks who we trained on the system. Customers always deal with people who are very highly trained in our products, services and policies."
Lands' End Live is easily found at the bottom of the site's home page in a box called Interactive Shopping. Click on it and you are presented with two options; one to request a callback (if you have a second phone line) and the other to start a live chat session. If you want a callback, enter your name and phone number and the request is routed to the phone center. To start a chat session, just enter your name. A second window pops up and your personal shopper is all yours for the duration of your session. Callback is available daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., but Lands' End Live users enjoy 24/7 service. While landsend.com's abandoned shopping cart rate is better than the industry average of 66 percent (according to Forrester Research), Hauser expects live chat to help reduce the numbers even further.
"We just went through the holiday season with Land's End Live and things went quite well," says Hauser. "Overall the numbers were very good with online chat." Hauser attributes the success of Christmas 1999 to a combination of new technologies and a well-honed system. "Our experience as a direct merchant really came into play online at Christmas. We know how to bulk up for the rush. We have plenty of personal shoppers out there waiting to take chats and we sailed through very smoothly at the Christmas season.
Many Touchpoints, One Business
Lands' End doesn't break out its numbers between online and catalog sales. "To us it's one transparent business," says Hauser. "The most important thing about e-commerce goes beyond customer service to actually fulfilling the order. And from our call center we already have the warehousing and picking, packing and shipping worked out. When the warehouse people receive an order they don't know whether it came in on the phone or the Internet. It's handled exactly the same. It's a direct merchant philosophy and we think that it will become the dominant philosophy with catalogers on the Web."
Hauser wants the process to be completely transparent for the customer as well as the company. "An online customer should be able to check order status for a phone order as well. We don't have that in place yet, although a phone customer can inquire about an online order."
While use of the live chat feature is growing, Land's End's 300 1-800 lines are still the primary avenues of customer service. Chat is a distant second. "On and average day the 800 lines handle between 40,000 and 50,000 calls," says Hauser. "Between chat and call back, far more people use chat. Chat is outpacing email now as well."
Lands' End went online relatively early- -1995- -and has always been technically innovative is its approach to online retailing. In addition to live chat, landsend.com features Your Personal Model, a women's interactive mode that allows shoppers to view different clothing combinations on a body type similar to their own. Another interactive feature is Shop with a Friend, which allows two shoppers on different PCs to browse the site together, and another is Oxford Express, which allows shoppers to identify shirts by collar, cuff and sleeve style with the help of a Java applet. "We think it's very, very important to remain on the technological cutting edge," says Hauser. "We attend conferences, read industry press and work with analysts to make sure we're focusing our attention in the right places. That's one of the primary functions of my job right now."
So how will evolving technologies change landsend.com down the road? VoIP, or voice over Internet protocol technology, which would allow online phone conversations via a computer microphone without disconnecting from the Web, is a possibility for the future. "We'll keep our eye on VoIP," says Hauser. "We're not sure the quality is there yet. If we do VoIP, we will choose a best of breed vendor."
New Lands Ahead
Thanks in part to the number of American's living abroad, Lands' End has a thriving international business, which Hauser hopes to further enhance with new technologies. Right now Lands' End ships to 175 different countries. IT has established catalog businesses in Germany and Japan as well as call centers in Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom. All the shipping is done out of one distribution center in Dodgeville, Wisconsin. "We have Web sites in the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan and we're already put up Lands' End Live in those locations. As we continue to increase our presence internationally, we think Land's End Live will be a popular feature.