The Sweet Smell of High-Quality Service

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As companies begin planning for the holiday season, they can’t afford to overlook customer service. Any rise in the number of purchases—which, after all, is the goal of most businesses—will almost certainly lead to a proportional rise in post-holiday calls to contact centers, each of them expecting a quick answer.

Instead of standing under the mistletoe blithely waiting to be kissed by the miraculous gift of quality customer experience, Reynoldsburg, Ohio–based Bath & Body Works, a division of Limited Brands, took preemptive action. Operating more than 1,600 retail stores, the beauty and personal-care specialist’s goal was to provide its contact center agents, Web-site visitors, and store associates with access to details about all of its 10,000 products.

According to Pati Crowley, B&BW’s director of customer experience, the existing knowledge management (KM) system wasn’t agile enough to handle the winter-season holiday crunch. “The system was clunky,” she admits, adding that the system delivered too much information at once for agents to try and sift through while trying to solve a caller’s issue. “From an accessibility perspective, we couldn’t get to the [correct] information at the right point of interaction with our customers,” she says.

Crowley says it was important that any new KM system offer a quick implementation and seamless integration. Bearing this in mind, B&BW decided to turn to contact center software provider Astute Solutions—again. (The retailer was already using Astute’s ePowerCenter customer interaction and relationship management solution.) Building on familiarity, B&BW integrated Astute’s RealDialog and RealDialog Agent Assist to streamline the voluminous information agents had to access in order to provide targeted answers quickly. “Not only was [RealDialog] a best-in-class solution, but it also integrated directly into our existing CRM system,” Crowley says.

That easy integration allowed for an astonishing implementation time. B&BW planned on having its second round of seasonal hires start the week before the go-live date in October 2007, and the company wanted to be able to utilize the new solutions for training purposes. Astute’s original estimate to Bath & Body Works for the implementation itself was approximately 200 hours, according to Liz Shaver, Astute’s RealDialog product manager. The final result? “We put [the solutions] in in 90 hours,” she says, with justifiable pride. “It was a very fast implementation for the CRM world.” Crowley agrees, recalling a prior implementation her company undertook that clocked in at more than 1,400 hours. With RealDialog, she says, “we were fully loaded one week ahead of schedule.”

Crowley admits there was “a little bit of resistance” to swapping out the old knowledge base for Astute’s RealDialog, but agents changed their tune when they realized the power and efficiency the new solution delivered. “The tenured associate thinks, ‘I don’t need this [because] I already know everything—so I don’t know how this is going to change my day or workflow,’” she says. “Ironically, in short order they became the biggest advocates of the new system.”

The integration allowed all agents to access data quickly through a single user interface. With natural-language processing and advanced linguistics techniques, RealDialog understands real-world input. Agents can enter a customer’s question verbatim and instantly receive a response—a specific answer, paragraph within a document, or a file—and also build the system in real time.

The benefits have been both tangible and psychological. “This technology is really supporting at the agent level and has really improved their ability and confidence to deliver great messages on behalf of our brand,” Crowley says. “This allowed us to eliminate those awkward pauses and putting people on hold because agents were struggling to access a piece of information.” The confidence has translated into a 68 percent reduction in hold time, 33 percent drop in average handling time, and 49 percent fewer escalations—and a quick return on investment. “We were going to be content if it took 24 to 36 months, but we were able to take this solution and go into the black within a six-month time frame,” Crowley reports. And that’s nothing to turn your nose up at.

The Payoff
With Astute Solutions’ RealDialog offerings, Bath & Body Works was able to:

  • eliminate the need for weekend overtime during peak season, saving 10 percent on the holiday budget;
  • reduce seasonal-associate training time by 50 percent;
  • cut incoming callers’ hold time by 68 percent;
  • reduce average handling time by 33 percent;
  • cut supervisory-assistance calls by 41 percent;
  • reduce escalations by 49 percent; and
  • eliminate the need for agents to deal with binders and papers to answer questions.

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